Juror #11 ☆

You’ve pjury summonsrobably had those times when you just ‘knew’ something was going to happen?  Well, I had one of those a couple years ago when I pulled a jury summons out of my mailbox.  I used to get regular summons once or twice a year and even served on a civil jury for an automobile accident case.  Now, as the time drew nearer, I kept hoping my number would be excused.  No such luck.  As I walked to the court house, went through the metal detector, and joined about 300 others in the jury holding room, I still had that sense that a jury seat was in my future.

The jury commissioner began to call our numbers, and those folks had to come forward and take a sheet of questions to immediately answer.  She got closer to my number – and then passed it.  I breathed a sigh of relief – and THEN, she started calling numbers smaller and smaller until – you guessed it.  My number was called.  I got my sheet of questions, and realized this trial was a 1st-degree murder case.  Just enough information was there to give me the shivers.  Even so, I still had this very strong feeling that I was destined for the jury box.

About 150 of us filed into a relatively small courtroom, and since there were not enough spectator seats, about 30 of us were directed up to the jury box section.  I ended up in seat #11.  The case summary was laid out before us.  Fifteen years before, a man had an argument with his nephew (FG), and the morning after, he drove out to a field where his nephew and many farm workers were picking onions.  The man resumed his argument with FG and the man’s son (CZ) joined in.  Then, CZ walked to his truck, took out a gun, walked back, and shot FG ten times.  He ran to his father’s truck, sped away, and disappeared for fifteen years, losing contact with his local family.  CZ had dual citizenship in the US and Mexico, and during that fifteen years he lived in Mexico, marrying and having children.  He often crossed the border for work – using his real name.  One fateful day, an inspector discovered he had a long-standing arrest warrant for murder.  CZ was sent back to Colorado for trial – this trial in 2013.

It took 1½ days for jury interviews and when twelve and one alternate were chosen, sure enough.  Seat #11 was mine for a possible ten days.  We learned that if we found CZ guilty of 1st degree murder, the sentence was automatic life without parole; if 2nd degree murder, the court would decide the sentence.  Heave a big sigh of relief!  At least, we did not have to wrestle with a death sentence!

After five days of testimony, we retired to the jury room for deliberation.  Our job was to decide if CZ was mentally ill with a personality disorder as his defense claimed.  If we did not decide he was mentally ill, we had to decide between 2nd degree murder (unpremeditated) and 1st degree murder (premeditated).

Long story short:  After much discussion, we decided he was not mentally ill because the testimony – even by his psychiatrist – and CZ’s actions simply did not fit the particular personality disorder presented by the defense.  Then, no matter how we examined the testimony and the evidence, we concluded we could not deem it unpremeditated.

As we looked at the very neatly dressed, not a hair out of place, now 36-year old man who sat very quietly through seven days of testimony and lawyer defense and prosecution, it was very hard to picture that he could have committed such a horrible crime when he was 20 years old.  But, our impressions were secondary to our primary task of objectively sifting through the details we had gathered for seven days.  In the end, even though there were tears, none of us regretted the very difficult decision we had to make.  We gave him life without parole.

So, what brought on the reason for this post?  Right now (August 2015) in Denver, the jury for the James Holmes’ theater shooting trial is in the sentencing phase.  I have often thought of them during the weeks and weeks of trial phase, and prayed that this jury was filled with wise and toughly compassionate folks who could disagree without heated conflict and focus on the truth brought out during the trial with well-articulated conversation.  Now, they must decide between a life sentence or the death penalty.  What a weighty responsibility!

Surprise, surprise, surprise!  This post has nothing to do with singleness.  But, it does have everything to do with how we live our lives making daily decisions about how we will respond to the hard things life throws at us.  Time to contemplate some very important words written 2,000 years ago by a man named James:

James 1:2-6   Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides.  You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.  So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely.  Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.  If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father.  He loves to help.  You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it.  Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.  (The Message)

“God won’t give me more than I can handle.” – – – Oh, really? ☆

aaahHas anyone ever said that to you when hard times come into your life?  My guess is your answer is a resounding “yes.”  Just over the past few months I’ve heard it said to – and by – folks going through terrible health issues, financial problems, grief, or relationship fractures.  It is meant to encourage – I guess – but it implies that if we just try hard enough and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, we’ll get through whatever, because God thinks we are up to the task of “handling it.”

Well, guess what!  God knows we are NOT up to the task of handling a great many things – and we know it, too, don’t we?  The daily news is full of stories of people who yield to unbearable situations:

  •     **  Depression abounds, and some resort to suicide.
  •     **  Finances disappear, and some resort to crime.
  •     **  Relationships falter, and some resort to unfaithfulness.
  •     **  Catastrophic illness occurs, and some resort to soul-killing resignation and bitterness.
  •     **  Murder happens, and some resort to destructive revenge.

So, where in the world did this phrase come from?  Is it really in the Bible, which would make it true?  The internet has a number of articles and sermons which affirm this phrase as actually coming from the Bible.  Well, it doesn’t!  It just sort of sprang up as a re-combination of the words from this verse:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.  (I Corinthians 10:13 – NKJV)

Let’s face it.  When unbearable temptation comes upon me, God does not promise that my unbearable circumstance will change.  He does promise to always make it possible for me to respond to it in constructive fashion.

This faulty phrase also blatantly states that it is God who actually gives me the unbearable stuff.  Can we really think that God looks at “Joe” or “Sue” and decides to put incurable cancer into their bodies because “they can handle it?”  Does He decide that a percentage of folks can “handle” desperate poverty, so He makes that happen?  Does He decide that “Mary” can “handle” long-term singleness, so . . . well, you get the point.

You knew I had to apply this to singleness, didn’t you?

Some think that protracted singleness is unfair and just too heavy a burden to bear and they will take any way to make marriage happen.  Sometimes that works out well, sometimes not.  Some come to see God as One who withholds and not One who provides.  OK – I plead guilty to having these thoughts at times as I have committed to live life according to Scriptural principles – and have always been single.

  1.  Doing life alone is too heavy to bear!
  2.  Living a celibate life before marriage is unfair and just too heavy to bear!
  3.  God doesn’t care about my feelings, and that is indeed too heavy to bear!

Living with these three elements in the context of a Jesus-follower-life can be difficult.  But, I have experienced the truth of God’s provision in the midst of the varied mix of unanswered desires and joy-filled living.

  •     **  There is promise of God’s always being with me!
    • Hebrews 13:5 . . . God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (NIV)
  •     **  Jesus shares every aspect of my life – heavy and light!
    • Matthew 28:28-29     Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  (NIV)
  •     **  He considers all my feelings to the depths!
    • I Peter 5:7   Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.  (NLT)

So, my dear friends – unmarried and married:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.  (Proverbs 3:5-6  NLT)

A pastor apologizes to singles ☆

wait hereAs I’ve spent time fleshing out several ideas for posts here, I kept running across this May 2015 online apology from “the church” to “singles.”  Author John Pavlovitz makes some good points worth considering, which I’ve sort of combined and summarized.  My comments are in purple – my fave color.

  1. Sometimes, unintentional segregation happens with the understandable attention given to marriage and family in sermons, programs, and activities.  The majority of pastors and ministry leaders are married folk.  I have often contended that when people marry, something happens in their brain to wipe out their memory of being single. 🙂
  2. Sometimes deep needs and unique challenges are overlooked in program planning.  Singleness covers a very wide range of ages and life stages making this admittedly difficult!
  3. Sometimes singleness is seen as an affliction to be cured or a problem to be solved.  It is neither.  While marriage is desired – and attained – by most, it cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the soul.  It’s important for married and unmarried to share their challenges without fear of judgment or lecture.
  4. Sometimes singles are seen as halves waiting to find their other half, biding time until the right half shows up.  Until then, they may be subtly treated as “less than” in social and leadership situations.
  5. Sometimes singles are given incomplete and unsatisfying advice,  Singleness is not something like adolescence.  You don’t grow out of it.  Your status may change, but it is not simply a matter of maturity or immaturity.

Now, I appreciate this apology, and I find others springing up across the internet.

BUT, I have yet to see substantive articles addressing THESE main areas:

  1. Churches have marriage sermon series and classes; how about the same energy for successful singleness?
  2. How can the church address celibacy as a blessing for the unmarried which provides attractive, compelling – and attainable – reasons to reserve intimacy for such time as they are married.  Churches are good at admonition; not so good at encouragement – that is, if it is addressed at all.
  3. How can the church help singles celebrate their age and stage?  Of course, the range is wide and diverse!
  4. How can the church better address the culture of casual sex and living together without the commitment of marriage as less than God’s intent.  “Just don’t” is not enough!

Now, I understand that I am in a minority of my peers, although it is hard to say since as an older, never-married onesome, people like me have simply faded out of church attendance at all.  There are many who are widowed or divorced and far fewer who live in faithful protracted singleness who attend.

Above all, the most important thing I can ask of my church is to help me become transformed in my spiritual walk.  Unmarried or married – God tends to our hearts one-on-one without looking at our ring finger.

 Romans 12:1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  (The Message)

Personally, I do consider my wonderful church to be my family.  At the same time, I experience a very real loss at not having a husband and family to enjoy ministry and grow older with, within this wonderful church family I need people to hear and understand that!

How about you?  Let me read your comments!

Singleness – solitary confinement or solitary refinement ☆

orange and bananasSolitary confinement is considered to be the toughest, most extreme form of prison punishment.  People are put into a small hard-surfaced space for up to 23-24 hours a day, with no personal human contact.  Even their exercise time is alone.  Depending on the prison, they may have very limited opportunity for any stimulating experiences, TV, radio, education, hobbies, and reading.  The length of time may be days, weeks, months, even years.  Research shows that if a person was not mentally compromised before this experience, they will almost surely be, following lengthy isolation which was thrust upon them.

So, how does this relate to singleness?  Well, when a person is single for a lengthy part of his/her life, it can sometimes feel as though they have been put into a box labeled “alone.”  And, many of them simply did not “choose” this solitary circumstance.  It may feel as if it is a room which becomes smaller and more confining the older they get.

God addresses the solitary part right away in Genesis 2:18 after He had made a huge variety of animals and birds and a man who was given the incredible job of naming all these creatures.  How interesting must that have been?  But, when all was said and done, God saw that it was “not good that the man was alone.”  Now, given that He did go on to provide Eve for Adam – you know the rib story – over the years many have taken that verse to mean that it is not good for man to be unmarried.  But, the meaning is far wider than that.  No one can survive in a healthy manner totally and always alone.

Being isolated and alone for long periods of time changes who you are!

Unfortunately, many singles go through a period where they make the choice to exaggerate their aloneness by removing themselves from places where they feel their singleness is exaggerated.  And, unfortunately many onesomes feel that church is a place where this happens.  When marriage is held up as the “normal way to live,” they may wonder, “what about me?”  Now, I love seeing little folks running, laughing and playing, and love seeing moms and dads with their growing families.  I love seeing little glances couples give one another, and seeing them hold hands as they stand for prayer or singing or scripture reading during worship services.  In fact, for me, it is often just those simple things which warm my heart with joy – and which bring tears at the same time.  For some singles, going to church alone is simply too hard, and so they find other things to do with their Sundays.  In short, many isolate themselves from anything which is uncomfortable when it comes to relationships.

Most folks think of singleness as being a period of waiting – waiting for the next romantic relationship, waiting for that special person to marry, who also wants to marry you.  It is also considered preparation time for marriage.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, I can tell you that “waiting” has a whole different feel when you are 20 or 30 than at 50 or 60 and beyond.  The Apostle Paul and I would have an animated conversation about a couple verses in I Corinthians 7.

Paul:  (NIV) Now to the unmarried and the widows I say:  It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.  (verses 8-9)

Me:  I agree.  But I need more details.  Is there some sort of “marriage pool” for eligibles?  You make it sound so easy.

Paul:

Me:  Uh, I can’t hear you.  I’m burning here.  (Repeat this last exchange over and over until you realize Paul doesn’t have an answer for you.)

 Let’s face it.  Just deciding by yourself that you will marry is not enough.  Wanting, desiring, longing, wishing, hoping, and even praying are not enough.  Going to singles activities, joining a singles group, going on-line to meet others who want relationship, and making yourself as attractive as possible, may not be enough either.  After a number of years, energy may wane.  And, let’s also face it.  It takes two to choose one another!

For many, it feels like solitary confinement which isolates, separates, and disconnects.

So, what is the alternative?  Solitary refinement!

Solitary refinement integrates, joins together, and connects, as well as frees from entangling and hindering things – “sin” is what Hebrews 12:1 calls it.  And I John 5:17 expands on it by calling it any un-right-ness.  Solitary refinement focuses on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – otherwise known as fruit of the Spirit.  Solitary refinement even rejoices when waiting is interminable, when broken relationship brings deep heartache, when God brings spiritual surgery using suffering as a scalpel.  “Consider it pure joy” is the way James 1:2 says it.  Faith-trials and testing bring perseverance, maturity, and completeness.

Solitary refinement brings freedom to serve the Lord in both body and spirit, bringing undivided fidelity to Him.  Note how strongly Young’s Literal Translation says it:  I Corinthians 7:35  “And this for your own profit I say, not that I may cast a noose upon you, but for the seemliness and devotedness to the Lord, undistractedly.

In other words, God through Paul is telling us that He does not want to confine us, but to refine us!

For more thoughts on I Corinthians 7, go back to the very first posts in this blog.

Lessons from a bird and a moth. ☆

It was a sunny Colorado day; just the pleasant sort of day for errands.  I was getting groceries out of my car when I heard a little commotion behind me.

There was a moth banging over and over into the garage window – and on the other side there was a bird simultaneously banging over and over into the glass.  Now, the moth’s intent was simple.  “I just want out of here!”  The bird’s intent was simple, too.  “I just want moth for lunch.”  I watched for a couple minutes and neither of them gave up until I scared the bird away by walking out of the garage.

So, as usual, I began to relate these two little critters to my single life.

Moth perspective

  • ** I’m in a place I don’t like and I want to get into a better place.
  • ** I’m feeling very hemmed in and want to be freeeeeeeeee!
  • ** What in the world is this wall I can see through which keeps me from being freeeeeeeeee?
  • ** I want the grass and sunshine I see and not this gloomy garage!

Bird perspective

  • ** I’m just flying along being birdy and realize it’s time for lunch.
  • ** Should I go to arches of gold or hut of pizza?
  • ** In the meantime, here’s a tasty looking moth.  Here I go!
  • ** Bammety bam bam!  What in the world. . . . .?  (Repeat 10 times.)

I’ve often acted just like those little creatures.  How many times have I complained to God that I’m tired of where I am and tired of being alone?  Too numerous to count, I’m afraid.  For instance:

  •  ** It just seems that if I were married, I’d have a built-in companion to do stuff with.  Crash!
  • ** We’re attracted to each other.  We can work on the spiritual stuff later.  Bang!
  • ** Surely God wouldn’t deny me the desire of my heart.  After all, He promised.  (Psalm 37:4)  Wham!

I’ve discovered that my perception is often flawed.  Sometimes something looks good on the surface, not so good under.  When I was about 5, my mother was making bread.  I saw the rising dough and decided to snitch a piece because surely it would taste as good as cookie dough.  So, I took a small blob and ran outside to enjoy.  As Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame might say:  Aaaarrrggghhh!  In other words:  raw bread dough does not taste good!  It isn’t in its finished state – baked.

It’s all in the timing!

OK.  You get the picture.  The one who penned Psalm 73 hit it right on the head for potential birds and moths like me.

  • ** I know God is good – – – – – but I’m stumbling around here by myself.
  • ** Everyone around me seems to have things so much better – like money and companionship.
  • ** They are healthy and happy and trouble-free.
  • ** Now, I do see that they act in ways I choose not to – even violently with evil intent.
  • ** Oh yes, they have potty mouths, too.
  • ** But, they still have friends and are having a good time.
  • ** I thought following God would be happier and more comfortable.
  • ** Instead, I’m lonely and tired and don’t feel good.
  • ** Is following God worth it?

I find some comfort in the fact I’m not alone in the hard places!  I’ve learned a lot of tough lessons in the process of going from young to seasoned singleness.  Following Jesus is full of challenges – but the commitment is worth it!  If I could go back to talk to my younger self, I would say, “God’s word provides the guidance I need even – or especially – when I don’t get it – or even want it.  Meanwhile, keep talking to God about what your heart is feeling!  He can take it.”

Fortunately, the Psalmist brings us to a glorious conclusion in verse 28:

“But I’m in the very presence of God – oh, how refreshing it is!  I’ve made Lord God my home.  God, I’m telling the world what you do!  (The Message)

Little Big Things – another oxymoron. :) ☆

I’ve been having “Kumbaya my Lord” flashbacks to church camp this week.

camp merrillThe original Camp Moses Merrill in Nebraska was located near the little town of Fullerton, and I remember several weeks spent there as a kid and then as a camp counselor.  It offered great places to hike, with the most daring being “Lover’s Leap” which overlooked the Cedar River and held a lot of American Indian and pioneer folklore.

While I remember evening bonfires with roasted hot dogs and s’mores, one memory stands out for the impact it had on my life for many years.

I was a 13 year-old high school freshman, and had enjoyed a week of Bible studies, hiking, crafts, and looking for arrow heads.  The highlight of these weeks was a Saturday night “banquet” such as one could have in a rather rustic building.  The girls wore dresses and the guys wore nice shirts, and the food served was a step above what we had gotten all week.  Often we ate by candlelight, and then had a special service in the chapel where we were challenged to make Jesus the Lord of our lives.

Now, of course, as young teenagers, we were interested in finding dates for this special meal.  There was a boy I really liked in many of the Bible studies and hiking groups, etc., and I dreamed he would ask me to the banquet.  And, then it happened!  I was ecstatic!  But then, as I turned a corner around the snack shack, I ran into a group of laughing boys – including my Prince Charming.  It seems that they were having a little contest to see who could invite the biggest number of “ugly girls” to the banquet – who would fall for the invitation, that is.

I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach.  Ugly girl?  Of course, no boy materialized on banquet night.  I still remember the black and white dress I wore.  I remember curling my blond hair and putting on my happy face and going to a meal which tasted like sawdust.  I let those words, “ugly girl,” haunt my thoughts for way too many years.  My guess is that many of you reading this may have similar little-big stories?

Fast forward a bunch of years – to 2015.

I was privileged to be accompanist for 28 years for The Greeley Chorale, an auditioned choral group which has gained fame with worldwide travels by singing in:

  • *  The American Pavilion on July 4th at the 1988 World’s Fair in Brisbane, Australia.
  • *  The jazz festival in Montreux, Switzerland.
  • *  The Mozart Requiem in the Votivkirche in Vienna, Austria and the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford, England.
  • *  Vespers services in St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Mark’s in Venice, Italy.
  • *  The huge outdoor amphitheater in Ephesus, Turkey – where the Apostle Paul preached a number of times.

Well – on to my point before I get totally lost in Memory Lane!

Being involved with Chorale brought healing in many, many ways as a musician/pianist and as a person loved by caring friends.  Week after week brought heartwarming rehearsals filled with music which challenged me as a pianist and often gave rise to personal worship in my heart – even during the stop and start nature of rehearsals.  Great choral music of all types was in our repertoire from show tunes to opera to American music to spirituals to large sacred works.

While I retired from that accompanist position several years back, they asked me to accompany two numbers in May 2015 to help celebrate Chorale’s 50-year anniversary.  What a privilege it was to sit before “my people” again to play Randall Thompson’s Last Words of David, and Rene Claussen’s At the Name of Jesus.

After lots of applause and lots of hugs, I was thoughtfully tiny-stepping my way in heels through a snow storm to my car.  Yes, it was snowing even though it was Mother’s Day weekend!  But, I didn’t mind because the warm glow in my heart far outshone the freezing night.

And then it happened!  A gentlemen came alongside me, took my arm, and said, “Let me escort you to your car.”  We chit-chatted our way through a couple blocks, and he made me sit inside while he brushed an amazing array of snowflakes off my car, and then left with a friendly “Good night.”  I had never seen him before, and will most likely never see him again.  But, that one simple kindness made me feel beautiful!

A marvelous example of a little big thing which will always make me smile!

I think it is God who brought the long-ago camp incident to my mind as I drove home, just to let me know that it has no power over my thoughts any more!

Colossians 3:12  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  (NIV)

♥ The original Camp Merrill is now the Nebraska Broken Arrow Wilderness.

CELIBACY – Gift? Choice? Discipline? ☆

wait hereA number of years ago as I closed a college women’s Bible Study, one of the students said to me, “I’ve never known anyone before who has the gift of celibacy.”  I can still see the admiration in her eyes – and can still feel the absolute gut-wrenching punch I felt inside.  I drove home in tears with this question:  “You didn’t do that to me, did you, God?”  I was in my early 30s.

I’ve wrestled with that question for what for some readers is more than their lifetime of years.  Earlier editions of Webster’s Dictionary define celibacy simply as the unmarried state, or as a vow made not to marry, particularly for religious reasons.  Somewhere along the line it also came to mean abstinence from sexual activity.

I find it interesting that while the Bible never uses the term, celibacy, it is well understood that abstaining from intimate physical relationships is the recommended way of life for those who do not have a spouse.

Gift?

Many Bible scholars use I Corinthians 7:7 as proof positive that Paul calls this way of life a gift.  “I wish that all of you were as I am, but each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (NIV)  He appears to be speaking of the practice of abstinence from physical intimacy in and out of marriage – limited abstinence by agreement of husband and wife if married, total abstinence if not married.  For the unmarried person, Paul goes on to say in verses 8-9:  “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say:  It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

So, what happened to the gift?  Is it returnable?  Is it acceptable in some cases, not in others?  Is it one of the more specialized gifts termed as spiritual?  Are the effects instant if you accept it?  When and where do I get it?  What if I am one of the “burning” ones?

Hmmmmmm.  I wonder.

Choice?

Now, my stance on Scripture is constant.  I believe II Timothy 3:16-17 implicitly:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  So, that’s how I handle my frustration at times when I wish the Bible went further in some of its explanations – especially for the onesome.  Even though verses specifically for the single are few, they say exactly what God intended to say on the subject.

Our lives are rarely without choice in some form.  We choose to make God the center of our lives.  we choose modes of conduct, such as to steal or not steal, to envy or not to envy; to respect or to disrespect; to be faithful or to cheat.  We choose what to eat, wear, say, and do.

My personal opinion is that celibacy is a choice God leaves up to me.  Now, sometimes choices are made willingly – or unwillingly.  Both depend on what we conclude are the right things to do.  Why in the world would I choose celibacy when every part of my being desires that close connection with another person?

  • *  Well, first and foremost, I believe it is what God requests of me in order to serve Him faithfully.
  • *  I believe that physical intimacy involves giving of the deepest parts of my being to another.
  • *  I want the deepest parts of my being to be entrusted to my husband, not just anyone.
  • *  I want my husband to whom I give the deepest parts of my being to have mutual spiritual values.
  • *  I want to avoid distraction of physical/emotional complications caused by short-term intimate social relationships.
  • *  And so, I choose celibacy.

Discipline?

Personally, I believe a celibate life involves both well-considered choice and intentional discipline!  Self-discipline is one of the spiritual fruit mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22.  While this verse does not specifically connect it to intimacy issues, there are a host of scriptures which tell us to avoid unfaithfulness of all sorts, including sexual issues.  Where I used to rant and rave at God about the battle of hormones vs. faithfulness to Him, I find that disciplined practice brings a solid consequence of more consistent contentment with where I am now.  Let me illustrate.

I am a pianist.  I began piano lessons when I was about 4 years old because I would stand at the piano and pick out tunes I heard – mainly hymns.  My mother helped me begin to develop the gift of music.  Along with that came a bunch of choices.  I discovered along the way that my tastes moved toward traditional baroque, classical, and romantic composers:  Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven.  Hearing music by composers like these just blessed a depth of my soul unlike much of contemporary music.  And then came discipline.  I decided to major in piano performance in college.  I thought I was pretty good as an incoming freshman piano major.  And then, I met my piano professor!  He took me way back to some basics I thought I had far surpassed.  I had to learn every piece at a snail’s pace.  BORING!  Then, one day I discovered that when I could play pieces from memory up to tempo, it was almost as if I could read them in my mind.  Learning them very slowly to begin with brought freedom from memory lapses, and great confidence and fun in performance.  I learned that discipline, while is often not fun, brings great reward!  I’m sure great athletes think the same.  What we see in public is born out of thousands of hours of private repetition and practice and study.  Discipline enhances the gift and the choice.

That is exactly how I feel about the discipline of celibacy after practicing it throughout my life.  It helps manage my thoughts and actions.  Choice of what I watch on TV and how I exercise my love of reading is managed by the discipline of knowing what causes me to move into areas of intimacy which simply are not available to me at present.  You know all those Hallmark movies, especially at Christmas?  Girl always gets boy, even in the most impossible of circumstances.  Even those I have to watch with discernment, because sometimes they feed a yearning in my heart which is not one God has chosen to fulfill – so far anyway.  There’s nothing wrong with the movies.  But, discipline has taught me that I need to discern the vulnerability of my heart to choose whatever I read and watch and think about in order to cultivate the quality of my life.

So what do you think?  Gift?  Choice?  Or discipline?  For more of my thoughts on this, see the first posts of this blog:  “I Corinthians 7 – a new look.”

Would you marry someone at first sight? ☆

question mark 2A door opened and a bride began her walk down the aisle.  The thing which stopped my channel surfing and glued my eyes to the TV screen was that after she looked at the groom, her eyes teared up – and her face looked incredibly distressed.  This was not a movie drama.  This was a very real wedding ceremony which is part of an “extreme social experiment” called “Married at First Sight,” a very popular show which began in Denmark which has found its way across the globe to us.  We learn in voiceovers that this bride was not in any way, shape, or form, attracted to the person she saw standing at the altar.  Not a good way to start any marriage, I’d say.

Read this description:  “Married at First Sight” is an extreme social experiment that follows six brave singles yearning for a life-long partnership as they agree to a provocative proposal:  getting legally married to a complete stranger the moment they first meet. . . The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle and see each other face-to-face, for the first time, at the altar.  Over the course of several weeks, episodes capture each couple’s journey as they go from wedding, to honeymoon, to early nesting, to the daily struggle of working on their marriage.  After several weeks together, each couple must make a decision:  do they remain together or decide to divorce?”

Of this A&E channel show, Heidi Stephens for The Chicago Tribune writes (June 3,:2014):  “I love this idea.  Not because it will lead to three beautiful, blissful unions.  It won’t, obviously.  But because it forces us to reckon with, once again, our complete and utter hypocrisy about marriage.

I have to agree with that last statement.  We live in a time when marriage is still desired – and yet shunned – because it is considered by some to be old-fashioned, out-of-date, and unnecessary.  Lip-service is given to fidelity, and yet too often, common practice is anything but faithful.  Books, TV, and movie themes so often center on someone’s affair while attempting to keep a marriage “intact.”  Internet offers 24/7 access to whatever the mind can imagine.  Yet, so many who are addicted to spending time on explicit sites are often the ones we would least expect, and they would be embarrassed if it was known.  Hypocrisy ruins a lot of lives!

Thousands of men and women signed up to be considered for “Married at First Sight.”  Many have tried over and over to find “the one,” their “soul mate.”  They have tried online dating sites and some may have met a variety of possibilities; some have not.  Biological clocks are ticking and years are passing, and that special person is not showing up.  People are grasping at straws to find something to satisfy their deep longings and desires for companionship.  I understand that the numbers were pared down considerably when folks realized that it really did mean exchanging vows with someone they had never actually seen until the big day.

So, what about the ones who remained?  Who would actually put their lives in the hands of people they have never met – a psychologist, sociologist, sexologist, and spiritual director – to choose the one they could potentially spend the rest of their lives with?  Do they really believe this outside analysis can accurately decide who is compatible and will guarantee attraction?  Well, apparently.  For some things in life, it is easier if someone else makes the decision.

I can understand the loneliness and yearning in hearts of those who think they have waited long enough for Mr./Miss Right to show up.  It seems to be logical to try something which promises longed for results.  This program, however, offers an escape clause.  The cameras follow the couples around for one month.  ONE MONTH?  If they have decided not to continue, “Married at First Sight” helps them get a divorce.  Something is definitely wrong with this picture!

The whole concept makes me sad.  Nothing can replace building a strong relationship before making a lifelong covenant with one another.  Even then, the challenges of marriage are great.  It takes both people giving 100%/100%.  While this program does have a “spiritual adviser” on the panel, he is described as a “humanist chaplain” at Harvard, with the words, “agnostic” and “atheist” following his name – which shouts volumes about his interest in “spiritual things” –  minus Jesus.

So, who would I want to walk into the sunset with?  Well, of course, there would need to be mutual attraction and enjoyment in being together – on a foundation of mutual belief that the Bible does indeed provide instruction – which works – in all areas of life, regardless of marriage status.  We would have to agree in the truth of who Jesus Christ is – Lord of lords, King of kings, Savior – God!

That would take longer than a month!

Marriage is too valuable to be called an “extreme social experiment!”

 

Casual glance, casual dress, and, oh yes, casual sex. What??? ☆

I’m back to my fave book, the dictionary, for a summary of the word “casual.”

  1. Happening or coming to pass without design.
  2. Happening without being foreseen or expected.
  3. Relaxed and unconcerned.
  4. Careless or offhand.
  5. Occurring by chance.
  6. Seeming to be indifferent to what is happening.

OK.  That’s plenty of definition which I believe makes the phrase, “casual sex” an unfortunate oxymoron – two words which aren’t compatible, like “definite maybe.”  In fact, if you search online for “oxymoron casual sex” you’ll find a lot of articles secular and faith-based which discuss this for what it is:  a twisted view of something precious.

Now, I’m all for good communication about all aspects of life.  From what I read, most parents find it uncomfortable to have “the talk” with their kids.  In fact, if you are brave, and you want to laugh uncontrollably, go to monastery.com and read this hilarious response to her kids’ questions.  Just a note:  while she draws some spiritual ideas in her blog which i do not hold, “Sex is tricky” has got to be one of the funniest articles of the year.  Now, my guess is that most of us did not gain this intellectual knowledge in quite the same manner or intensity.

What in the world happens to us?  Well, when we are babies and little tots, people are really protective of us – of every part of us.  Cute clothes cover parts of our anatomy considered precious and private.  Little kids are taught not to just disrobe anywhere they please.  We teach value and respect for the body, especially because the mature mid-body areas have the capability of bringing forth new life.  Think about that a bit.  Not only is pleasure involved, but the possibility of bringing forth new life is an incredible gift – not to be taken lightly.

Shouldn’t we have a large measure of awe and respect for something so powerful?

So, what in the world happens?  Where, here are a few things:

Little children are thrust into a sexualized world at earlier and earlier ages through things like beauty pageants where they wear makeup, fake teeth, hair extensions, and are taught to move provocatively.  Little children, especially girls, may see this on TV and learn at a very early age that the way they look is most important.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love to see little girls and boys in dress-up clothes.  But, forcing them to act in sexualized adult ways is not cute.

How is it that school children in younger and younger grades are seemingly compelled to experiment sexually with one another?  What has happened to the respect for all parts of our anatomy which should have carried over from baby and toddler days?  How it is that so many folks from high school on up make intimacy so commonplace?  How did baring their bodies to each other become so commonplace?

TV and the Internet have certainly carved deep paths into minds of all ages, giving access to a whole bunch of input for people who may not have anyplace to put it.  Along with that, many of us do not get compelling teaching that sexual intimacy is reserved for those who make the covenant of marriage with one another.  We are not told that we are precious and are not meant to give ourselves away with reckless imitations of intimacy.

People want to be important to themselves and others.  They want to feel good.  No one denies that sexual intimacy is desirable – it feels good.  But, even the best things are often made better by restraint.  Eating a piece of dark chocolate cake is enjoyable.  Eating the whole cake is not.

The Message puts it so well in I Corinthians 6:16-20:

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin.  Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact.  As written in Scripture, “The two become one.”  Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever–the kind of sex that can never “become one.”  There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others.  In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another.  Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit?  Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for?  The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you.  God owns the whole works.  So let people see God in and through your body.

(Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible called The Message.)

One Shade of Black – The Sequel ☆

How we blow things out of all proportion, until a simple truth is no longer recognizable.

Isn’t that a great sentence?  I ran across it today in – of all places – a murder mystery.  I think it is the perfect summary of the sensational press for books and movies such as “Fifty Shades of Grey.”  Just take a look at movie titles and so many of them scream of seduction, infidelity, sexual crimes, violence, witchcraft, and making normal things abnormal.  TV shows make comedy out of sexual innuendos, affairs, teenage escapades, and activities which most of the general public still considers to be inappropriate.  And, yet, they also find them funny.  Go figure.

Going beyond the comedy are very graphic depictions of murder, kidnapping, violent crimes, crimes against children, and pornography of all levels.  The Greeks had a word for this:  porneia – the selling off or surrendering of sexual purity; promiscuity of any type.  Sound familiar?  And, that word is in the Bible!

So, what about Fifty Shades?

“To truly understand the success of Fifty Shades, one first has to revisit the book’s roots.  Despite a determined campaign of internet scrubbing by author E.L. James and her publishers, it’s still relatively common knowledge that Fifty Shades began its life as an online Twilight fan fiction serial called Master of the Universe.”♦♦

Author Kirsten Andersen summarizes the Twilight plot, and says Fifty Shades is simply the same teen story told for adults.  Both tell the stories of shy, innocent girls/women who are attracted to very attractive and magnetic boys/men who have an innate desire to hurt them.  The women agree to things they would not ordinarily agree to because of the intense attraction and the intense high from having a popular, incredibly powerful man seemingly interested in them.  That someone finds them that attractive, is enough to erase their inhibitions about intimate moral activity.

Let’s face it.  Heightened appetite for anything can overrule our best intentions.

Paul addressed a Greek audience in I Thessalonians 4:3-5 when he said, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.  Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor–not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways.”  (NLT)  Now, the pagans he was talking about were those living in a Twilight and Fifty Shades mentality.  They were coming out of a culture which made sexual activity common place even in their religious temples.  Their appetites had been groomed to accept overindulgence as the norm.

Once you acquire a taste for something, it’s hard to stay away from it.

God knows the strength of our passionate feelings.  He created them – and they are good.  Our tendency is to single out sexual intimacy as our entitled right, and that is so much less than God wants for us.  Just look at the list of Spiritual Fruit in Galatians 5:22-23:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  And, there are no lows against any of these!  Imagine our lives if we took full advantage of all these things which are part of our inheritance in Jesus Christ!

Is it possible to learn self-control of body appetites?  Absolutely!

Is it easy?  Nooooooooooooooooooooo!

The pattern has been set.  The enemy of our souls has taken a God-given desire and turned it into an addictive frenzy which will not subside any time soon.  I’ve discovered the truth of Psalm 119:11 which is a life-long pursuit – that of hiding God’s word in the heart to keep sin at bay.  Now, understand that I am certainly no Pollyanna.  Just ask my friends.  This verse brings responsibility into focus.  And that is not easy!

I wrote to a very good friend recently, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in the deep end of the swimming pool because my experience is far below my knowledge – – – thankfully so!”  He wrote back, “Our culture has gone off the cliff, especially in our handling of our sexuality.  When you think of sexual desire simply as another bodily function like eating, why not indulge with whomever you want?  It is and will be a lonely walk for those living under clear biblical teaching.”

How true, how true.  So, fellow onesomes, stand firm!

  •   The Brutal Telling, Louise Penny, Minotaur Books 2009, page 179
  • ♦♦ Just search for “why is 50 shades of grey so popular” for interesting insight to some of what guides our culture.

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