Monday, March 31, 2008

HAVE THINE OWN WAY, LORD - Part 1 - March 29, 2008

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will.
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
Adalaide Pollard, 1907

I am not an artist skilled in working with clay, but I do love to play with it once in a while. Clay can be expensive, so when my kids were tikes, I made my own play-doh with a recipe passed around my group of friends. It involves salt, flour, food coloring, and a few other secret ingredients. To my relief, it was much easier to clean out of the carpet than the real Play-Doh. Whether it be clay or homemade play-doh, it’s just pure fun to squish it between my fingers, make my handprint, with all the lines and creases, and shape and reshape it into balls and ropes. Artistically, that’s about as far as I ever got with this medium.

In high school, however, I did have one brief encounter with clay in art class. I made an unusual looking pot. My art teacher, Mr. Graboski, took interest in my pot (I think he must have felt sorry for me) and enthusiastically directed me to do different things to make it more interesting. Under his tutelage, my pot had numerous uniquely shaped openings. Personally, I thought it was ugly, but Mr. G couldn’t wait to get it fired and see the final masterpiece. Unfortunately, the kiln malfunctioned and every pot in the batch melted into oblivion. I was crushed.

So it is with a wee bit of hesitancy that I again pick up clay, if only metaphorically, and fashion it into a series for your reading enjoyment.

To begin, let’s get to know the Potter. Our Heavenly Potter has been working in clay ever since he created Adam, “of the dust of the ground (actually, one part dust, two parts water) and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Genesis 2:7) During a prototype planning session, God proposed, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” And so it was that, “God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; man and woman he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)

One of the first questions pondered after a baby is born is, “who does he or she look like?” Our curiosity must be inherent in our very nature, since it seems that family resemblance was important to God as well. Think about your spiritual family resemblance—you look like God! Well, the gene pool has been tainted over the eons, but in some sense, we still retain a smidgeon of God’s DNA.

It is a loving God who fashions us on his wheel. Recently I had lunch with Twila Beahm, a local artist who has found her niche in clay. As she talked about working in clay, her face shone with joy and her eyes glittered with emotion laden tears. She tells me that the clay speaks to her, that it has a mind of its own. When she remembers to listen, allowing the clay to express its longing for existence, she is always awed by the results. Twila takes no credit for this, stating firmly that it is God who is at work. Creating in clay is very much a spiritual experience for her.

In several places in the Bible, human beings are referred as “jars of clay.” Being fashioned into a pot is a strenuous, painful process. This shaping and firing, waiting and yielding is—the PITS! But it’s comforting to know that God wants the best for us—to be like Him; to have the very character of Christ. Just as the potter carefully chooses the clay, so God has carefully chosen us (“You did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16). I am not a mistake, nor are you. We’re handmade by a “hands on” God who loves us and wants the best for us.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

JUICY FRUITY FREEDOM IN THE SPIRIT - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 12 - March 22, 2008

“Gotta have sweet, gotta have Juicy Fruit.
You want, you need, you gotta have more sweet.”

It’s Wednesday morning, 6:05 a.m., to be exact. I’m scrunched up in the corner of the sofa, Hope, our golden retriever, curled up next to me. Panda, our goldendor, claims the remainder of the sofa, curled up like a donut (not to be confused with a cookie). It’s raining cats and rabbits and the thumping of the rain on the roof almost blocks out the wind inspired melody wafting from the chimes suspended from the deck railing. “Gotta have sweet,” it chimes; “you gotta have more sweet,” it reminds. Yes on Sunday, I’ll be free to enjoy sweets again.

God is playing serendipity with me again. I log on to to look up Galatians 5—the home of the Fruit of the Spirit—and there on the website home page, the “verse of the day,” flashes in neon lights:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

How odd that I’ve not noticed this “verse of the day” feature before…

Back on January 5, I posed the question, “Gum and grace—is there a connection?” Have I convinced you that practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and even self-control will sweeten your life?

I also shared a scripture with you in that first column of the series on the Fruit of the Spirit. Galatians 5:1-22 are the verses preceding the passage listing the nine fruit:

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you…

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom…

“My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day…

“What happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard…” (Galatians 5:1, 13-14, 16-17, 22 The Message)

Tomorrow is Easter and this passage reflects the truth of Easter: “Christ has set us free…” Paul counsels us to, “Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit.” He then asks, “What happens when we live God's way?” and goes on to answer his own question: “He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard…” How does our garden of freedom grow?—by using our freedom “to serve one another in love.” Loving others is an act of true freedom.”

So what are the spiritual sweets in your Easter basket this Easter? Indulge freely on the sweet fruity treats of the Spirit. Love freely. Be joyful. Pursue peace in your relationships. Practice patience. Sow seeds of kindness. Be God’s goodness in the lives around you and look for the goodness in our troubled world. Handle yourself and others with a gentle spirit. Find the freedom in faithfulness. And when it comes to self-control, remember, “against such things there is no law.”

“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood…
to him be glory and power for ever and ever!
Revelation 1:6

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

JUICY FRUITY WHAT??? - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 11 - March 15, 2008

“For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, and gentleness. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) So, I guess that just about wraps up the Fruit of the Spirit.

Well…to be completely honest—and I suppose I should be, given the spiritual nature of this column and, it being Lent—there is one more fruit.

God was doing great, rolling along quite nicely with all these warm and fuzzy fruit—and then he had to tack on self-control. I don’t know about you, but when God asks me to exercise self-control, there’s a part of me that rises up like a two year old and says, “No!” or like an adolescent who shouts, “Just try and make me!”

I find it quite ironic that we are considering the fruit of self-control the day before Palm Sunday. Many of you have been practicing self-denial during the season of Lent, restraining from eating chocolate, drinking pints of pop, or indulging in some other addiction or temptation. So, how has that been working for you? Now be honest, a whole bunch of you blew it in the first week of Lent and gave up and caved in. You wimped out, just like me.

This past Sunday, my pastor invited the congregants to join him in two weeks of self-denial from something we love. Jim Lyon l-o-v-e-s Cadbury Eggs and he proved it to us by indulging in the chocolaty treat right there in front of us during the service. How rude! As he licked the gooey, yellow center off his fingers, I was convicted right then and there to give self-denial a second try. So I put my commitment in writing and took it forward.

In Sunday school, my hubby and I compared notes on what we’d each given up. He is giving up cookies. Rex is such a cookie addict that it was part of our prenuptial agreement that I was to keep the cookie jar full of freshly baked cookies. (I did pretty well on this until we both were diagnosed with high cholesterol.)

For my two-week act of self-denial, I have given up sweets. I thought it was pretty funny when Rex told me he was giving up cookies, all the while stuffing his face with a donut. I thought it was hypocritical to give up one type of sweet and still have an array of other sweet treats to indulge in. Not fair! If I’d know that he was only giving up one type of sweet, I might have gone a little easier on myself!

I’m relieved to say that I am doing well with my self-denial. I made it through that tough moment of temptation when I almost talked myself into eating a chocolate fudge kiss—under the guise of it being my daily dose of antioxidants. Then I successfully avoided eating the chocolate bars I was given at JC Penney’s—a sales gimmick in which a 10 or 20% discount is stamped on the inside of the chocolate wrapper. I did accept the discounts, however, and enjoyed them guilt-free.

Self-control is not fun. It’s like having to clean the toilets or having to get up early in the morning to go have a colonoscopy. It really is in my best interest to be self-controlled, but I resent it all the while. Self-control is also not easy. But then, it wouldn’t be self-control if it was easy, would it!

Fortunately—and ironically—we don’t have to do self-control all by ourselves. According to Titus 2:11-12, “the grace of God…teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.”

And I think we’d find that self-control comes easier if we just focus on controlling our own behavior rather than trying to control everyone and everything else. Personally, though, I find it much more satisfying to focus on conforming your behavior to mine or God’s standards!

FYI: I know you’re wondering what I required of Rex in our pre-nup. He had to agree to never, ever, EVER bring snakes into our house.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

JUICY FRUITY GENTLENESS - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 10 - March 9, 2008

“By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you.”
2 Corinthians 10:1

Chivalry is not dead, at least not for those who follow Christ. Christ was—and is—chivalrous. He is our Knight in Shining Armor.

When I was seventeen, I saw the movie, “Camelot,” and fell in love with King Arthur. I also fell in love with Lancelot. I loved Arthur because he was honorable and good. I fell in love with Lancelot because he was gorgeous (Franco Nero)! …and they were both gentle.

GENTLE? Yep! Knights adhere to a code of ethics called “chivalry.” To be chivalric, you must be “loyal, courteous, protective, and gentle and honorable to all, including enemies.” A knight seeks love and glory, not for himself, but for his lady and his king. Knights are courageous, humble, obedient, and chaste, and they live by three things: courage, honor, and fidelity. Knights are frequently described as “debonair,” which in medieval times meant “gentle” and “courteous.”

Knights answered to their military leader, but they also followed the church codes which stressed “protection, humility, and service to the weak and poor.” They were devoted to the Virgin Mary, and respected, worshiped, and revered women. “Knights upheld their lady’s every ‘whim or desire’, no matter what the cost, even if it meant death.”

At seventeen, I thought the Middle Ages would have been such a romantic time to be alive—that is, if I survived the Black Plague. I’ll just have to be content with being a product of the 70’s and the Women’s Liberation Movement. And for the purposes of this article, I will look at gentleness and chivalry from this perspective—because men and women alike are to be the Knights of God’s Round Table.

The terms “gentleness” and “meekness” are often used interchangeably, but Paul pairs them up when he refers to, “the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:1) Humility is also tossed into the mix, as in Ephesians 4:2 where Paul instructs us to “be completely humble and gentle.”

“As apostles of Christ,” Paul states, “we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7) I love this image—it reminds me of being a grandma, and I don’t think I’ve given you an update for awhile on my grandson, Evan, who is now five months old—but I digress…

Another image of gentleness is that of a horse who has been tamed. A gentled horse remains strong and powerful, and yet is controlled and steered by its owner. As Christians, we are to be teachable, allowing God to mold us into the persons God created us to be. Our tongues and our actions are powerful, yet controlled. Our strength comes from giving God the reigns of our lives.

Jesus invites us to “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.” (Matthew 11:29) We are yoked together with our spouses, children, parents, coworkers, friends, and relationships require cooperation, tolerance, patience, courtesy, selflessness…gentleness and humility.

And last, but not least, is the image of the Good Shepherd: “He tends His flock like a shepherd,” prophesied Isaiah, speaking of Christ, the Messiah. “He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young." (Isaiah 40:11) When we are gentle, we carry people close to our hearts, just like our Shepherd carries us. We are all broken and fragile in different ways, we all go astray, and we are to treat one another with the gently.

In sum, Christian chivalry involves giving ourselves in service to humanity, in service to our King. Our Code of Ethics emphasizes gentleness, meekness, and humility. We are to be gentle like a mother, and like a shepherd; gentled like a horse or oxen; and as gentle as a knight in service to the Virgin Mary, his king, and his lady.

“Chivalry is dead”? I certainly hope not!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

JUICY FRUITY FAITHFULNESS - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 9 - March 1, 2008

But you, O Lord,
are a compassionate and gracious God
…abounding in love and faithfulness.
Psalm 86:15

Last week I expressed my concern for the state of faithfulness in American relationships. Today I take a lighter look at faithfulness, sharing a model of faithfulness extraordinaire: DOGS.
My introduction to dogs came as a big, red stray who Mikey and I “invited” into our home. We immediately fell in love with her and named her Tomato. Our parents allowed her to stay the night and I was out of my mind with jealousy because Tomato chose to sleep with Mikey. I’m sure it was because he was stinky—dogs like that sort of thing. Tomato left us the next day and I was heartbroken.

When I was 24, for my birthday, Rex took me to Cleo’s Pet Shop in Marquette, MI to get a dog—the very first thing on our agenda after settling into base housing at K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base.
Before making the trip into Marquette, Rex spoke with the shop owner by phone and learned that a litter of Cockapoo-Pomerian puppies was selling fast. We raced into town and dashed into the shop. Of the two remaining pups, one was full of energy and bouncing off the cage attempting to get to us. “We want that one,” we said, pointing to the shy one trembling in the corner of the cage.

“There’s a family coming in to get a puppy who called before you,” cautioned the shopkeeper, “so I have to give them first pick. They should be here any minute.”

I was already bonded with my precious Muffin Marie when a little boy stormed into the store, took one look at me cuddling the puppy, and pointing, declared, “I want THAT one!” The little imp hadn’t even looked at the other puppy yet, who quite obviously was a much better match for this spirited child.

I think the parents could tell that I would turn into the dog-lover-from-hell if they tried to pry the puppy from my arms and they successfully fast-talked their rascal into getting the other puppy. Thus, I saved Muffin from a life of perpetual torment, for which she was eternally grateful. In return, Muffy loved me unconditionally.

There is nothing like a dog to warm ones heart, and feet. Oh, our canine companions can be challenging at times, like when they dig. They can be disgusting, as when they eat poop (which is actually excellent preparation for dealing with the poop, pee, drool, snot, and vomit of newborns and toddlers). But all in all, they are the next best thing to God. Adam—whose task it was to name all the animals—obviously knew this, for DOG is GOD spelled backwards.

I realize that the Bible says that humans were created in God’s image, but I think dogs were the prototype. I wonder, does God sometimes wish he’d settled for a canine companion rather than upgrading to the human model?

Really, dogs are the perfect model for all the Fruit of the Spirit we’ve studied thus far. However, I must admit that not all dogs are juicy-fruity gentle or self-controlled—our fruity topics for the next two weeks. For example, our Midnight—an adorable Cocker-Scotty mix—was obstinate and rebellious, outsmarting every method contrived to keep her contained in a kennel or the house. We dubbed her Houdini-night and Midnight Magic. But other than the occasional Midnight, dogs come pretty close to perfect, wouldn’t you agree?

Having raised puppies for Leader Dogs for the Blind, I know that the faithfulness of a guide dog involves loyalty, devotion, obedience, dependability, conscientiousness, and trustworthiness. Thus their blind partner can rely on them to keep them safe and on track. Sounds just like God, doesn’t it?

Follow in the paw prints of a dog and you’ll be a model of faithfulness, too. But watch out for those Midnight moments—we all have them!

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.
Thomas O. Chisholm

JUICY FRUITY FAITHFULNESS - Juicy Fruit of the Spirit - Part 8 - February 23, 2008

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother,
and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.
Genesis 2:24

What does it mean to be faithful? Faithfulness entails loyalty, trustworthiness, dependability, and stickability—when things get tough in a relationship, the faithful stick it out.

When I think of faithfulness, I immediately think of marriage. For centuries, marriage has been the foundation upon which society was built, “an ironclad institution that was held together by law, by religion, by family pressures, by economic dependency.” (Dr.David Popenoe, co-founder, National Marriage Project, Rutgers University).

The marital and family landscape of our nation is dramatically changing. Data on divorce from 2002 paints a picture in which a couple will marry in their mid to late twenties, divorce in their late twenties to early thirties—after seven years of marriage—and remarry within three to four years. Sixty percent of these second-time-around-ers will revisit the divorce court after another seven years, possibly completing the marriage-divorce-remarriage-divorce cycle in less than twenty years, and by their early to mid-forties.

Given that over fifty percent of first marriages in American crash and burn, why even bother with the formalities of marriage?

You would be amazed at the number of young moms I see in my therapy practice who have never been married, but have several children, each of whom has a different father. Many of these dads are “deadbeat dads,” taking little to no interest in, or responsibility for, their children.

What truly alarms me is that these young moms don’t even realize that they and their children deserve better! This is the norm for them. It’s the life their moms lived. They “survived” childhood without dads, so what’s the big deal? Typically these young mamas come from very dysfunctional homes characterized by uncontrolled anger, chronic conflict, addictions, abuse and neglect. Sadly, many do not have a high school diploma or GED and they work part time for minimum wage (which, of course, means they have no insurance or benefits and live paycheck to paycheck, constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul).

Why do these young women settle for this kind of life? Because: they are starving for the love and affection of a daddy; because they are scared to death to be alone; because they don’t have anyone in their lives they can truly rely on. Why are the daddies so undependable? Because their own dads were absent and they have no clue on how to be a faithful spouse or parent.

In the U.S., we have 913,000 divorced, single dads, 3.392 million divorced, single moms, 693,000 never married dads and 4.181 million never married moms. Fifty-nine per cent of kids in the U.S., under the age of 18, live in a single parent home. The U.S. comes in dead last in the Western world in terms of the number of kids who grow up with both biological parents.

Are you shocked? I hope so! What a sad, scary commentary on the state of the family in America!

So what can you do to make a difference?

  • If you are in a troubled marriage, swallow your pride and seek counseling. Make the time. Find the money. And, guys, read the marriage and relationship books your wives are begging you to read. NOTHING is more important—especially to your kids—than your marriage!
  • If you’re in a healthy marriage, show it! Be a model for young couples and youth. Teach your kids and grandkids relationship skills and the value or commitment.
  • If you are the child or teen of divorced or never married parents, take heart. Learn everything you can about healthy relationships. Break the cycle!
  • If you are a single parent, be encouraged. You have the most difficult job on earth! There are counselors, social agencies, and churches who want to support you. Reach out!
  • If you are among the growing population of grandparents raising grandchildren, God bless you—you are saints! If you know such grandparents, help them out! Every one of them will tell you, “I’m too old for this job!”