Free

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“It is idle to say that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a worldly sense—if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful or good or entertaining—then it is nonsense. If it means that all are of equal value as immortal souls, then I think it conceals a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of some value He perceived in him. The value of each human soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero. As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is Love. It may be that He loves all equally—He certainly loved all to the death—and I am not certain what the expression means. If there is equality, it is in His love, not in us.   

—from “Membership” (The Weight of Glory) by C.S Lewis
What holds you captive?  Strange question, perhaps, but a reasonable one. Looking at the people around me I can see a lot of things that they could be captive to:  work, Facebook status, approval of others, even their own dreams.  If we look at the world in relation to something and make our choices based on that thing then really we have become captive to it.
I have been contemplating how some people base who they are on their relationships (or lack thereof in the single world) and I think this is a dangerous thing.  Relationships change, they wax and wane, they grow, they fade, they’re ever changing.  If you’ve longed for a relationship for a long time and finally find one, the danger to you if you base who you are on that relationship is that if anything changes in that relationship your self esteem and even your sense of self could be damaged.
Sometimes even our relationship with God can be affected by this.  If we base who we are on our Christian practices, like the fact that we go to church every Sunday, pray every night before bed and go to Bible study faithfully, then it is possible that these practices might be holding us captive.  Don’t misunderstand me, these are very good things but we should ask ourselves, ‘Why do I do these things?’  To look better in the eyes of others?  If so, you’re captive to the approval of others.  To earn God’s love for you?  Then you’re captive to pride (‘me do, me do!’).
As the above CS Lewis quote says, we make an error if we think that we are anything in the eyes of God because of ourselves.  It is entirely because of who He is that we can come into His presence.  If we base our life on becoming worthy of God’s love, not only have we missed the point but we’ll be wasting our time. Even worse, if we are held back from His freedom because we are captive by a sense of unworthiness we will miss out entirely on His plan for us.  We must come to the place of freedom in Christ.  Part of this freedom is relinquishing our captivity in feeling that we earned or are earning His love.  Coming to the place of truly accepting God’s infinite grace even though we can’t understand it is freedom like no other. This is why John 8:36 says,  so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (NIV)
I challenge you this week to honestly answer these questions to yourself–What am I captive to?  What can I do to change my focus to freedom in Christ?  And I hope you become free indeed!
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Some of My Favourite Things

I kind of borrowed this idea from one of the brilliant blogs I’ve been reading lately.  Sorry for borrowing without credit–if you are reading this blog, friend, drop me a note so that I can update with the appropriate credit given.

from The Sound of Music

from The Sound of Music

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
from The Sound of Music, by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Can’t you just hear Julie Andrews and the kids singing and dancing around despite the thunder storm outside?  So what are “a few of my favourite things”?

Only SOME of my favourite things!

Only SOME of my favourite things!

1.  My Nephews, of course, Caleb and Josh.  And these beauties love me!

2.  Chocolate (hand over the chocolate and no one gets hurt!)

3.  My Bible.  This is the Bible my parents gave me for my baptism many years ago. I only use it for home study now. I’m afraid that it might fall apart!

4.  My piano.  This piano has been in my family for ages.  The sound board has a mark on it suggesting that it was built in 1891, but my expert friend thinks it’s more of the 1910ish vintage.  My movers destroyed it and I had to have it completely rebuilt from the ground up (the sound board is still the same).  Doesn’t look so bad, eh?

5.  My running shoes.  I love these!  The only shoes I will run in are Solomon’s.  And the waterproof ones are the bomb!  And I run outside summer or winter, rain or shine, snow or ice, as long as the temperature is above -25*C (-13 F).

6.  Water.  I’m a runner living in a very dry climate.  Yes, water is my friend.

7.  CS Lewis.  Seriously?  He’s not one of YOUR favourites?  You better get reading!  Mere Christianity is awesome, but the Narnia series is what most people may be familiar with.  Try The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and Miracles.  Just suggestions…

8.  My Grandma!  How could I leave her out?  She is amazing.  She has started out with horses and buggies and no electricity and has worked her way through the advent of television, dishwashers and microwave ovens, into the era of cell phones, computers, and world travel in the blink of an eye.  That requires a sort of iron will and tough-as-nails-constitution you can’t ignore.

9.  Piglet.  Nuf said.

10.  The 17 Club–My best friend Mandie, her niece and I were all born on the 17th of various months so we started up the 17 Club.  We had our first official meeting recently and had a lot of fun!  Since all I have are nephews, it’s fun sometimes to hang with “the girls”.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into some of my world. Perhaps I’ll share a few more items from Mary’s World in the future.

Purity 2: Sexual Purity

CS Lewis

CS Lewis

The Christian idea of marriage is based on Christ’s words that a man and wife are to be regarded as a single organism — for that is what the words ‘one flesh’ would be in modern English. And the Christians believe that when He said this He was not expressing a sentiment but stating a fact — just as one is stating a fact when one says that a lock and its key are one mechanism, or that a violin and a bow are one musical instrument. The inventor of the human machine was telling us that its two halves, the male and the female, were made to be combined together in pairs, not simply on the sexual level, but totally combined. The monstrosity of sexual intercourse outside marriage is that those who indulge in it are trying to isolate one kind of union (the sexual) from all the other kinds of union which were intended to go along with it and make up the total union. The Christian attitude does not mean that there is anything wrong about sexual pleasure, any more than about the pleasure of eating. It means that you must not isolate that pleasure and try to get it by itself, any more than you ought to try to get the pleasures of taste without swallowing and digesting, by chewing things and spitting them out again.
CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, bk III, chapter 6, paragraph 2, pp. 95 – 96

I think Jack hits it right on the money with the above comment.  (“Jack” is what CS Lewis was called by his friends.  Really, with the name ‘Clive Staples’ I would have picked ‘Jack’, too!).

As single Christians (or married Christians, too, for that matter) sexual purity is very important. In 1 Thessalonians 4:1 – 8 NIV it says, “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.” 

So, obviously, sexual purity is important to God.  Now, because of the prevailing North American world view, though, it may be easy to get confused about the need for sexual purity and to feel that it isn’t really necessary.  “But everybody’s doing it.”

I happened to watch a sit com on TV a few months ago which demonstrated an interesting comment on how the world views Christians and purity.  The show follows the life of a young professional in New York City and her failures in love.  In the one that I saw she was dating a Christian “preacher” who was quite pedantic (overly concerned with formal rules and trivial points of learning, from Wiktionary) about his faith and yet was openly sleeping with the main character.  Perhaps the producers were making a comment on apparent hypocrisy…who knows.  But this shows that even non-Christians are confused about where Christians stand on sexual purity.  They are confused because we are confused.

You shall not commit adultery.  Exodus 20:14 NIV

God is very clear in the Ten Commandments that adultery is against His will and, therefore, is a form of sexual impurity. What exactly is adultery?  The on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary defines adultery as voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not his or her spouse.  So adultery is a violation of the marriage bed.

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ (Gen 1:27) ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,and the two will become one flesh.’ (Gen 2:24) So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” NIV

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Hebrews 13:4 NIV

So as Christians, married or single, we should honour God’s command to keep the marriage bed pure.

Someone asked me once to describe what I would consider the characteristics of the perfect marriage partner.  They were rather surprised with my answer when I started with 1).  single, 2).  male, 3). Christian (list was truncated for space considerations!).  They criticized me for putting ‘Christian’ third on the list.  I told them that I might consider a single male Christian but not a married male Christian (or a single female Christian!).  If someone is married, friends, they are off limits completely.  If we hold that firmly in our minds it will protect us from temptation.

Adultery isn’t the only sexual sin.  Jesus answers His disciples in Mark 7:21 – 23, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  NKJV  So fornications can be different from adulteries.  What is fornication?

The on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary defines fornication as voluntary sexual intercourse between persons not married to each other.  This, therefore, would include pre-marital sex.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.  1 Corinthians 6:18 – 20  NIV

I am not trying to judge anyone;  I will happily leave that to God.  I am just trying to remind us of what God says.  He says that fornication, and therefore pre-marital sex, is dishonouring to our bodies and therefore to God.  Pre-marital sex is a huge issue today around the world, even amongst Christians.  Just watch TV, go to a movie with friends, or listen to the radio.  The media plays lose and free in North America with pre-marital sex as a way to advertise, a way to catch viewer attention.  There is a form of brinkmanship happening–how far can they push sexual relationships in the media before people will turn away?  It started out insidiously but has become outrageous. The more outrageous the relationships now, the more appalled people pretend to be, and the more likely their interest will be tweaked and that they will watch.

Remember, sexual impurity begins in the mind.  You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ (Exodus 20:14)  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matthew 5:27,28  NIV

Be careful, Little Eyes, what you see

OK, so we now know some of the forms of sexual impurity in the eyes of God and some of the challenges we have with being pure in this world.  What do we do?

God wants us to be pure–don’t give up now!  Regardless of what your past may hold, you can be sexually pure going forward.  Watch for my next post:  Purity 3:  How can we become sexually pure?

Pastor David

A few weeks ago we had visitors at our church, Pastor David and his wife.  Pastor David is an amazing Christian man.  His story is that he was born in Vietnam into a “very Buddhist” family.  I’m not entirely sure what happened but through a miracle of God’s grace one of the members of their family’s life was saved (I think) and so the entire family became Christians.

I don’t personally know but I imagine it was a hard life being a Christian in a “very Buddhist” society.  I’m pretty sure you would feel alone and at times find yourself in some tough situations.

Then, Pastor David and his family and friends were thrown in prison during the Vietnam war.  I don’t even want to think what atrocities they suffered at the hands of other men.  But eventually they were released and ended up in Canada a while later (praise God!).

I think we singles have a good idea of what it is like to be immersed in a society were we stick out, where we sometimes seem like we’re the only ones.  We might even feel alone and find ourselves in some tough situations sometimes…

I think, though, that we can learn from Pastor David who has been through so much in his life.

The pastor of my church later told me that he had asked Pastor David to say the closing prayer for our service that morning but Pastor David said no.

I was surprised (seriously!  What pastor turns down a chance to speak, let alone pray?).

So I asked my pastor why Pastor David turned him down.  I was expecting to hear that he was worried about his english but instead Pastor Ralph said that he didn’t want to pray amidst our congregation yet because he always cries when he prays.

This man, who has been through well more than we can even imagine, cries every time he talks to the Living God!  Our God of grace who has seen Pastor David through incredible times can still evoke in this man a intense feeling of gratitude to his Creator and sense of wonder at how such a great God can love one so undeserving.

Wow.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons for our heartache and pain, for our aloneness and sorrow–that we might learn to truly appreciate what God has done for us and to give us a chance for God to teach us true gratitude.

Bless you, Pastor David!

World View Number 2

I was driving to work one day and, of course, I was listening to the radio.  I was delighted to hear an old song from Michael W. Smith called Unloved.

Yes, I know, you’re going to say, “Are you crazy, Mary? You were delighted to hear a song called Unloved?”

Am I crazy?

Well, you may be right
I may be crazy
But it just might be a lunatic you’re looking for…
–Billy Joel, You May Be Right

😉

Take a look at the song’s lyrics for yourself.  I think this is one of the most amazing songs…

(Never Been) Unloved
Songwriters: KIRKPATRICK, WAYNE / SMITH, MICHAEL W.

I have been unfaithful I have been unworthy I have been unrighteous
And I have been unmerciful have been unreachable I have been unteachable I have been unwilling
And I’ve been undesirable
And sometimes I have been unwise I’ve been undone by what I’m unsure of
But because of you
And all that you went through I know that I have never been unloved

I have been unbroken I have been unmended I have been uneasy
And I’ve been unapprochable
I’ve been unemotional I’ve been unexceptional I’ve been undecided
And I have been unqualified
Unaware – I have been unfair I’ve been unfit for blessings from above
But even I can see
The sacrifice You made for me
To show that I have never been unloved
And all that you went through I know that I have never been unloved

You can see now why I was encouraged to hear this song–what a beautiful description of our need and God’s provision!

Strangely enough, though, when I arrived at work shortly after I heard another very different song on the radio, also called Unloved.  But, as you can see, it has a very different impact.

“Unloved” (partial lyrics)
duet: Jann Arden with Jackson Browne

There will be no consolation prize
This time the bone is broken clean
No baptism, no reprise and no sweet taste
of victory.
All the stars have fallen
from the sky and everything else in between
satelites have closed their eyes.
The moon has gone to sleep
Unloved…

Here I am an empty hallway,
Broken window, rainy night
I am nineteen sixty-two and I am ready
for a fight.
People crying hallelujah,
While the bullet leaves the gun
People falling, falling, falling and I don’t know
where they’re falling from
Are they
Unloved, unloved, unloved, unloved?

Yes, these are only part of the lyrics (there is a kind of happy-ish ending…).  But the reason that I’ve presented these to you is to remind you of the difference between a Christian world view and that of the world.  There are people in this world who feel unloved, but it shouldn’t be the Christians.

I think we give God a pretty short shrift.  “God, I’m single, on my own, alone.  You don’t love me!”  At times to Him we must sound like a four year-old who hasn’t gotten his way. Oh, if we could see all the times that God has saved us, has steered us safely through trouble, has worked in our circumstances to keep us safe!

God only knows the times my life was threatened just today.
A reckless car ran out of gas before it ran my way.
Near misses all around me, accidents unknown,
Though I never see with human eyes the hands that lead me home.
But I know they’re all around me all day and through the night.
When the enemy is closing in, I know sometimes they fight
To keep my feet from falling, I’ll never turn away.
If you’re asking what’s protecting me then you’re gonna hear me say:

Got His angels watching over me, every move I make,
Angels watching over me!
–Amy Grant, Angels

If only we could see these angels maybe we would see how well God watches over us, how diligently He stands with us, how powerfully He protects us, how creatively He loves us!

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.” John 10:28 – 30 NIV

Remember, the one thing we have to show the world is our love for others.  35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35 NIV.  We can’t truly pass this love on to others if we don’t believe it ourselves.  This world is full of those who believe they are unloved–let’s show them that this is not the case!

Shine

The Shining Moon

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained…Psalm 8:3 KJV

Really, the moon is amazing.  Think about it–the moon is a hunk of rock with no real inherent beauty but it has had scores of poems, songs and stories written about it. For example, What Counsel Has the Hooded Moon by James Joyce, To the Moon by Shelly, I Watched the Moon Around the House by Emily Dickinson, and, of course, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare.

If all it is is a piece of rock hanging about the earth like an annoying little brother, what is it that catches our collective eye so?  Well, obviously, the fact that it reflects the sun’s light so brilliantly.  Perhaps you see where I’m going here…

I’ve been reading the gospel of John lately and, despite having dallied in its’ depths many times before, it suddenly struck me (thank you, Holy Spirit) how many times Jesus refers to the Father.  He seems to continually refer the people back to the Father.  One example is in John 10:32–…but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father.  For which of these do you stone me?”

It was quite illuminating to me (ha ha, pun intended) that Jesus saw his job as drawing people’s eyes always back to God.  Jesus was being God’s reflection in this world.  And this is what we are to be as brothers and sisters of Christ–reflectors of God to this dark world.

We are like the moon!  Alright…a little melodramatic but consider…

Three thoughts arise from this:

1).  As from the poems, sometimes people idolize the moon and its’ beauty without recognition of the sun as the source of it’s wonder.  Can we sometimes be too interested in getting the glory for ourselves instead of, like Christ, always referring it back to the Father?

2).  Who am I to reflect God’s light?  Sometimes the lies of this world emphasize to us that we are just a hunk of rock.  Then we start to wonder how we, broken as we are, could reflect the light of God?  But this is wrong thinking.  The brilliance of the moon has very little to do with the moon itself, but everything to do with the sun.  When the earth gets in between the moon and the sun, parts of the moon become invisible and it reflects less light. Don’t let the things of the world get between you and your Source.

3).  Clouds.  There are a lot of things that can interfere with our ability to be God’s reflection on this earth, kind of like clouds that can obscure the moon’s reflected beauty.  I think we think too much.  I’m single or I’m married.  I’m a woman or I’m a man.  I’m poor or I’m rich.  I’m young or I’m old.  The only thing that really matters is that we are little Christs, mini moons reflecting God’s glory.  All the rest of this is very minor in the grand scheme of things.  Don’t let’s get distracted from our real purpose here–to draw the world’s eyes to the glory of God and His risen Son!

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
–Anton Chekhov

LIKE THE MOON
by me! 2001

I want to be like the moon—

Its’ perfect design intended to reflect
the Sun’s brilliance
on the dark world below.

In the night
the world forgets the Sun
and stumbles and falls
in the darkness.

The full moon shines brightly,
reflecting the brilliant Sun,
lighting up the whole landscape
providing guidance to the traveler.

But as the world creeps
in between the moon and the Sun
the moon’s luster diminishes,
its’ light fades,
its’ brilliance dies;
as it is cut off from its’ source of light.

Its’ perfect design intended to reflect
the Sun’s brilliance
on the dark world below.

My perfect design is intended to reflect
the Son’s brilliance
in the dark world.

But as the world creeps
In between me and the Son–
Where is the light?
Where is the brilliance?
Where is the reflection of my Source of light?

I want to be like the full moon…

Humbug…

I am back safe and sound from my travels abroad!  And yes, I did learn something abroad that might be appropriate to pass on to you.  One must always be learning something…

So!  I have learned that travel is my humbug.

What does that mean?

I think most people have at least heard of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Spirits of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come.  Scrooge’s most famous saying is that which he used in response to his nephew’s hearty ‘Merry Christmas, Uncle Scrooge’:  humbug!  What he basically means is that he disregards the importance of Christmas in his life and despises the assumption that he has to practice it.  An interchange with his clerk, Crachit, on Christmas Eve displays his ‘humbug’ attitude to Christmas:

“You’ll want all day [off] tomorrow, I suppose?” said Scrooge.

“If quite convenient, Sir.”

“It’s not convenient,” said Scrooge, “and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I ‘ll be bound?”

The clerk smiled faintly.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work.”

The clerk observed that it was only once a year.

“A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning!”  (from A Christmas Carol)

So, Mary, you say, how is travel your humbug?

Well, friends, I say, I have noticed that when people travel some of their habits (and even good sense) seem to drop away, as if to say that they are ‘disregarding the importance of it in their lives’.  For example, I read a statistic once that stated that somewhere around 94% of travellers within the first 3 days of travel will break at least one of the rules regarding safe food or water intake.  And these rules are important!  Yes, traveller’s diarrhea may not kill you, but Hepatitis B could!  And yet people disregard these rules on a regular basis as not important!

A lot of regular habits can fall away when we are away from home:  adequate (and safe!) water intake, diet, sleep, physiotherapy exercises, Godly pursuits…

AHA!  We are finally to it!  The first day or two of my trip I was good–I was drinking water, eating carefully, getting sleep, doing my physio exercises, and reading my Bible and praying.  Then…the humbug fell over me…I started to skip a few of these items each day.  Which one did I notice the most by the end of the week?  The sliding away of my daily time with God.

Why is it that something so important to my daily health and safety could slide away?  This is the humbug spirit.  Satan is good at slipping thoughts into our heads–Oh, I’m on vacation!  It doesn’t really matter, does it?  This is when we need to cling to Christ the strongest!  Isn’t it on vacation that we do the worst sorts of things?  Why do you think they coined the phrase ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas’?

We need to be constant in our Christian discipline.  Look at the following verses.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:18 NIV

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us… Hebrews 12:1

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24 – 27

So, practically, what will I do next time I travel to keep the ‘humbug’ of travel away?

1).  I will print off the above verses and work at memorizing them over my holiday and meditating on them throughout my stay.

2).  I will plan out a Bible study for each day I am gone.  It won’t be huge, but a few verses to contemplate and a time for prayer every day.

3).  I will try to enlist my travelling companion into my plan (someone to gently ‘remind’ me of my goal!).

Will it work?  If I pray before the trip, during the trip, and after the trip for this to work I’m sure it will (it will have already worked!).  I will have to keep you informed!

Happy (and Holy) Travels!