A Single Window Pane ☆

When I first moved into my 1920 vintage home, the kitchen had those crank-out sort of windows.  They didn’toutside looking in work so well, because the cranks kept falling off and eventually would not work anymore.  One of the windows would fly open in the wind and I had to nail it shut.  First big expense – double-paned windows.  A week and BIG chunk of change later, I had windows I could open and shut with ease and the double panes helped with my heating bill.  Rain would slam onto the screens and the outside pane but keep the inner pane dry.

Fast forward a couple years.  Moisture began to gather between the panes of those expensive windows.  Thanks to the warranty, another big chunk of change for labor, and I had airtight windows again.  I guess you could call that “labor panes.”  Sorry!  I couldn’t resist that.

So, why the thoughts about windows today?  Because for a few weeks now, I’ve been bumping up against a single window pane of the mind which causes emotional pain.  Advice for marriage and family abounds.  Some of my long-visited Christian websites have either discontinued their pages for singles, or have buried them under pages labeled “for women” with fewer and fewer articles for those without a life partner.  And, generally the articles there tend to be written by now-married women who focus on “what to do while waiting.”  Articles abound on “how to raise children” and “10 little things to brighten your husband’s day.”

Venturing onto pages “for men” is usually a different experience.  While there are articles for “5 things your wife wishes you knew,” it is rare to find any mention of singleness on men’s pages.  Maybe it’s because fewer men than women walk through life as a onesome.

I’ve come to realize that singledom, especially in the church, is an invisible village.

Sermon series for God’s design for sex and marriage are popular.  Onesomes are told to pray for their married family and friends, armed with increasing information on what marriage should be about.  I’m quite happy to do that.  I respect marriage highly.  I’m not blind to the endurance of many in this challenging place.  Why, however, is it not just as important for those who are married to understand more about the challenges of living as a Godly single, and to pray for us as well?  I’m here to tell you that being single takes a lot of hard work, too!

In the absence of attention at church-level in general, I’m aware that there is definitely an elephant in the room – and it seems to be me.  Well, at least, it is those of us who do not have a life partner at present.  Most unmarrieds who come to the church are those who have had the experience of having had a spouse.  Sadly, marriages end by death and divorce, both very painful situations.  I’m also here to tell you that never having had a spouse can also be a very painful situation that very few acknowledge, bringing loneliness most folks just don’t get!

I’m saddened greatly that most churches do not think about a sermon series – or even one sermon – on what it means to live a Godly single life.  There is an urgent need for even middle and high school students to know how precious their emotions and hormones are to God, and that He is very interested in helping them develop self-control and contentment.  College men and women are thrust into a world where many of them are on their own for the first time, and if they have not learned the value of faithfulness and self-control at a younger age, they may have trouble seeing the value now.  The term “single” is not generally used until they are post-college age.  Once again, they are on a huge learning curve of how to be self-supporting and responsible adults.  Too often, too many do not have a practiced discipline in their moral lives and may not see a need to gain one now.  Why not?

They have not been told how important and valuable their moral lives are to God, themselves, and those around them. 

Read this:  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.  (I Corinthians 6:19-20)

The temple in Scripture is described as a visually spectacular place, full of color and lush fabrics, and gold, silver, and gems of every type.  Of course, its real purpose was not to be spectacular, but to be a place where people gave back to God from their crops and livestock, acknowledging their shortcomings – sin – and receiving forgiveness.  While the Temple does not exist in Jerusalem today, its memory does.  And, certainly the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice in my place for my sin exists!

In the process, He considers me as a beautiful temple which is furnished by the Holy Spirit within me!  How can I help but live my life glorifying Him as best I can!

However, I still find myself as a sort of Lone Ranger shouting a message few want to hear.

Are you listening?

Powerful words from a 6 year-old ☆

first grade rocksA young couple I know has four amazing children, and I love seeing them bounce into church on Sunday mornings.  The night before school this fall, young mom asked oldest son, Drew, to think about something he might say to his younger siblings the next day.  She didn’t tell him what to say, and expected he would say things like, “Have a happy day,” or “Play nice.”  Well, read this and be amazed at what came out of this boy’s mouth!

“Today is Drew’s first day of first grade.  As we drove to school he took a few minutes to talk to each of his siblings:

‘Abigail, even though I’m going to school and you are staying at home for school (kindergarten), I’m real proud of you.  You are a good girl and you are still my best friend.  I love you so much.  And you are a beautiful daughter of the King.

‘Simon, You are crazy.  I’m praying that you will be a good boy today, that you will listen to mom and make good choices.  I will play with you when I get home.  I love you, buddy.

‘Essie, you are so silly and goofy.  Don’t grow up too much today.  I’m sorry I have to go to school and I will miss your birthday.  I know you will be a good happy girl all day.  You are a beautiful daughter of the King.  I love you.’

As if that wasn’t enough . . .

‘Mom, I love you.  You do so much for me.  I’m real proud of you.  I hope you have a good day.  You are beautiful.  Don’t be late picking me up.’

Yes, I cried.”

Wow!  This articulate little boy – and so many like him – is our future!  I anticipate that he and his family and friends will stand firm in the relationship they are building with Jesus!  His will not be an easy world.  We see more and more derision of those who are Christ-followers, don’t we?  Many paint all of us with broad brush strokes because of the unwise and thoughtless – perhaps trite and downright stupid – words and acts of a few who identify themselves as Christians.  Fortunately, it’s not up to me to decide whether they are or not.  That’s God’s business.

It’s getting less and less popular to believe that the Bible is adequate to be our guide.  Our culture sees it as outdated and jaded in its content.  Folks like to pick out a phrase and use it as proof text that the whole of scripture has outlived its usefulness.  But, my guess is that most will adhere to much of the Ten Commandments to largely shape their moral compass because they see the value of the relational “do-nots:”

  1. Do not murder.
  2. Do not commit adultery.
  3. Do not steal.
  4. Do not give false testimony.
  5. Do not covet – envy – what others have which you do not have.

Just about any crime against another falls under one of these categories..

There are five more Commandments, though.

  1. Have no other gods before Me – the Lord your God!
  2. Have no idols which you honor and worship instead of Me – the Lord your God!
  3. Do not misuse the name of God in any form – use it in a way which dishonors the Lord your God!.
  4. Take a Sabbath Day – a day of holy rest.
  5. Honor your parents.

Jesus summed up all ten of these in a succinct sentence:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27)  I believe that if the “Love your God” part is in place, the “love your neighbor” will also fall into place.

I have the privilege of seeing Drew and his brother and sisters grow up knowing and expressing the love of Jesus, and also have the privilege of praying that they and their peers will grow in their knowledge of Him, learning discernment as they face all sorts of opposition to their beliefs.

Oh yes, have you noticed that when folks are so vitriolic in their criticism of Christians’ intolerance that they are practicing the intolerance they are criticizing?  Just a thought.

 

So, Ashley Madison, what’s next? ☆

why question markThe news of the recent hacking of the Ashley Madison website has sort of died down in recent days, but the internet continues to buzz with articles about the “what now.”  The CEO has stepped down.  It has been suggested that a couple of suicides are linked to the list of names revealed.  There are incidences of extortion cropping up as some seek to use another person’s ill-fated decision for their financial gain.  Many marriages are being further torn apart as names are made public.  Reputations are at risk – and not only in the USA.  According to numerous online articles, names are included from the UK, Asia, and Europe.

No matter how we look at it, it is a sad commentary of our world-wide society!

What made this website so alluring to so many folks?  I think there are at least three areas to consider:

  1.  Entitlement
  2.  Opportunity
  3.  Appearance of anonymity

Entitlement:  How many times have we heard, “You deserve . . .”  Some stay unemployed because they “deserve” the exact job and salary of their dreams and will not accept anything less.  Fewer people start out in modest living spaces because they “deserve” to have homes, cars, and other possessions which are often way beyond their means.  We frequent fast food businesses and use our microwave ovens because we don’t “deserve” to have to wait to eat.  We “deserve” to be happy NOW, to be satisfied NOW.

It doesn’t help that we have to deal with desires and hormones daily as magazine covers and advertisements use varying levels of sexual messages to entice us to buy just about anything.  TV and the internet provide visuals which are next to impossible to erase from our minds.  We have come to believe that we “deserve” to do anything we want to do with our minds AND our bodies.

Opportunity:  The website in the news is not a new one.  It started in 2001.  And, it is not the only one.  Nor is it the only avenue to explore if one entertains the thought of straying from marriage vows.  I think it is also safe to assume that a number of those who registered may have not been married.  For them, it provided a “safe” place for a play date.  Perhaps it was just one of a number of sites intentionally visited.  Availability provides heady opportunity.

Appearance of Anonymity:  Just as we sort of think that everything we read in the newspaper and hear on the news is accurate, we fall into the trap of thinking we can be anonymous on the internet because a site promises unbreachable security.  It is unfortunate that entities such as large stores, banks, and governmental agencies – AND websites – are magnetic targets for some who seek pleasure in the pain of others.  The allure of breaking codes and creating havoc to millions of people is an enticement some just cannot resist.  But, let’s face it.  Everything we do online is always floating around out there!

A One-way Mirror

You’ve seen them; those crazy one-way mirrors which show us our image on one side and allow us to see through on the other.  This hacking/exposure fiasco has served to show us that hiding in the depths of most of our souls is, at least, a hint of what is right and wrong, moral and immoral.  On one hand, refraining from sexual activity outside of marriage has become an outdated, old-fashioned idea which many choose to ignore.  On the other hand, publishing the names of those doing this has served as a finger-pointing situation because we really do know it is unacceptable – and, well – wrong!

We simply cannot always trust our feelings.  Just because something feels good or right does not make it so.  We need some sort of objective measurement.  It is no secret to anyone reading this blog that I believe that objective measurement is found in the Bible.  Even in the Ten Commandments which are shunned by some as outdated gives us short – even terse – advice on a number of things destructive to society, including, “Do not commit adultery.”  That is as unmistakable in its meaning now as it was then!

Jesus addressed the source of many of our societal woes when He said, “it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come–sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.  (Mark 7:21-22 NIV)

Well, that about covers it all, doesn’t it?  We cannot always avoid the thoughts, BUT we can avoid entertaining and acting on them.  Once again, a verse I’ve used often in this blog tells us that with every temptation comes the promise that God will provide a way out of it!  (I Corinthians 10:13)

Oh yes.  Don’t you feel sorry for those women whose name actually is Ashley Madison? 🙂

 

 

Thoughts about Ashley Madison ☆

mirrorMy guess is that until a few weeks ago, most of us had never heard of Ashley Madison.  Then, it seemed that name was popping out all over the place.  First Josh Duggar, and then an infamous list of folks leaked into public view.

Actually, Ashley Madison is not a new site.  It’s been around since 2001.  The name sounds innocent enough, but even a cursory search brings these self-descriptions:

  •      *  Infidelity site
  •      *  Online personals and dating destination for casual encounters
  •      *  Married dating and extramarital affairs
  •      *  Site slogan:  “Life is short.  Have an affair.”

Well, no attempt to cover up the real purpose here.  Of course, it is not the only website dedicated to helping folks stray from their wedding vows.  If you google™ the words, “encourage adultery” over 500,000 entries show up for exploration, including other explicit websites encouraging infidelity.

There seem to be two main thoughts which demonstrate a crazy double standard:

  1.   Cheating on one’s spouse is a rather popular, expected, and even accepted activity.
  2.   If it is so commonly accepted, then why does its public exposure become such a shame-filled event?

Suddenly, morality which is laughed at as a general rule becomes a big deal!

Unfaithfulness, commitment, and pre-marriage celibacy become subjects of great debate, generally painted with broad “impossible and unnecessary to carry out” strokes.  But when these things are exposed in the lives of public figures, we are disappointed because we hold them to a higher standard from ourselves.

The Ashley Madison hacking incident has become a mirror exposing what is really going on in hearts and minds of people from all walks of life.  It has shown us that we’re all on a level playing field.  No one is immune from being tempted to do what we know to be wrong.  No one!  Folks from every walk of life are worried their name is on the list.  Of course, those who are Christians in the public arena are especially up for public ridicule if their names do appear.

There are numerous articles summarizing what the great needs are for a husband or wife.  Well, newsflash  these are needs for all men and women, married or single!  It’s just that we onesomes miss out on the built-in other person to help bring these things to life. Now, I’m also realistic enough to know that many married folk miss out on the fulfillment of these things, too, because we are a broken human race.

Anyway, these articles all seem to cover the same topics.

  1. Wife:  love, affection, protection, security, commitment, appreciation, value, compassion, partnership.
  2. Husband:  respect, admiration, peace, commitment, acceptance/participation, sense of purpose.

While sexual satisfaction is also a part of these needs, the lack of the above is what really sends men and women outside the covenant of marriage to gain a sense of fulfillment and understanding.

Let’s face it.  Adultery is not a new thing.

God addressed it through Moses when He gave the Ten Commandments.  (Exodus 20:14)  We have no record that the people asked Moses, “What is adultery?”  They already knew well the temptations to worship false gods, speak loosely of the God Who created them, to not set aside a special time to worship Him and to rest, to murder, steal, lie, covet things not belonging to them, AND to commit adultery.

So, why is it that we are surprised when a website such as Ashley Madison leaps into public view?

Because we think we are better than we are!

We forget that no matter now perfect and good we try to be, we cannot achieve perfection and goodness on our own.

That does not stop us from trying, however.

Oh my!  I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of what I want to say.  Keep looking for some sequels! 🙂

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)

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.”

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