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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Equality

“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
Remember, your value is not in what you wear or what your job is or what you’ve done or what you will do or whether you’re single or married–it is in who God is and what He has done for you.  And THAT will never change.  Isn’t it refreshing to realize that you don’t have to keep up with the Jones’?

I Blame God…

Grief

I love getting comments on my posts from those who happen across my blog.  Just recently a reader left a comment in response to an earlier post about how he does blame God for his singleness.  Seeing as there may well be a lot of you out there who may overtly or covertly feel the same way, I thought that it might be a useful thing to talk about again.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. Psalm 31:9 (ESV)

All of us at one time or another throughout our lives have been horribly disappointed or monumentally let down.  This does seem to be the nature of humanity:  to at some time in our lives passionately hope for something only to be eventually disappointed.  Perhaps it’s because of what we hope for, or how we express our hopes, or how persistently we cling to them against all odds that makes the disappoint in the end so intense.  I am confident that we all have, or will, have this happen to us at some point in our lives.

Now, there are 2 basic responses to disappointment:  1).  camping out at that point of disappointment and making the rest of your life about that issue, or 2).  mourning the loss of that particular hope and then moving on.

Sometimes the intesity of the hope lost precludes ones ability to move on.  You feel compelled to stay in that place of disappointment, circling it, staring at it, grieving it, wishing that it had worked out differently, creating worlds in your mind where it did work out differently.  Mourning the loss of a hope or expectation is natural and, should I even say, healthy.  I think a problem arises, though, when we refuse to let it go.  When after a while the grieving becomes a habit that we are unwilling to give up, when we literally get STUCK in this place of disappointment and sacrifice our future to mourning this lost hope.

At that point it almost seems like we WANT to be stuck in our sorrow.  That we want to warn all that pass of the vanity and futility of hope.  Is this a ‘dog in a manger type response’ (eg. if I can’t have happiness neither can you) or do we really think that hope is dangerous and best avoided?

C.S. Lewis published a little book called A Grief Observed.  In it are journal entries from the early days after he lost his wife to cancer.  Now, as I understand it, Lewis never really wanted to get married but fell into it to help a young lady and her children.  He fell in love with her though and was heart broken when she died.  Imagine his grief–he was a happy confirmed bachelor who was ‘dragged’ into marriage, discovered an unexpected joy in it, then loses it again.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
Tennyson

Is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?  I do not know.  I sit firmly in the camp of those who have ‘never loved at all’ so I will have to let you read Lewis’ book, consider your own experience and come up with your own opinion on the matter.

I think that the important point to make here is that if you have been seriously disappointed in your life, being single when you dream of marriage, being alone when you dream of togetherness, being solo when all you want is a duo, remember this:  if you stay stuck in the mire of your dead hopes things will never change.  If you insist on camping out at that spot of disappointment, whatever you think of God, you will always be there, surrounded by your broken dreams and sorrows, and you will never fulfill any of your other potential.  Unless you take courage and walk out the front door you will always be looking at the same four walls.

It does take courage to walk out that door, to move on.  Especially if you’ve been stuck for some years.  To move on means that you might be disappointed again, your hopes might be shattered again.  But, then again you might find a promise fulfilled or joy in a different place than you expected.  When you move on, instead of your lost hope being a weight around your neck, it can become an extra bit of character that gives you strength and courage and that will help you to stand strong–‘I went through pain and suffering but I made it through,’ or ‘it didn’t come to STAY, it came to PASS.’

We do not need to be stuck in our sorrow.  We can choose to move on.  And we will see things that we never expected and may even find joy in that which brought us the most sorrow.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

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?

You vs God

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”
–C.S. Lewis

I stumbled across this quote from my favorite earthly author and I had to stop and think about it a bit. Not only does it suggest different attitudes that humans have, but it also emphasizes the idea of free will that God has given us.

What a risk!  Knowing humankind, God decided to let us CHOOSE to follow Him or not!  Insane is what I would say…except that, knowing a bit about God, He wants willing followers not automatons.  He wants a child who understands that He has our best interests at heart, that He loves us deeply and wants us to be the best we can be, to love Him because He first loved us.

You would think that it would be hard for God to say, “All right, then, have it your way” considering what He has done in giving up His true Son for us.  And yet, to Him it would seem to be worth it for that one child who will say, “Thy will be done.”

I find this gift of free choice a bit hard to understand.  It makes it hard for us–weak, fickle creatures who have the chance to dictate our destiny.  But I guess it forces us to find that bit of Godliness that He has placed inside us to give us the strength and wisdom to make that choice.

But, on the other hand, there is so much that God offers us you can only wonder how we can want our own way.  We must have to work so hard to ignore all that God has to offer us–freedom, protection, unconditional love, friendship, wisdom, joy, power, purpose, contentment, peace…

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” Isaiah 6:9b,10 NIV

How sad for us that we would give up the chance to see, to hear, just to have “our own way”, which usually doesn’t end well…

But for God to have a weak fickle creature recognize his Lordship and of our own choice decide to follow Him–that is a true miracle, one that showcases God’s great love for us and His enabling power in our lives.

We really do have an amazing God, who walks with us and calls to us, who gave His own Son before we even knew Him.  That He would have done such things just for the  chance that one of us would say, “Thy will be done.”

The Flower Duet

One of my favourite pieces of music to listen to is a famous aria from Lakme, the Flower Duet.  Lakmé is an opera by Léo Delibes to a French libretto (written in 1881–1882).  Yes, I speak a little French but I have NO idea what these two ladies are singing about…and I like it this way.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JzrqVkyRbM (please persist–the first bit is just part of the libretto).

Quite frankly, I’m afraid to find out what they’re singing.

Why am I afraid?  Part of me is afraid because Lakme is an opera and so who knows what what kind of things they may be saying to eachother!  I would just rather not know!  The other part of me is afraid because sometimes the beauty I see is in not knowing, but in hearing the haunting melody, making up my own idea of what they are saying.

Now, this may be OK with an aria (especially when what they’re saying is as inane as this one [yes, I did look into it–curiosity, a family trait!]), but this is not a good way to be with God.  We singles may be used to thinking our own thoughts, kind of being in our own heads most of the time and we might like it this way.  We might like to hear the words being sung and spoken at church, we might like reading the Bible and thinking of it’s beautiful poetry, but when you get right down to it (if we are honest with ourselves…) there are times when we don’t really want to know what God is saying to us.

What if He wants me to be a missionary and I have to move to Africa?  What if He wants me to quit my job and go into the ministry?  What if he wants me to join a Baptist convent and move to Siberia (or Canada!) and sew baby caps until my eyes grow dim?

What if He wants me to talk to that fellow sitting next to me?  What if He wants me to talk to my co-worker about Him?

Hmmmm….I’d just rather not know what He wants for me sometimes.  I can handle what’s on my plate right now.  Cheers to inertia!

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.
— James Belasco and Ralph Stayer Flight of the Buffalo (1994)

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
–C. S. Lewis

We would rather play in a mud puddle than journey to the ocean side with God.  Funny, isn’t it?  Even though we know that God wants the best for us.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11  NIV

If  only I could get my silly human head to understand this, my silly human heart to believe it!

Prayer:  Father, please give my the courage to face up to what it is you want to say to me, the faith to trust that what You want is the best (and the ability to have these two things for more than the next five minutes!) and the patience to wait on You.

Amen!