Friday, February 24, 2006

"Christian Divorcement”

A Service of Divorcement
John and Mary are both Christians and want to keep Christ as the center of all things – including at the center of their divorcement.
So they developed a Christian divorcement ceremony, complete with a pastor leading the service (in a church, too) to remain completely holy in all proceedings surrounding their decision.

A couple stood at the front of the dusky church. The pastor stood before them, with his Divorcement Handbook open, his eyes roaming the open page, as he waited for the music to die down, and the guests to settle themselves.
When silence reigned, he opened his mouth.
“We have gathered here together today, to perform an operation upon this which has been past united. What three years ago I joined together, I stand before you now to put asunder. Please bow with me in meditation and prayer.”
The rustle of starched collars and neatly pressed skirts whispered through the building as the people bowed and the insipid prayer echoed tastelessly off the vaulted ceiling of the small chapel.
The pastor adjusted the small glasses on his nose, and flipped through the pages of his book.
“Do you, John, fully intend to put away Mary from yourself: to separate all bonds, not withstanding your commitment, to reverse the act which was performed preceding this date?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Do you, Mary, agree to John’s decision: to fully put him away from yourself, to separate all bonds, notwithstanding your commitment, to reverse the act which was performed preceding this date?”
“Yes, sir.”
“All you have heard their intent. If any object, speak now, or forever keep your thoughts to yourself. John, please turn towards Mary and state your withdrawal.”
They stood diagonally across each other, facing the pastor more than each other, and tried to pretend they were elsewhere.
“I John divorce you, Mary, from being my wife. No longer will I have or hold you. Through better or worse, we will deal with our situations as individuals. Whether we are rich or poor, sick or in good health, we shall remain in this divided state. I cannot love or cherish you as long as we both shall live. To this I pledge myself, truly with all my heart.”
Mary repeated her vows in the same manner, looking over John’s shoulder at the stained-glass window beyond the whole while she spoke.
“Now, please return your tokens of your love for one another, and concede your commitments,” the pastor stated without emotion.
“Mary,” John began, trying to look anywhere but at her. “I take myself from you in divorcement, and cease to be your husband all the days of our lives. I take my hands from you, and you take your hands from me, as a symbol and a pledge of our one flesh, dividing into two separate components. I renounce my love and the outpouring of my heart, as a symbol and a pledge of our separating from being one spirit. I take this ring from you, back into my worldly goods, as a symbol and pledge of our permanent divergence.”
Mary repeated likewise, and thrust her delicate wedding ring and diamond engagement ring in John’s direction, her stumbling fingers grasping for the thick gold band he forced towards her.
“Please step forward for the extinguishing of the unity candle,” the pastor droned.
John and Mary stepped forward towards the thick, single-lighted candle on the center of the table. They reached for the individual candles on either side, lit them from the bigger one, and jointly blew out the center flame.
The last thing they would ever do together.
The congregation bowed as the pastor prayed the Prayer of Separation over the newly divorced individuals.
After the prayer, he asked them to face the congregation and pronounced their declaration of divorcement, then moved on to the pronunciation.
“I now pronounce you, Mr. John Smith, and Mrs. Mary Jones. You may all be dismissed.”
The piano music began to throb through the church as John walked out the door on the left side of the church, and Mary exited through the right-hand side.
She departed in her car, and he left in his truck.
Both …free?
The members of the congregation stayed afterwards to vacuum the church and put away the candles.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

BORROWED TIME

The recent hype about the threat of nuclear terrorism is frightening, even nerve-wracking. How many of these tidings should we buy? Who should we believe? Is there enough evidence, or is it just someone’s word over someone else’s?

So many things have happened recently in the Middle East, to give us reason to expect this activity. I quote, “At their facility near Natanz, Iranian scientists earlier this month successfully restarted four centrifuges necessary to produce weapons-grade uranium. Iranian officials blocked international inspector’s access to the site and disabled security cameras set up by the International Atomic Energy Agency 13 years ago when Iran admitted to violated the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.” (Marvin Olasky)

According to Harvard professor, Graham Allison, we’re living on borrowed time. Their opinion: Four years without a terrorist attack? Highly unusual. Something’s to be expected in the next ten years, and it may very well be nuclear.

Allison is right in this sense: we are living on borrowed time. God is lending us this short taste of life, but he is in control of who comes and who goes, and what trouble befalls us here on earth. Our responsibility is to keep our focus upwards, and not worry about the future. God promised not to give us any more than we could handle – and what’s so bad about death for Christians? We end up in Heaven! What are a few hours of suffering on earth, when now we have everything to lose, but everything to gain in Heaven’s glory?

I know some of these predications have earned the vilification of scholars and skeptics, but as Christians, we can understand this development perfectly. Translated into a biblical context, America has primed itself for judgment, and another terrorist attack would provide a wake-up call similar to 9/11. Our responsibility? Trust God, be faithful to His calling, and realize that He never said it would be easy, but He said He would be with us every step of the way.

“He’s got the whole world
In His hands He’s got the whole world
In His hands
He’s got the whole world in His hands”

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

What if Nobody Did?

I was talking to a good friend one evening, when I raised the subject of the music course I am taking this school year. My sister and I don’t read notes as well as the other students in the class, so we stick with singing the melody rather than the tenor part that more ideally fits our voice range.

“I can hit all the soprano notes we’re supposed to sing, but it sounds fake and it’s hard to do. When we get to the really high notes, I just stop singing,” I told Melody.

When she started laughing, I was confused.

“Wouldn’t that be funny,” she finally explained, “If everybody did the same thing?” I stopped for a minute to take that in, then also began to laugh. She was perfectly right! What if everybody stopped singing when we came to those particular notes? That wouldn’t work at all, for obvious reasons!

This lack of initiative can carry into other aspects of our lives, as we’ve all, I’m sure, experienced first-hand.

While taking a short break for school on day, I happened to walk through our foyer and noticed some scraps of paper lying on the rug.

I ignored them.

When I came down to make lunch later on, the papers were still on the floor.

I proceeded into the kitchen.

At chore-time, the scraps hadn’t moved an inch, but this time I actually looked at them with my full attention. This time, I picked them up and deposited them in the trashcan.

If I didn’t pick them up, it could have very well turned into an acute case of, ‘what if nobody did?’ What if we all just did our own thing, made up our own rules, and expected everybody else to do the work for us?

Minor things like skipping notes while singing in class, or ignoring scraps of paper on the floor don’t have many consequences, not really. But this idea must be translated into a broader scope.
Take for example, things that a good many of us overlook: politics – what if nobody got involved? What if nobody campaigned because everybody felt lazy and comfortable at home, and succumbed to his or her desires? What if nobody stood up against abortion, nobody spoke out to defend marriage?

We have the tendency to expect others to always do the hard work – we don’t want to get involved – we don’t want to do anything except stay within our little comfort zones. We need to start taking initiative – be the leader, if that’s what it comes down to – we must break out of this cycle.

What if nobody did?

We’d be in a sorry mess.

We say, ‘what difference would one person make?’. A lot of difference, actually. What if everybody asked that same question, then quit?

The individuals are what make up the crowd.

We need to get to work.
What if nobody did?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Not Perfect

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…” Eccles. 9:10a

I watched my little brother Michael carry a neatly folded stack of laundry up the stairs. His feet dragged, his arms were limp around the bundle, his expression was pathetic – as if he could barely pull himself along. I wondered what could be wrong with him.
While he was upstairs, my other brother, Daniel came to the bottom of the stairs and called for him, telling him that Daddy brought home a surprise for them. I’d never seen a happier face, or someone so light of foot as Michael when he cheerfully bounced his way back down the steps and ran into the kitchen with Daniel, giggling and talking enthusiastically.
It’s funny that we can still be so much that way, even when we’re older. Michael’s three – he doesn’t care about hiding his grudging attitude, we’re older – we do a better job with hiding our attitude over having to do something we don’t want to do, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
If we have to do something, why can’t we give it our best? In everything that we do, we are commanded to “do it as unto the Lord”.
So, we do it grudgingly, right? What a rotten way for us to show our appreciation to the One who gave His life for us!
“Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable” (Chesterfield) – he’s right: as humans living on this earth, nothing we do will be perfect; that’s why we’re commanded to do all things with all our might (that would translate as, “Do the best you can”).In other words, exert yourself, really stretch yourself to do the best job you can – aim at perfection – because it’s the effort that really counts.

Monday, February 6, 2006

No Excuse (On Taking Responsibility)


When things start to go wrong, people seem to have only one natural reaction: find someone to blame.[1]
We do this all the time. We make excuses, we place the blame on others, and we are loath to admit we’re wrong; we don’t take responsibility for our own free actions.

If Johnny drops a vase while he’s searching for his baseball mitt, what happens when his mother confronts him?
“Well Mary’s the one who told me to look for it!”
Does this change the fact that Johnny broke a vase?

It’s shameful that we must be so cowardly in confessing our mistakes. If we make a mistake, we need to:
1. Admit it
2. Vow to make a change
3. Start working towards our goal.
It’s nobody else’s fault if you cannot accept the consequences of your own actions.

Take for an [extreme] example the drunk who is living in sin. Either he can turn around and point his finger at the parents who should have told him better, the wife who never cared about him, his miserable financial state...or he can be honest and admit that he reacted wrongly to the circumstances that he says ‘drove’ him to make his bitter decisions. In other words, he can be honest and say that the fault is all his own.

When I was young and thoughtless, I could have benefited from this article. I remember sitting at the kitchen bar once, listening to my mom give a lecture to my younger sister. In my insensitive and unsympathetic heart, I guess I must have thought something about it was funny.
I started to laugh.
When my mom reprimanded me, I pointed to the empty grape stalk lying on my plate.
“I wasn’t laughing about Beth! I was laughing at that grape thing because it looks like a spider,” I said, and proceeded to show her the ways in which it resembled a spider.

The excuses we offer up these days aren’t always as rotten, lousy and so obviously untrue as what I said as a kid, but they are still rotten, lousy excuses whether we call them that or not.

Now that I’m older and still just about as thoughtless as before (just better at hiding it), this article is still something I need to read. Is it really because of my busy school schedule that I sometimes forget to read my Bible? Believe me, I could make room for it if I really tried.
“But Mom gives me too many school assignments!”
Nice attempt, but I really doubt that’s the case. It’s been proven that we make room for the things we really want to do. We do – you must admit it! For example, I have no problem memorizing facts about my favorite singing groups, tracing their successes, tours, and album releases. In fact, it’s a lot of fun.
So why can’t I take the same time I’d spend doing that and instead use it to memorize Bible passages, trace Jesus’ ministry, miracles, and all the wonderful promises contained in the Old and New Testament?

In the end, we’re going to be held accountable for every thought, word, and deed we’ve ever had, said, and did, and there’s going to be nobody standing behind us to direct our fingers towards.

Don’t you think we need to grow up a little, and admit where we’re wrong instead of always shifting the blame?

“You’re running out of excuses
And you’re gonna have to face the day
~
No more lies, and no manipulation
No more avoiding all responsibility
Well you know it’s time that we change the situation
‘Cause we all want to sleep tonight”*

*Paul Colman Trio
[1] Based on quote by Nicolae Carpathia.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Mission Statement

We, as the body of Christ, are given the responsibility of evangelizing to the lost. It is also our responsibility to be worthy examples of the way true children of God are to conduct themselves.
Everything we do must also be aligned with and tested by the truth of His infallible Word.
It is then our duty to be Christ-like in every way – by reflecting His teachings in and through our thoughts, words, and deeds. All areas of our lives should indicate the forgiveness and grace He and He alone has imparted to us through His great sacrifice on the cross.

Finally, as Christians we must embrace these responsibilities happily and wholeheartedly, so as to make the lost around us aware of the ultimate joy that can only be obtained through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

In Summary:

Our Job as Christians: Being effective witnesses of our namesake, and putting ourselves in positions that would enable us to further facilitate the message of God’s love and forgiveness to those who are lost. It is also our duty to read God’s Word on a daily basis and strive to live by His laws alone and not by the laws of men.

Our Decisions as Christians: All future decisions we as Christians must make should be tested and made valid by God’s Word only. If the choices cross any spiritual boundaries, they should only be discarded.

Our Reward as Christians: We receive the fruits of our labor through the reward of living under God’s blessing.

Knowledge or Love?

Why should I always try to be the best?
To be the most smart – the most well-dressed
To know everything from present and past
So as to answer every question asked.

What makes me think I’m any better than you?
We’re all just humans, so we mustn’t confuse
Knowledge with love, and possessions with grace
We’re all just humans with the trials we face

I’m just a “normal” person – so please excuse
Me, if I don’t know such ‘important’ news
Such as why rhythm differs from tempo
And how many instruments are in a typical concerto

Who the Sino-Japanese war was between
And what on earth synthesis means,
Who painted ‘Still Life With Onions’
(Or that a sequence of three nucleotides is a ‘codon’)

Knowledge is a gift, a wonderful thing
But if it is placed over love, it is nothing
It is like a tinkling cymbal, a sounding glass
Who cares if you get to the head of your class?

If you don’t love your neighbor, and you love yourself more
You’re the only person you’ll have to answer for
So while you’re in school, strive to learn all you can
But never place its value over loving your fellowmen.

Pride is ugly, and intelligence, a joke
If we think it makes us better than any other folks.
Thank God for our minds, that can store information
But thank God for our hearts that can love His creations

Point . Click . Message Forwarded (Or, The Trap of Chain Emailing)

(NOTE: This article is not in its entirety yet.)
Part 2.
I feel bad for anyone who falls victim to the annoying habit of chain emailing. What is it they say? Oh yes...if you read some long and sentimental message, make a wish, count to some random number, then quickly forward the same message to 15 of your friends your wish will come true within 24 hours. Does anybody really believe that? If you’re one of those people who passes those chain emails along…do you really think the person receiving it will read it? That’s only one part of it. Another issue to consider is: should Christian people really be passing around that nonsense about making wishes and having wishes come true?
I think that one of my biggest pet peeves in life is getting a chain email. Let's be honest with ourselves… they're just really really long, they don't make any sense, and do you honestly think that if you send it to 15 friends as quickly as possible, your wish will come true?
I mean, do you really? Really, really?
I didn’t think so.I’m sure anybody who writes emails checks their email with expectations of receiving a personal reply. It’s disappointing to find about fifteen forwards and nothing personal at all.

Unaware (Love Takes on a New Meaning)

(NOTE: I plan to re-write this story within time, but I thought I would go ahead and post it how it is for now)
Karen and I emailed for years but never knew what the other looked like. We agreed not to exchange pictures, but to one day disclose our locations and meet for the first time. Once we agreed to describe ourselves, using general terms: height and age, mostly. Karen’s description was, “4’2”, 73 years old, and 680 pounds”. It showed her great sense of humor, but also got me wondering. I was too polite to ask, however.

We were great ones for discussions. We felt strongly about many of the same issues, loved reading biographies and new fiction, both grew up in a family of four girls, had the same schooling education, plus two years of college. But that’s where the similarities ended.

Many of our discussions were based off of Karen’s true stories of working as a missionary to foreign shores. I grew up having a sheltered life, smack in the middle of a bustling city. She spoke of dangerous adventures, and the quaint people she encountered. I spoke of my newspaper route, and of our irascible landlady. Although we each had funny and exciting stories to tell, hers were incredibly entertaining.

Finally, the great day came. Karen asked me to reveal my location, and said that she thought she finally had the money to afford a short vacation. I was thrilled! The days of preparation were busy and excited ones as I cleaned the house and prepared all manner of wonderful meals in honor of my important guest. I laid out photo albums for us to look through, remembering that she promised to bring hers as well. I couldn’t restrain my fast-beating heart from jumping a time or two, just speculating about the evening ahead.

Half an hour before she was supposed to arrive, I realized that I had no centerpiece for my dining room table. I also realized that I had just enough time to slip over five blocks to a local florist shop and buy a fresh arrangement.

The trip there took longer than I thought. I realized I would have been better off walking because the traffic was unusually congested for a Friday afternoon. I had to park one block over from the shop upon arrival, which also disgusted me.

I had fifteen minutes to go.

The inside of the florist shop was always cool and fragrant, but this time I was not there for pleasure – I was in a hurry. I waited impatiently for the sales clerk to finish with the woman in line ahead of me. I sighed and tapped my foot. I leaned on the counter and tried to look impatient. The woman turned,

“I’ll just be a minute,” she assured, in a slow drawl that annoyed me. She turned back to the clerk. “How about purple – how would that look with these colors?”

“I don’t have a minute!” I shot back. “I am going to be really late! You should decide what you’re getting before you come in here.” I sighed again, even louder.

She smiled at me, but said nothing for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said finally. “But I came in here to see what I wanted because I wasn’t sure.”

“Don’t you understand?” I almost shouted. “I AM IN A BIG HURRY!”
The woman stepped back slightly to let me pass her. “You may go ahead. I’m sorry for slowing you down.” She fingered a yellow petal gingerly and kept her head down as she waited for me to make my hurried selection. I didn’t have enough time to feel remorse.
I slammed my money down on the counter and waited for the clerk to return my change.
Finally, with the arrangement in hand, I turned to leave.

“I apologize,” the woman said again.
“No need. I’ll be late anyway, but thanks.” I tried to keep my tone cool and sarcastic.
She offered no reply.

The traffic was so intense that it only succeeded in heightening my rage. I blared my horn; I skipped lanes, doing everything in my power to reach my home in time. My guest was sure to think that I had a problem with meeting deadlines.

I was waiting and waiting to pull into the second turning lane, when the car from behind me jumped into the spot I had in mind. I leaned on my horn, and rolled down my passenger window. It was that same woman from the florists with that same dumb face.
“I was about to pull in there!” I shouted.

“I’m sorry,” she called back. “I can hold back to let you turn first,” she offered.
“You shouldn’t be jumping lanes like that, right in front of other people.” I rolled up my window to cut off her response.

Finally, I reached my street and flicked on the turn signal. I sat, pulsing the gas pedal, waiting for the stream of traffic to quit flowing. Just then, that same car zipped into the road in front of me. I sped up to cut her off – I had enough of this woman, really, I did. She jerked her wheel to avoid hitting me, and hit a parking meter instead. I sped on ahead, not caring. I parked in front of my house and ran to the door, grumbling when I tried the wrong key.

Once inside, the air-conditioning worked its wonders on my mood, while I arranged my bouquet atop the dining room table.

I heard a knock on the door and smiled to myself. My heart pounded nervously as I walked to the front door. I rehearsed my words as I envisioned us wrapping our arms around each other.
“Oh Karen, it’s so wonderful to meet you after all these years! Isn’t it exciting? Your dress is so lovely – come on inside and have a seat. Dinner’s almost ready.”

I turned the doorknob and prepared to fall into a warm embrace. I opened the door fully and opened my mouth. Then shut it. Then opened it again.

“Susan?” The woman spoke quietly.
The woman from the florist shop. The woman behind me in traffic. The woman I ran off the road.Karen.

Point . Click . Message Sent (Or, The Lost Art of Letter-Writing)

Part 1.
With all of its conveniences, I think that there are many downsides to email. Besides being a fast, great way to communicate, and besides the fact that it doesn’t cost 37 cents per message, the negative aspects are still something to consider.
In the old days, letter writing was an art. Because it was somewhat expensive, it was considered special, and people took extra time writing the letters, asking clear questions, giving news and details in an interesting, yet condensed fashion. Through using email, people are more prone to write short, meaningless notes without any sort of personal touch to them. A lone email does not show time set apart to write to a special friend, not really. Especially when most emails begin with something like, “Sorry I haven’t written for so long – things have been really crazy [busy] around here!”
Through writing a letter, people not only appreciate the time designated to write exclusively to them, but they also appreciate the length and sincerity of a message written over a longer period.
Emailing doesn’t take long at all, so people grow to expect swift correspondence. The person replying to the email understands this, but doesn’t have time to write anything interesting in such a small amount of time, so they quickly respond with a short, insignificant email and disappoint whoever sent the original message.
Either we need to start writing letters or we need to take more time with our emails. We need to consider the interests of other people ahead of the things we’re interested in. We need to make them feel important by writing them something worthwhile – ask anybody – I am sure they would unanimously agree that they would rather trade in all the ‘quick notes’ saying how busy someone is, to have two or three longer, more personal, interesting letters that actually progress a relationship.
These hasty habits inevitably make email a great breeding ground for arguments to begin. To put it plainly, people just type too fast to consider the things they are writing. Misunderstandings are swift to surface through little-thought-over comments or not properly phrased ideas. On the other hand, take letter writing: literally days stand between each message, thus giving the ones communicating time to ‘cool off’ and really think about the proper response.
I am not trying to say that we should stop emailing each other, or even that email has no redeeming qualities. I am just concerned about the potential danger it poses for our friendships. Are all of our modern ways of communication depreciating our friendships?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? So, when someone knows they can type an email, IM, or just pick up the phone to call someone, it no longer becomes a treat, the relationship is no longer special – because it’s easy. There’s nothing exciting or worthwhile about it.Unfortunately, I’m not writing to offer a solution –I am only writing to present this problem, and sound the alarm that friendships are not what they used to be. What needs to be done? What can we do to help? What sorts of solutions can we consider?

Life Prayer

“Let us pray, let us pray
Everywhere in every way
Every moment of the day
It is the right time.
For the Father above
Is listening with love
And He wants to answer us
So let us pray.”*


The other day I was having devotions in my room. I finished copying out a hymn text, and began to write in my prayer journal, when just then, from downstairs, my mom called me to come down to do our morning school – memorization and recitation with the kids. I quickly finished the line I was writing, slammed my notebook shut, and ran downstairs. I sort of threw myself around as I was getting seated – just to let everybody know that I was being inconvenienced. I joined the recitations grudgingly, and pretty much made it plain that I would rather be elsewhere.

In the middle of my bad attitude, I was suddenly hit with a convicting thought: what on earth did I mean by stopping my devotions halfway through, coming downstairs, and living like the things I was learning and praying for had no bearing on my life? What gave me the entitlement to pray great and fancy words to God, then come downstairs and act like I hated my family? What made me think I could pretend that Mom helping us out with school was an inconvenience? It would serve me right if I had to learn Latin, Catechism, and different chapters of the Bible by myself! Thankfully, God allows us grace, and not everything we deserve.
But in what manner should I have responded?

I believe that all of our lives reflect as individual prayers to God. Just because I got stopped halfway through my vocal one, did not mean that I needed to go down to live apart from the things I prayed for only seconds earlier. I should have continued my prayer towards God by pleasing him through a good attitude and a loving spirit.

Did I just say a good attitude and a loving spirit? How often do we as teenagers try to have a good attitude and a loving spirit? Don’t we just tend to assume, “All teenagers have a bad attitude and are self-centered, therefore, if I act that way, nobody is going to blame me.”? So, who set that standard, and why do Christian kids think they are entitled to behave the same way?

During the teen years we have much more time for friendships than we will when we are grown. This is the time that we build those relationships to last us for after we’re adults. Since we are able to be in contact with so many people, what sort of testimony are we showing to them? Are we showing them a life that is set apart – and full of joy – or an ordinary teenager who is disrespectful and self-centered like the rest?

Live your prayer today, and make it acceptable to God. Let Him know you’re thankful for your family, by treating them with love and respect. Let Him know that you love Him, by loving those he put closest to you.

“Just because we say the word, ‘Amen’
Doesn’t mean this conversation needs to end”*

*Steven Curtis Chapman – Let Us Pray
(From the album, “Signs of Life”)

One More Time Around

I’m going to try to make this blog a little more worthwhile than the previous one. Hopefully I’ll be posting articles I’ve written, some music reviews, devotionals, and other opinion columns. We’ll see how it goes.

Until then,

Be FREE!
Jenn
John 8:33 & 36