“Nature is our greatest spiritual teacher.” Oprah Winfrey ☆

question mark 2You know who is one of the most influential spokespersons in the world today on spirituality?  Oprah Winfrey!  Read this quote from a CNN interview which shows that she definitely sees herself and her current mission as a spiritual leader.

“. . . I’m very clear about what my role is and purpose is.  This isn’t about me.  I am the messenger to deliver the message of redemption, of forgiveness, of gratitude, of evolving people to the best of themselves.  So I am on my personal journey.  My personal journey is to fulfill the highest expression of myself here as a human being here on earth.”  Hence, she is interested in fostering spirituality but not religion.  She wants people to turn inward for relevant and spiritual wholeness, not to structures, theological systems or the church.  In so many ways, we are talking about one of the most powerful spiritual leaders of our time–more influential and more powerful than almost any pastor or religious leader one can imagine.”

Now, personally I think Oprah is a very talented, confident woman.  She obviously wants to understand spiritual things.  She is articulate and intelligent.  She has a way of engaging folks to talk about what is going on in their lives and wants to help them figure out ways to grow.  She is a very generous woman who takes joy in sharing her wealth with a variety of people, especially those around the world who are the most needy.

Now, I also personally think that Oprah’s spiritual advice is most often–well–WRONG, and that those who call themselves Christians in particular need to ramp up their understanding of God’s word as it stands beside Oprah’s words!  Let’s take the title to this post.  What in the world does this statement really mean?  What “nature” are we talking about?  are we talking about birds and animals and fish?  Are we talking about beautiful scenery and the universe?  Are we talking about the nature of mankind?

And, what “spiritual” are we talking about?  Are we talking about God, or a higher being, or someone or something beyond ourselves?  Are we talking about the deep soul and spirit each of us possesses in this physical body?  Are we talking about ourselves as we look inside and ponder what, who, and why we are?

I find it interesting that Oprah will quickly say she is a Christian, but does not talk so quickly about her relationship with Jesus.  Read this description:

Winfrey said her definition of spirituality is living life with an open heart, through love, and allowing yourself to align with the values of tolerance, acceptance, of harmony, of cooperation and reverence for life.  She said she believes there is a divine thread that connects spiritually to something greater than ourselves.  ‘My favorite Bible verse–because I am a Christian–is Acts 17:28.  It says, “In God I live and move and have my being.”‘”

Another time, she said, “Well I am a Christian who believes that there are certainly many more paths to God other than Christianity.

And another:  “Christ did not come to die on the cross but to bring Christ consciousness.”

And even another:  “And God is a feeling experience, not a believing experience.  And if your religion is a believing experience, if God for you is still about a belief, it is not truly God.”

Oprah has a great variety of friends in realms deemed spiritual.  When she attends megachurches Potter’s House in Dallas (T.D. Jakes) and Lakewood Church in Houston (Joel Osteen) she raises her hands and amens frequently..  Currently, she is close with spirituality author and speaker Eckhart Tolle, who writes and lectures about “the inner state of your consciousness” and “your essence identify.”  Oprah’s Belief TV series in 2015 explored major world religions to display that there is a deep longing inside people to find someone or something beyond themselves which will bring peace, contentment, and joy.  I watched several of this series, and did not see a whole lot of peace, contentment, and joy represented there.

Well, In Oprah’s stepping onto “Christian” turf, she’s in territory I am more familiar with.  When she makes statements like, “Christ did not come to die on the cross. . .” I can go to the Bible to find these words of Jesus when His death was getting closer.  “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say?  ‘Father, save me from this hour?’  No.  It was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify Your name!”  (John 12:27-28)

There’s so much more to say–and I’m working on more posts on this subject.  On the surface, the title of this post may feel like a “deep” thought to many–and if Oprah said it, it must be true.  Right?  Hmmmmm.  I see it as a thought which can lead us down a myriad of bunny trails which hide the way to the Truth, Way, and Life who is Jesus Christ!  (John 14:6)

More scratches on the surface of this topic to come soon. 🙂

 

When do we pull the plug on innocence? ☆

As I sit here with my cup of coffee this morning thinking about the massacre in San Bernardino yesterday, the title seems most apt.  For some unfathomable, as-of-now unknown reason, two people thought that brutally killing a number of others was an answer to something.  99.99% of us cannot even begin to wrap our minds around what that answer might be, and it does no good to ask “why?”  We live in a broken world which continues to crumble.  If we ever needed peace and innocence, the time is now!  And so, on to the article which has percolated in my head the past 3 weeks.


baby snow monkey 3OK, OK.  I admit it.  I am in love with the “wild” Japanese snow monkeys – especially the babies when they are in full fur and are running around like fluffy furbies.  A photographer named Kiyo has captured hours of these creatures in all annual seasons and stages of life from tiny babyhood to the elderly.  The monkeys in Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park are used to tourists getting right up in their faces with cameras, and yet they are not tame.  They run, play, love, raise babies, and doze in hot springs while remaining wary of their human visitors.  Most of the mothers are incredibly tender with their tiny offspring, becoming disciplinarians when necessary to teach them monkey politics.  They rarely smack their kids – although an occasional bite happens.  They also use very stern facial expressions to let a baby know when he/she has overstepped boundaries.  Babies throw tantrums during the weaning process, and Mom just sits waiting for it to end, while training them to find their own food.  The adults are small – not even 2 feet tall, and the babies are small enough to fit into even my cupped hands – and I have little hands!  The year-old youngsters are about the size of a fuzzy loaf of bread with legs.  They learn to hang on for dear life to Mama’s fur while she bounds through deep snow.  I am especially drawn to their tiny faces which show a huge variety of little emotions.

baby humanNow of course, the epitome of innocence is found in people babies!  Few can resist the little facial expressions, arm and leg motions, and little noises coming from such tiny living packages.  They are quite simply, innocence personified!  We do everything we can to protect these precious little ones.  We make sure they are clean, warm and fed, and have a safe place to sleep.  Now, sometimes Baby does not seem to appreciate all that, and moms and dads can attest to the decibels of noise which can come from these little lungs making sleep impossible.

Our protection of their innocence continues for a number of years into toddlerhood and elementary school.  Where lines begin to blur may be when they enter middle, junior, and high school.  Hormones begin to blossom, and while we do not want them to experience adult issues prematurely, the value of their innocence may begin to erode.  Too often, we cave into what our society blasts at us with daily regularity:  “we have to face the inevitability of the hook-up culture beginning at younger and younger ages.”

Our society seems to be under the impression that God is not able to comprehend the depth of physical and emotional passion and that innocence has a shelf-life.  The Bible is just an interesting book written centuries ago and its admonitions to us about male and female relationships are outmoded and useless. Kids will do what they are going to do.  Without realizing it, we’re unplugging innocence as futile and worthless.  In moral issues, to use terms of an adult such as innocence and purity – and heaven forbid – virginity –  becomes a laughing matter.  Society fails to see that inexperience is not automatic lack of knowledge and understanding!

Inexperience is not automatic naivety!

So, when is it time to pull the plug on innocence?  Is it when a child becomes 10? 12? 16? Certainly by 21?  Society decries exploitation and trafficking, particularly of children and young folks, and winks at sexual activity between folks of the same ages during school events.  How can we continue to live with double-mindedness?  When will we say, “Enough!”  When will we realize that only God can fix our messed up lives?  When will we understand that . . .

God has already pulled the plug on innocence!

God is absolutely crazy about babies!  He sent His son, Jesus – Emmanuel – “God with us” – in the little body of a sweet baby boy.  While we do not know many details about His growing up years, we do know that He is exactly like His Holy Father.  Hebrews 1:3 tells us Jesus is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.”  Other Bible verses tell us that God is holy.  Webster’s definitions say of “holy:” “unimpaired innocence and virtue; pure in heart; acceptable to God.”  Adam and Eve fixed it so that no human could have that acceptable relationship with God on their own.  But even that spiritual death sentence brought the blessing of Jesus into the world to make it possible for people to know God.

God pulled the plug on innocence when Jesus screamed from the cross:  “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”  (Mark 15:34)

God plugged innocence back in with Jesus’ resurrection from death and His gift to us of forever pure, holy, and, yes, innocent  life with Him.  Spend time this season pondering innocence and its rightful place in our lives.

Blessed time of remembering Jesus’ birth!

I’d love to know what you think about this.  I don’t know yet what the next post will cover, but it may be some sort of sequel.

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? 🙂

 

 

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.

A Bunch of Tiny Tadpoles ☆

tadpolesI like to think that I saved the common toad from extinction – well, at least one family line.  When I was about 10 years old, a big rain storm left big puddles all over the barnyard.  I noticed that one puddle was alive with all sorts of little tadpoles.  When the puddles began to dry up in the sun, I couldn’t let my babies dry up, too.  Every day after school, I would carry pails of water to that puddle, and loved watching the little creatures swim around in a bigger and bigger pondlet.  I would scoop them up in my cupped hands, and feel them tickling my palms as they swam around.  They were all heads and tails, big eyes and no mouth, and well – cute.  Then, one day I noticed that little legs started to stick out and their swimming became more energetic.  Their little heads started to change shape, and suddenly they had little mouths.  I kept carrying water to that puddle until every tiny tadpole had turned into a little toad and bounced its way into an adventurous life.  I didn’t tell my parents about my “children.”  When I was in college, I remember telling my mother about them.  She said my dad had asked her if she knew why all the puddles were drying up, but that one just seemed to get bigger and bigger.  She had seen me trudge across the yard with pails of water and looked at the puddle while I was at school, discovering it teeming with life.

Remembering those little toads always makes me smile.  And, of course, I have to figure out some way to connect them to real life, right?

FIRST, Momma and Daddy Toads are absent parents.  They do their thing and Momma lays hundreds of eggs and hops off to find another Daddy and repeat the process.

SECOND, little toadlets have to figure out how to do life all by themselves.

THIRD, No one teaches them how to face the challenges of life.

Makes you glad you’re not a toad, doesn’t it?

FIRST, for most of us, parents were not totally absent.  We can all think of things we wish our parents had done better.  But I have come to realize a very important thing.  Parents do the very best they know how to do – the very best they can – given their own growing-up baggage.  For the most part, they take good care of their kids.

SECOND, everyone wants to help cute little kids do things.  Like walk.  I’m told that when I was first toddling around, I would take hold of a piece of paper, and walk confidently across the room.  Take that piece of paper away, and I would fall.  Somewhere along the line, I got the walking thing down.  I loved school most of the time.  I went to a little country school for grades 1-8, and had the same teacher for 7 years.  I didn’t know I was 2 years behind in math and science until Mrs. Lawson came for grade 8.  I didn’t like it at the time, but came to appreciate her firm insistence which helped me in high school and gave good lessons for tackling college – and life.

THIRD, challenges of life.  The biggest challenge I have faced is being a singleton in a world which emphasizes coupledom – even in the animal and plant world.  Nothing multiplies without an opposite-other.  Of course, we don’t see warm hugs flower to flower or tree to tree.  But, without cross pollination, they would not survive.  Some animals mate for life while others don’t give a darn except for a few moments of intense physical activity.  But, the two-by-two thing is always before us.  Most people find their opposite-other fairly early in life.  However, for those who do not, the road gets increasingly rocky and full of forks in the way.

As a Christian single, I’m puzzled as to why there is not a well-used method of training us how to DO “single.”

It seems that the longer a person is single, the fewer the instructions on how to go about it well.  Well-worn phrases such as “sex is only meant to be exercised in marriage,” and “just don’t,” while true, have not been well thought-out by churches as to meanings which make sense to a waiting person.  It certainly doesn’t help that the easy access to all sorts of sexual materials and opportunities grow daily.  But, is this a new thing?

I ran across a verse recently in Ezekiel which shows that not only is it NOT a new thing, but that our society’s fixation on excess sexual acts is not a surprise to God!  Ezekiel 8:12 says . . . “have you seen what the elders [leaders] of the house of Israel [or any of us for that matter. . .]  are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures?  For they say, ‘the Lord does not see us. . .'”  (English Standard Version)  [Italics mine.]

Some translations use words like “images,” or “idols,” or “at the shrine of his idol.”  Could this be a computer?  Hmmmm.

Well, this fun post is just a short step to a sequel to “One shade of black.”  Stay tuned. 🙂

 

Singles and Church – are they compatible? ☆

jigsaw puzzleThere are many online articles about the small number of singles in churches, the even smaller number of singles in church leadership positions, and explanations of why singles do not come to church.  Many churches see the need for singles ministry, but are puzzled as to how to begin and maintain.  Well, I guess it’s time for me to weigh in on some issues as I see them repeated online.

  1. The many differing aspects of singleness have similar, but unique, needs.
  2. Singles get lumped into “one size fits all” regardless of age and reason for their singleness.
  3. Family, family, family.
  4. Marriage is celebrated, singleness is not
  5. Many questions simply do not have answers, and may be trivialized.

“Single” is a simple designation for someone who does not have a spouse.  There are church ministries up through high school, and in some cases, college.  Where does the post-high school or college person, who is now called “single,” fit?  Suddenly they are faced with questions about independence as well as the realization that they are now “single.”  Where do they go?  The many categories of singlehood have the “single” thing in common, but physically, emotionally, mentally, and certainly age-wise, they may be worlds apart.  One thing is common:  Churches do not know what to do with them – with us – with me.

Categories as I see them:

  • *  Single but in a relationship; or single but not in a relationship.
  • *  Widowed – death of a spouse.
  • *  Divorced – separation from a spouse.
  • *  Single with children, whether widowed or divorced.
  • *  Never-married.

There is simply not a “one size fits all” way to deal with singleness.  While every person on the planet needs relationship to thrive, thoughtful consideration has a place in dealing with widely varied needs and desires.  Singles are thrown together with the assumption they will “bond” simply because they are single.  The ages may span 20s to 80s with the host of life-stages in between.  Many singles simply do not see a compelling reason to be in a church which does not speak to their own life.

Churches develop grief classes for those who have lost a spouse, and divorce recovery groups as more and more Christians walk that very difficult road.  The need arises for single parents to talk together so they can see they are not the only ones in that situation.  Something else arises which makes it uncomfortable for some widowed, divorced, and single parents to come to church, particularly if they were part of a former couple in the church.  They may no longer feel the acceptance they felt as a couple.  Where couples may have exchanged dinner invitations, it feels awkward to invite just one.  In divorce, one or both have decided not to attend any more because it is just too uncomfortable.

Many churches will not recognize that their important emphasis on family makes it difficult for some onesomes to fit in.  Of course, young families and children are necessary for the future of the church.  Too often, though, conversation is limited to children or family life, making some singles feel as if they are sort of pasted onto someone else’s family and not an important unit on their own.

Marriage is celebrated.  Singleness is not.  Now, these days, many single couples decide to live together and even have children outside of marriage.  The widespread practice has changed the complexion of the church as parents struggle because what they believed to be right is not followed by their children.  Celibacy outside of marriage is considered impossible and unnecessary – and even laughable.  Marriage sermon series abound, often without the realization that perhaps more than half of their congregation is in one of the single categories – and they are aching to be recognized with compassion and understanding.

Some questions are able to be handled in loving ways.  Who knows if/when I get home at night?  Who is there to talk to when I really need to talk?  I love Bible study.  Where can I find someone to go deeper with?  The answers to these and others like them all hinge around fellowship and relationship with others.

Other questions are not answered so easily, or they may be trivialized.  What do I do with the God-given desire for physical, emotional, and mental intimacy with another person – a spouse?  How do I handle desire for sexual contact?  Who mentors me in self-discipline to practice celibacy?  How can the desire for deep heartfelt conversation with a spouse be filled?  Apart from the Song of Solomon, romance is not particularly addressed in scripture.  But, it’s enough to bring up the question – Who chooses and cherishes and romances me?

Phew!  Now it is definitely time for a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie!  I know this post is longer than usual.

I hope it has sparked some thinking – and I really want to know what you think about you and church.

 

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