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Monday, July 30, 2012

The Eternal Olympics

The Eternal Olympics!

Have you been watching the Olympics?  I always watch bits and pieces.  You know, selected events that I enjoy.  I saw some of the opening ceremony the other night.  Frankly, I’m not a big fan of all that hoopla, turning something that is supposed to be a special event about supposedly amateur competitions between athletes, not a venue for entertainers and producers.  So for me, the highlight that night was the parade of nations, where the competing athletes proudly walk sporting their national costume and flags.  I am always especially impressed by those countries that can only send 3 or 4 to the competition…..and there were several of those this year.  Anyway, I guess other folks think all the other fanfare is important, too……just not to me. 

  So during one of the swimming events, there was a commercial (I don’t recall who, but think it was Citi) in which all these individuals are talking about all the things they DIDN’T do over the last year.  One says he missed the hit movie, another hasn’t read the latest best seller, another hadn’t ordered dessert for a year….that sort of thing.  And, of course, all of them have one thing in common:  they were working instead to get ready to be able to compete in the Olympic games.  Kind of a cool commercial, I thought. 

  But there is one Bible verse that I always think of at times like this.  It is found in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.  Paul, too, was familiar with athletic competitions……there were hippodromes and stadiums and coliseums all dedicated to athletic competitions during Paul’s day, and he uses that familiarity in this passage.  He tells us that all these athletes (like these we see today) work hard to discipline themselves and prepare themselves for the day of competition.  The same thing the commercial explains….the discipline of leaving some things aside in order to be able to focus on the goal of winning the prize…..today, a gold medal, in Paul’s day, a laurel perhaps.  In fact, Paul points out they are seeking the prize, and prepare accordingly.  But then, he goes on to point out that the prize they are seeking is perishable, but as Christians, we are pursuing an eternal prize.  He ends with the challenge to make sure we are as disciplined in our pursuit of the eternal prize as those athletes are in their preparation for their events.

  So what is YOUR answer?  Think about those athletes in the commercial, and all the things they gave up to focus on Olympic preparation.  Do you approach your Christian faith with the same dedication and effort?  I wonder about this a lot as I pass health clubs and see people working out to build their bodies, or observe them out walking and jogging for the same purpose….but don’t see them taking the same kind of disciplined care of their souls in church or scripture.  I wonder what the churches in our country would be like if those attending put in the same kind of discipline and effort into the spiritual lives and ministries as the Olympic athletes do for their big events.  Or, more to a point, how would YOUR life, or MINE, be different if either of us put forth that discipline and effort?  How about finding out?  Don’t just go for the gold….it is destined to perish…..go for that eternal crown  in glory!

TL:dr  The Olympic athletes set a great example and challenge for we Christians in our pursuit of spiritual greatness.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Marital Distress from my Blog!!


So, visiting with a friend who reads the blog, and heard an enlightening conversation as a result.  Especially for those of you who are married.  Seems that the wife was reading my blog......remember, the name is Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce (just like the book).  Anyway, she made a reference to it on her facebook page, where her husband saw it, and all of a sudden panicked!  Well, you can read the conversations that ensued......she let me copy it off her facebook page to put here for your consideration.  The point is, of course, if you are married and reading this blog, just make sure your spouse knows you are reading it and WHY you are reading it.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Water the goodness in your heart!

We are in Kansas, which is one of many states in drought conditions.  We have watered bushes, tomato plants, roses, flowers, trees…..the plant kingdom around here is simply not very happy.  You really see it with all the brown stalks in the cornfields.  Told somebody I’m just going to plant cactus next year!  Anyway, as I rode my bike up to the house the other day, it occurred to me that the weeds didn’t seem to mind the drought at all…..they are doing just fine!  Seems to me there’s a lesson in that.  When in drought times of your life…..such as a divorce…..it is critical that you carefully water and nurture the good plantings in your heart, because the weeds will grow freely if you don’t.  I pulled a bunch of weeds out of the strawberry patch yesterday…..maybe you need to pull a few out of your heart.  Seems to me somebody once gave a parable about the importance of tending the soil of your heart……..Mark 4 maybe?  Just a thought.  

Somebody wishes they had this……..

Well, been visiting with a few friends and acquaintances the last couple of days.  Received some comments regarding the way that the blog is being shared and as they surprised me I thought I would share them.  

I received a comment from a friend that told me of a relative who is reading my blogs and about the book and, apparently is passing the info along to friends they know who are struggling.  That relative had been divorced years ago, and had commented that he/she wished something like this had been available during his/her divorce.  Which is EXACTLY why I have been writing what I have…..especially the book.  Several divorced folks lately have indicated their agreement with me that there is such a dearth of material like this available to help Christian folks through times of divorce.  Hopefully, my musings can help fill that gap for those folks somewhat.  Believe me, when you are experiencing the tumult of divorce, you are desperately hungry for something like this to help you through it. 

Another friend who has pretty much read the whole book while dealing with his divorce made what I thought was a good observation.  He said that it wasn’t so much that I offered all the answers and solutions (I don’t), as it was that in reading the devotions in the book, he really appreciated the way it helped him realize that what felt so bizarre to him actually was something shared by others going through divorce, that it was kind of “normal,” and that made him feel less alone and a bit reassured……especially since he knows me well enough to know I have made it through.  He also says he appreciated that I shared how I wrestled with the issues…..that he may not come to the same solutions, but it helped him as he was sorting things out for himself.  Just so you know.

And then, another person told me that she had shared with her pastor one of the blog entries that related specifically to the experience of divorce.  When she did, she said he commented that the post was actually pretty helpful to him, that it really did fit well with his experiences pastoring folks who were going through divorce.  He also said it helped him have a better sense of what those folks must be going through.  Which was echoed by another friend who has also already read the book.  She told me she believes every pastor ought to read this book, because, not being divorced herself, she feels like it so helped her understand better what divorcing people are going through, and made her more sensitive to their struggles.  Actually, have heard that a couple of times.

But the truth is, it only gives a hint at the experience.  I remember at my first church, when as a young pastor I was trying to help people in the midst of divorce, how it was hard for me to understand it very well.  I did try.   But when I went through my divorce, I realized how little I truly comprehended.  It is an indescribable experience.  But it is my hope that sharing some of it as best I can, may help someone reading it to be just a little better in their encouragement and ministry to the divorced people around them.  That is why I have asked that you pass the link along to others, because somewhere down the line there is somebody who needs the encouragement and hope they can find through these little reflections.

There is one other story….but that is for another blog.  My wife says you will really get a kick out of……….maybe tomorrow……

P.S.  If you have some extra rain where you live, we’d appreciate you sending some of it our way……

TL:DR  Hard times are opportunities for bad habits to take root in our lives.  And some stories to share.

Monday, July 23, 2012

 Beautiful Ugliness!

   In Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9, God reminds us that we don’t think the same way He thinks……..that we cannot, for God’s thoughts are far beyond our thoughts.  (If you don’t know the passage, it is well worth looking it up and reading it over.)  That one notion contains so much insight about our lives and our world that it can literally transform how we live if we let it.  The key word is:  perspective!

  I won’t bore you too much with vacation pictures, but I want to share a few that illustrate for me the importance of perspective.  In this first picture, notice how desolate this mountain looks.  I find the desolation and the subtle color shifts beautiful, myself……but I sure wouldn’t want to be stuck out there.  This picture was taken somewhere between Reno, Nevada and Green River, Utah….on highway 50.  In this view, it is clear there is no vegetation, no moisture, no flowing streams, no herds of wildlife grazing or resting.  Just a lot of sand.  Probably lizards, snakes, sagebrush…….and rocks.  Lots of rocks.   Nice to see.  As you drive by at 75 mph.  No real temptation to stop…. except maybe to take a picture.  However………

  This next picture was taken not that terribly far away from where the first was shot.  But this shot is of similar mountains further away.  And with different lighting.  Though less than inviting when viewed up close…..in fact, it was downright harsh……with the perspective of distance and with the sun shining at a different angle, the mountains become a beautiful vista.  Have you had that kind of experience in your life?  In the midst of harsh times, nothing seems good at all……it is desolate and forbidding.  But as time has passed and your life has moved on and changed, you see a beautiful pattern emerge that God was working even in those times.  I have heard it said that sometimes we are just too close to a situation to see it accurately.  (On the other hand, the reverse can be true as well…..sometimes things that look really good at a distance become much less attractive once we actually enter the experience!)

And then, this last picture, taken in the area of Arches National Park, demonstrate how, even in the midst of a harsh environment, there can be great beauty, captivating scenery, something fresh and glorious.  But, as we discovered when driving that area, in order to see it, sometimes you had to drive on through the starkness to the vista around the next bend.  Maybe you are a person who is in the midst of harsh times right now.  I tend to think that all of us have tough things in certain areas of our lives, even while much of our lives may be good.  Yet, if we look carefully, or turn a corner so we can see things from a different angle, there is always something of beauty God is doing for us and in us.  It is all a matter of perspective.  And, the degree to which we can see the things of beauty and wonder in our lives and world, we join with God to begin seeing things from that divine perspective, in which all things come together for good for those who love God.   So, how about you?  Have you gotten bogged down in the stark and harsh things of life?  Could you use some perspective?  Or are you missing seeing something of God’s hand because you have gotten yourself stuck and need to move on around the next bend?  God’s vistas are beautiful things to behold!  Sometimes, you just need to get the right perspective.

TL:DR   Often, our point of view determines whether we see beauty or desolation in the experiences of our lives.  And nice pictures.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stagnant Water is NOT God’s plan! - Even during a drought...

I heard from an individual who reads the blog that she was talking with another person who visits the blog.  That second person….call him FRED…was receiving the notices, but wasn’t sure why he was getting them……until the day God showed him why.  At this point, I didn’t receive the whole story in detail, but the nutshell is that Fred has a relative whose close friend (I think) was having a rough time with a divorce filed against them.  So Fred passed along the site to the relative, so it could be shared with the friend. 

I want to challenge you to consider that God has a purpose in you reading this blog as well.  Maybe you are not getting divorced, and maybe you don’t even know somebody who is getting divorced with whom you can share the material.  But maybe, like Fred, somebody you know is aware of somebody who is desperately need of this kind of hope.  And maybe, like Fred, you don’t even realize it.   Kind of like that whole “six degrees of separation” thing.  What can you do?

It is my hope and prayer that the materials I have put together get to the hands and hearts of those who really need it.  But I cannot do that without your help.  If you feel this site has something worth reading now and then, I want to suggest that you recommend it to several of your friends by sending them the link and telling them about it.  Those friends of yours may be the ones who know somebody who NEEDS to know about this blog and my little book.  Or maybe it will be their friends who knows that person.  But God knows even now the ones He desires to reach with His love through this ministry. 

Ah, but like my friend, you may feel like the blog is good for you, and that maybe God is trying to speak to YOU.  Well, that may well be, I would never question that.  But in my experience, God rarely touches people just for our own sake.  Instead, he gives these things to us so that we can pass them along to others in need.  So that He can use us.  Paul expresses this very notion in 2 Corinthians 1:1-5 where he indicates that the comfort God gives us, God wants to use to comfort others THROUGH us!  Somebody once said we are meant to be conduits of God’s love and grace, not cisterns.  I want to ask you directly to intentionally make yourself that conduit…..pass along the link.  Who knows what might happen. 

TL:DR  God may have placed people within your circle who either need to know about this blog site, or who know somebody else who needs to know about it.  Our job is to pass it on.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Parable of the Pansy

      ...and the intensity of divorce

  So, in my family, I plant the flowers, my wife plants the vegetable garden.  I don’t know about you, but when I look at flowers, it seems to me that the color of a pansy is about one of the most intense of colors in the flower world.  Oh, I know, tulips and roses can be pretty intense, and cannas are right up there, too.  There are plenty, so you flower folks who really know what you are doing may easily dispute the assertion, but, as I said, I think the color of pansies is about the most intense colors we find.  The picture I posted is, of course, of pansies I saw along the side of the road at a house somewhere up in the Rockies around Aspen.  Beautiful, aren’t they? 

  We actually drove all the way out to Reno and Tahoe from here in Kansas for a  nephew’s wedding…..they had me perform the ceremony.  That was kind of cool, I thought.  And we drove back through Arches National Park and across Colorado where we got to visit with friends.  (All of which, by the way, is why I haven’t been posting so many blogs recently……just so much to do and see!!)

  Well, the intensity of the flower color, along with some other conversations and experiences got me to thinking about something I wanted to share on the blog…….especially for those of you who have never been divorced.  Over the years of pastoring, there have been many times I have been involved in offering support and encouragement to folks whose marriages were ending in divorce.  I remember well how difficult it was to find the right words for the time when words did not seem to be enough.  I remember some of those folks sitting in my office, so utterly sad, so devastated, or so angry or listless.  Sometimes they remained almost as if they just didn’t want to leave, to be alone.  I offered the best encouragement I knew how to offer, but the truth is, I really didn’t have a clue.  Not until my divorce.  And then, there were so many experiences, struggles and surprises.

  What may have surprised me the most was the intensity of the emotions.  I have not suffered the experience of having a very close loved one die, so I cannot really offer a useful comparison to that.  And I suppose the emotional responses really vary from person too person…..at least, that is what I have observed.  But I was overwhelmed by how utterly intense and consuming the various emotions were in the midst of that ugly process of divorce.  Times of utter sadness.  Other times of desperate loneliness.  An inner agony that just ached at the loss.  Anger that would be stirred at inconsiderate behaviors or frustrations with the courts.  It wasn’t so much the various emotions, but how intense they are that I could not have guessed would be the case.  I was encouraged at the time when I heard another refer to the extreme sense of loneliness…..at least I wasn’t the only one! 

  If you have not experienced divorce, and are trying to help someone who is, perhaps it might help a bit if you realize the intensity of emotional upheaval they are experiencing.  Compare a pansy to a petunia, and maybe that difference could help you understand.  Or think of the adrenaline rush of the rollercoaster or bungee jumping…..but then extend it way beyond those few seconds of the ride to the days, weeks and months involved in divorce. 
Then you have a hint of what it is like.  No wonder those folks lingered so long in the office….they were hurting even more than I knew.  How important it is in those times to know that someone cares.  Tell those YOU know of your care for their struggles.  I’ll share some other pictures later……got some really cool shots, think you will enjoy them.

TL:dr  Divorce creates extreme emotions that are not always comprehended by those around them.  And pansies are pretty!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Speaking Spanish and really being ready for anything God sends my way!

     Wanted to share with you something that struck me the other day.  It has nothing to do with divorce,  But remember, even in times of divorce or other loss and hardships, life is never entirely about divorce or the loss.  It just is sometimes hard to see the other good things in life because of the intensity of the experiences impacting you. 

     So the other day had occasion to spend the night at a motel during traveling time.  A light bulb needed to be changed, so as we were leaving, I stopped to let the maid know, since the bulb was not in a commonly used location. (I grew up in a motel, I know that sometimes it is helpful if people let you know of things that need attention, if done nicely.)  I noticed the lady was Hispanic, and she nodded her head to let me know she would see to it.  A bit later, she appeared at our room with another woman, and that woman asked me for clarification of my request.  In other words, the maid only partially understood what I had said to her.  She spoke Spanish.  There are places I expect that to be to be the case, but this was further north than I would have anticipated…..it was Wyoming!
       I thought afterward, I really need to think about learning Spanish better than my rudimentary knowledge from school days.  Because to do so could be another tool God could use.  As it was, I couldn’t even tell her about a light bulb, how could I possibly communicate effectively the love of Christ?  Sure, there are some things I could do, but that isn’t the same.  Not that I don’t think it would be helpful of people here from other countries learned English, but to wait until they do for me to be able to share about Christ?  But if I learned Spanish, who knows what kind of doors God might open for ministries?  It reminds me of Paul’s statement in Corinthians, “I have become all things to all men in order that I might win the more.”  (1 Corinthians 9:22)
   So, what tools are you working on adding in your life so that God can have more opportunities to use you?  It isn’t all up to Him.  We are expected to do our part, and that includes doing our best to be usable wherever God places us.  Don’t let your life get so consumed with your own issues that you lose track of the fact that God expects us to serve and to express God’s love to the people in our lives as effectively as possible.  I sure like looking around at places like Home Depot at all the tools for things I might could use.  We need to have the same attitude as we look around our daily world for the tools we need to be used by God!
TL:DR  God wants to use us effectively, and can do so if we do our best to be ready to be used.


Richard, in person, bad jokes and all...


Hey, for anyone interested, if you are in the area, I am speaking in Joplin at the Four State Christian Singles group on Tuesday, July 24th.  The meeting is at Ryan’s Steakhouse on Rangeline.  Folks come to eat and visit around 6:00 p.m., and the meeting itself runs from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.  The topic, “I Don’t Know What to Say,” is about overcoming the awkwardness in conversation with family or friends experience tough times like divorce.

It’s open to any singles who would like to attend.  Feel free to bring a friend if you like.  I’ll have some information and sample sheets of the book there, too. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tears, Texas and Rain

So, after returning from Texas, had been hoping we had gotten rain at home in Kansas.  Nope.  It’s really dry….we could surely use some.  There had been some around, but it has been spotty.  Then we got just a bit of a shower….not enough to do any good, just enough to make the air humid.  Talking about the rain at the grocery store with the checkout lady, I commented that my grandpa used to talk about water falling out of the sky, but I had never believed him!  All of which is so I can say that it reminded me of my other favorite Texas joke.  It was about the fella from west Texas, where things are really dry, sandy and dusty.  He’d gone his whole life and never seen rain at all.  One day a huge thunderstorm blew through, and just dumped shower after driving shower.  He was so shocked, that he fainted dead away.  They said that they had to pour three buckets of sand on his head to revive him!

Well, on to more serious things.  In a town where I used to live, the churches sponsor a “dial-a-devotion” ministry, and various individuals record a morning devotion for anyone to call and hear at their convenience.  A friend of mine recorded one the other day, and used an excerpt from my book of devotions.  It was one that she, a widow, found encouraging.  The trouble is, the dial-devotion only allows about a minute, so she was able to use only a few lines.  Thought that, for those who might have heard it, since it was one she found meaningful, it might be worth posting here so that they can read the rest of it.  Who knows, maybe it will mean something to some of you as well:

Day 104     Psalm 147:1-6 and Revelation 21:3-5

  If you are a person struggling with your divorce, feeling pretty down and out, or brokenhearted, then there in those blues, there are special promises for you.  The one I want you to see today is that in a time of brokenness, God is nearby in a way unique to those times.  It is when we are the most weak, that we most need his strength…..and he knows that.  It is almost as if God himself knows that we need a hug.  Can you imagine him wrapping his arms around you, wiping your tears with his tender hand and offering you words of encouragement in your darkness.  Can you imagine him taking your broken heart and touching the wound with his healing hand?  There is a tenderness about God that is most experienced in times like these.  Today, I don’t want to say much to you.  Instead, I want you to take the time you would normally spend reading, and sit quietly in God’s embrace.  Weeping, praying, hurting, giving thanks….whatever is going on for you…..let his embrace touch your broken heart today.

P.S.  I have had several  newcomers asking again how to get the book…..so let me put it down again for them.  It is only available as an ebook right now from Amazon for your kindle or computer with the downloadable app.  You can search there for my name, Richard Crooks, or the title Finding God in the Seasons of Divorce.  Paper copies are expected out later this summer, followed by other ebook options.  Will post here as soon as exact dates are available.  You can email your comments or questions to me at seasonsofdivorce@gmail.com, or post here if you like.  Hope your day is filled with the nourishing showers of God’s blessings!

TL:DR  There is a unique relationship we experience with God in times of brokenness.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jesus and Texas

Just got back from Texas.  Whenever I pass through Texas, I am always reminded of an old joke that I really like.  About the Texan who was visiting the farm of a friend up in Oklahoma.  As he was being shown around the 320 acres of pastureland and crops, he bragged, “This is a pretty nice little garden you have here.  Course, it doesn’t begin to compare with the size of the ranch I have down in the Lone Star State.  Why, I can get up at dawn, hop in my truck and drive all day, and when the sun sets, I still won’t have reached the other end of my ranch.”  To which the Okie responded, “Yup, I know what that’s like.  I had a truck like that once, too!”

  Anyway…..    Am filling in for the pastor tomorrow at the church we currently attend here in Parsons.  Am using the text from John 4, about a Samaritan woman Jesus meets at the well, thought maybe I’d pass along some related thoughts.  Now, if you don’t know the story, the nutshell is that the Samaritans were people who believed they worshipped the same God as the Jewish people, but their practices were far different.  As a result of that and some other historical realities, most of the Jewish people didn’t think very much of them….in fact, actively avoided them.  In addition, this woman had been through multiple marriages and was living with a guy at the time Jesus met her, all of which made her an outcast during that time even among her own people.  But Jesus goes out of his way to make a point to be sure he meets her, and then reaches out to her with God’s love while also correcting her understanding of who God is. 

  So the point for tomorrow’s message is the fact that here is this lady, who has so messed up so many things in her life, probably suffered a great deal of disappointment and has become a person for whom most people didn’t have the time of day…..and yet Jesus reached out to HER!  Most people would have passed her by.  Most people would have said she got what she deserved.  Most people would have treated her pretty badly and not felt any remorse about it at all.  But Jesus reached beyond those surface things to see her as a person God created whose life was a shambles and whose heart was broken……yet she still wanted to be loved, and deep down she wanted to know God’s ways for her life.  So Jesus takes the time to show her God’s love, and to teach her God’s ways.  She gets very excited about it…..as anyone who ever really has an experience with God does……and her life is changed forever. 

  Seems to me that lots of folks both then and now know lots of scriptures about right and wrong and punishment for evildoers.  But Jesus demonstrates the scriptures that teach of compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love.  So many times the scripture teaches that God is very near to those who are brokenhearted…..and Jesus demonstrates it personally in this story, but we forget that it is OUR job to reach out to them on God’s behalf.  If you are a person whose heart has been broken, a person that others treat as second class or unworthy, then I want you to see in the story of that woman that God still cares a great deal about you, even if nobody else does.  And that, even if you have made too many poor choices and messed up things in your life, God still loves you and finds you precious.  Don’t let those things push you away from God.  Instead, let them make you aware of how near God is, and of his desire to reach into your heart to heal those hurts and to give you fresh hope, and meaning for your life. 

  This story is one of my favorites, and is actually the text for four of the devotional entries in my book.  Hopefully, it will come to mean as much to you as it does to me.  Thanks for listening!

TL:DR  God’s desire is to help those whose lives has been broken, no matter how anybody else thinks about them.                                                                                                                                                 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Roman Candles and Divorce

Well, Independence Day is almost here!  I love this holiday.  Homemade ice cream.  I like to set off fireworks.  I like to watch fireworks shows…..and have been privileged to see some really great ones in my life.  I especially remember one after a MLS soccer game, that featured a flyover by a stealth bomber…..that was really something!  So happy 4th to all of you!

Divorce brings interesting things to holidays.  They can be very tough for individuals, as they may or may not see their children, they may have mixed feelings about their memories.  They may have lost traditions and plans that were very dear.  But, as I found out, (and my divorce finalized pretty close to July 4th, actually), divorce also creates some newfound “independence” of its own, whether you want it or not!  I found I was free to celebrate holidays the way I wanted, without having to consult or compromise any plans or split between families.  That was kind of nice.  Kind of.  And so, I did begin my own traditions, reclaimed some old memories and habits….that sort of thing.  But again, it also depends on who has the kids if kids are involved.  Holidays were also very lonely times some years.

So, if you are reading this and are divorcing or divorced, try to be considerate of your ex….don’t make it harder for them or the kids than need be.  And claim some independence for yourself…..celebrate in some ways that you haven’t in years. 

But if you are reading this and are still happily in your intact family, then I encourage you to look around you.  Are there some folks for whom this might be a tough day, that you could include in YOUR plans?  I promise you, including a lonely person into your family circle creates deep friendships and very powerful memories. 

And remember…….Roman candles are NOT to be handheld.  Or, at least, so I hear……….    ‘nuf said.  Happy 4th!

TL:DR  Holidays can sometimes be tough after divorce, look out for your friends.