Private Lives

I was browsing through some notes I’d written over the years, looking for some inspiration for a post, and I came across a document titled “Private Lives”. It turned out to be a complete article which I thought I must have posted here previously, but then I noticed that it had been written on 22 May 2011, predating my blog by nearly a year. So I thought I’d share it with you now. I haven’t edited it. There are a couple of lines I would probably change if I was writing it now, but I’m uncomfortable with the idea of rewriting history, so what follows is what flowed from my mind on that day…

Private Lives

I’m troubled by the Twitter/super-injunction drama being played out before our eyes.

It seems that some Twitter users feel that they have a right to total anonymity (privacy) at the same time that they are denying celebrities that same privilege.

Let’s look first at the legal side of this. Rightly or wrongly a court has ordered that the real identity of “CTB” should not be published. Contempt of court is a serious matter.

Twitter’s terms of service clearly state “We also reserve the right to access, read, preserve, and disclose any information as we reasonably believe is necessary to satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or governmental request…”

So the seeming uproar among the Twitter community at the news that CTB is seeking – through the courts – the name of the individual who has broken the injunction, is unjustified.

But there are even more important issues at stake here than privacy or freedom of speech. Read this well-known passage from John’s gospel.

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Behind the headlines there is a broken family. There are hurting people. A sin has been committed, and sin has consequences. That is God’s way, and it is right. But the world’s way is to hound, ridicule, judge and condemn the sinner more than they would any ordinary person, because he is a celebrity. I don’t condone the adultery, of course not, but I don’t blame him for wanting to try and keep the details between the parties involved. All of us have sinned many times in our lives, and whether those sins were greater or lesser than CTB’s, who of us would want the details broadcast around the world? And what benefit has this pantomime been to any of us? A few cheap jokes, a few more newspaper sales or website hits. That’s all. Is it worth trying to destroy a family for that?

No, we should be praying for healing, and for restoration. We should hope and pray that CTB repents for what he has done, and that he can restore good, loving relationships with his wife and children. We should remember that in all likelihood it was for their sake as much as, or more than his, that he took out the super-injunction in the first place.

As I said, CTB has to face the consequences of his actions, but remember before you speak, write or act, there are consequences to everything you do too.

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Shipwrecked?

As I compose this post I’m sitting on a bench overlooking St. Thomas Bay, Malta. Traditionally, St. Paul’s Bay, where I’m staying tonight, at the north of the island, is the location of Paul’s shipwreck, described in Acts 27-28. But researchers carefully comparing the text with the geography of Malta, have concluded that St. Thomas Bay is actually the most likely place for the events to have occurred.

Looking across the calm sea in the early afternoon it’s hard to imagine a deadly storm could bring such danger and destruction here. But these waters, like so many of our lives, are only tranquil for a season.

How many of us, at times, have felt metaphorically shipwrecked? I’ve been feeling that way for quite a while. The ships that break, and in doing so can break us, are relationships. It’s not hard to see that people can live rich, meaningful and joyful lives when they are in the poorest circumstances, if they are nurtured by rich, meaningful relationships. On the other hand, someone with all the status, wealth and good health they could wish for, can be emotionally crippled and utterly miserable without the love of family and true friends.

Most of us live somewhere between those extremes. But we can find ourselves adrift in a stormy sea when a key relationship is broken for any reason. What can we do then?

Many books have been written in response to that question. I don’t have all the answers, but in reading about Paul’s shipwreck I find helpful pointers.

First, have faith.

“But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.” (Acts 27:22-26)

And let faith give you courage. God may not have spoken to you as clearly as He did to Paul, but He is surely with you nevertheless. He is at your side as you fall from the ship. He swims alongside you to the shore. He is your Rock of salvation. He loves you even when it feels like no one could.

Second, stay strong.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33-36)

Just as Paul urged his shipmates to eat, you must eat, sleep, wash, work – do all that you need to do to sustain yourself through the storm. God has good things in store for you, and you need to be fit and ready when they come.

Third, hold on.

He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely. (Acts 27:43b-44)

If you can swim then swim to safety, but if you can’t, find something to hold onto – somebody, some hope, whatever can continue to give your life meaning until you reach solid ground.

Fourth, reach out.

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold… There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. (Acts 28:2,7)

There is someone who can help you recover from your trauma. There is someone who can understand, who can put things in perspective, who can ready you for the next stage of your journey. It might be a family member, or a friend, or a pastor or a counsellor. Maybe like Paul you will find help in the kindness of strangers. God places people in position for you at times like these, but you won’t see them unless you look.

Fifth, take your time.

After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island… (Acts 28:11a)

Paul spent three months in Malta. Some of that time was spent recovering, and some was spent being useful to the islanders – healing the sick. However long it takes until you are ready to set sail again, don’t neglect your new circumstance, and the opportunities it may give you to help yourself or others.

Throughout it all, pray, give thanks, and remember – you are not alone.

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.

The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.

After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”

On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Altogether there were 276 of us on board. When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.

When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.

There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.

After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. (Acts 27, 28:1-16)

The Mystery of Matchmaking

I want to share with you the transcript of BBC Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day” from 4 January, presented by Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer:

The Advertising Standards Authority, the ASA, has just banned an online dating agency from claiming it has a scientifically proven matchmaking system. In an advert headlined “Step aside, fate, it’s time science had a go at love,” the dating service claimed to be able to decode the mystery of compatibility and chemistry, so that you don’t have to. The ASA said that there’s no proof that those who use the service were more likely to find lasting love than those who didn’t, and ruled that the advert was misleading.

Matchmaking is a tough business. The Talmud relates how a Roman matron once asked a rabbi how God occupies His time. “He’s busy pairing couples,” answered the rabbi. “Seriously?” scoffed the matron. “Anyone can pair couples. I’ve got a thousand male slaves and a thousand female slaves and I’ll show you how easy it is to pair them up.” “It might seem easy to you,” replied the rabbi, “but I can assure you it is as difficult as splitting the Red Sea.” The matron paired up her slaves, but the following morning she was inundated with complaints from the misaligned and unhappy couples. “You’re right,” she confessed to the rabbi, “I had no idea how difficult matchmaking could be.”

That even God should find matchmaking taxing indicates that when it comes to matters of the heart there is no simple algorithm. Sometimes all the externals match up, and yet that elusive element we call chemistry, is absent. Other times we can’t figure out how an apparently grossly misaligned couple find themselves deeply in love. No algorithm can account for that.

Furthermore, traditional matchmakers recognise that achieving a compatible match is only the first step towards an enduring relationship, requiring much effort on the part of the couple to achieve love. The Bible, in describing Isaac’s courtship with Rebekah, states that he “brought her home, took her as a wife, and loved her.” The sequence makes it clear that in the Bible, love is not the prerequisite for marriage, but rather, it’s successful outcome.

Love is not static. You don’t fall in love with someone, and remain perpetually in that state. As anyone in a long term relationship knows, love is hard work. The root of the Hebrew word for love, ahava, is hav which means “to give.” Falling in love is something that happens to us, but being in love is the result of an active process in which we continually give of ourselves to our beloved. And it is in giving and sharing that we discover just how deep our capacity for love can really be.

Choose Love

Would it make any sense for me to command you to do something that is out of your control? What if I commanded you to be pulled to the earth by gravity? What if I commanded you to breathe? What if I commanded you to stop breathing? That’s something you could manage for a short while, but your body would soon protest and override your efforts.

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ (John 13:34-35)

Jesus is commanding His disciples – including us – to love one another. He knows that this is a choice we have to make. Sometimes, when you think about some of your fellow Christians, it’s a difficult decision. When we start looking at people the way God does, it becomes easier.

He made that statement near the end of his life. Earlier He made an even more challenging one.

‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 5:43-45)

It’s a very basic fact that everything we do that counts for anything is down to our choices. Even in circumstances that are beyond our control we choose how to respond.

However much anger we feel about what someone has done to another human being – or to ourselves – we can choose to respond with love. Let the legal system do its part in determining guilt and punishment. Our response is above the law.

However helpless we feel about the state of the world and the desperate plight that people find themselves in, we can choose to respond with love. Insignificant as it may seem in our own eyes or the eyes of the world, our response is hugely significant in the eyes of God.

So love is beyond feelings, and not to be confused or affected by them. This is true in marriage too. Feelings and physical attraction can be strong, and an emotional bond feels powerful, but feelings can be fickle and emotions can turn like the wind. We all hope that our feelings will at least remain strong, and perhaps grow even stronger over the course of a marriage. But our feelings are out of our control. That includes our feelings for others as well as our spouse. This is why Paul commands:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

Love is a choice that in marriage becomes a commitment. It is deeper and more satisfying than any emotion, and as much as warm emotions can sweeten the relationship, love does not depend on them.

I am divorced. I married based solely on feelings, and negative self-centered feelings at that. I didn’t know Christ at that time, and I didn’t know love. I’ve learned a lot since then, and I hope that one day I will be able to make that choice and commitment to someone capable of making the same commitment to me. I thank God for teaching me, through Jesus Christ, what it means to choose love.

My husband is not my soul mate.

I’ve been slow to pick up on this post, which apparently took the Internet by storm last year, but having just read it, and finding it so in tune with the way I believe God views us and our choices, I felt compelled to ‘reblog’…

http://theartinlife.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/my-husband-is-not-my-soul-mate/

A Thought on the Subject of Sex and Marriage

Sex outside marriage is like dessert without a main course. It can be delicious and sweet and oh so tempting, but the satisfaction it gives won’t last, because you’re missing all the essential nourishment that the main meal provides.

Overindulge in pudding and it will make you sick. Do so without thought for a balanced diet and it might even kill you.

And isn’t the dining experience so much more rewarding when the dishes are served in the correct order?

Feeling Low

In this article I’m going to be deliberately vague. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. Why? Three main reasons, in no particular order:

  1. To protect my own privacy. I don’t think it’s wise for anyone to lay bare the full details of their private life to the world. It’s no secret that I’m a sinner, because we all are. My own sins may be viewed by the world as greater or lesser than anyone else’s. What I consider to be sin in my life may be viewed as nothing of the kind by others, and the reverse is also possibly true. Small groups and close Christian friends provide the outlets for detailed discussion, confession and repentance.
  2. To protect the privacy of others. Do I need to explain this? The people closest to me, or those involved in whatever situation I write about, may well recognise incidents and individuals. Some might even feel offended or exposed that I’ve publicised something about them. But I will always be careful not to reveal personally identifiable information about anyone I know in this blog. If I speak on public matters then I’ll try to use wisdom and discernment. If I make any mistakes along the way, I trust you to let me know.
  3. Ultimately I should be able to refer to issues broadly and vaguely without losing sight of the meaning behind them. And by keeping to generalities rather than specifics I hope that more people will see parallels with their own lives, their owns journeys, their own struggles – and in that way we can encourage and support one another.

So… I’m feeling low.

I expect that nearly all of us have experienced the pain of rejection. It’s just one those things we have to go through at some time in our lives. I’ve been through it several times in mine – well I’ve been around for over 40 years so I can’t be too surprised at that. But I went through it again this week and it hit me hard. I don’t know if it feels different because it’s the first time I’ve really been through it since I found Christ.

It isn’t the only thing that I’m going through. My other issues are less usual, but equally difficult. All I can say is that I’ve got a lot of painful situations all going on together, and I’m really struggling to come to terms with them all.

And that’s where my head was when I went to church on Sunday, and I wept as I worshipped, and then some of Jesus’ words came to me and I didn’t understand exactly why.

Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.” – Luke 9:46-48

I can honestly say that I have no desire at all to be great, either on earth or in heaven. I have no interest in status, or in fame or fortune. I’d like to think that I’ll make a positive difference in some people’s lives, and I wonder if one day I may make a bigger impact for God, but my satisfaction will be in knowing in my heart I did well, not in any external recognition.

So in theory, to be least is just fine with me, just fine.

In theory.

But I broke down inside at that moment, because it suddenly felt as if I was not even least, but I was nobody. And as little as it matters if I’m ‘nothing’ to ‘everybody’, I have such a need to be ‘something’ to ‘somebody’. And not just ‘something’, but something significant.

I’m not alone, I have family and friends, and I know I mean something to them, but it isn’t enough.

I’ve heard on more than one occasion that God is enough. That we can find complete fulfillment in our relationship with Christ. I’m sorry but I don’t believe that, and I don’t think it’s a Biblical viewpoint either. Read Genesis, and notice that everything God sees in His creation is good, or very good. What is the first thing he sees that is not good? In Genesis 2:18…

And the LORD God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

Some people can live a successful single life, Paul wrote about it in 1 Corinthians 7, but that isn’t my gift.

I need to make clear at this point that I wasn’t just yearning for a wife on Sunday. I had an overwhelming vision of myself as servant to everyone; putting everyone’s needs before my own; wanting to talk to my spiritual brothers but not wanting to interrupt them, because I don’t matter as much as the people they’re already talking to; not wanting to be in the conversation I was in, but unable to extricate myself from it because the person who was speaking to me was more important than I was.

That isn’t the real me, well not the whole of me. Yes I try to put other people first most of the time, but I certainly have a selfish side as well and it manifests itself more often than I’d like.

But at that moment I was small, I was insignificant, I was nothing.

There have been some times in my life – and I think this is also something that many Christians experience – when I have been acutely aware of my insignificance as an individual, but at the same time I have felt God’s love for me, and been overcome by the awesome wonder that the Creator of the universe knows me intimately and cares for me deeply. Those moments are among the most amazing of my life.

On Sunday I still knew of God’s love for me, but I couldn’t feel it. I still don’t feel it now, so I’m still struggling, but I know it’s there. I think I’ve just allowed the temporary troubles of life to take over my mind and flood my heart with sadness. God hasn’t gone anywhere, but I’ve shut myself off from Him.

I need to reconnect with Him. I need to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. I need to keep praising His holy name because he has been so good to me. I don’t need to keep feeling low. I need to lift up the name of Jesus, knowing that He will in turn lift me.