Monday, September 28, 2009

Thriving as a single person (4)

Here are notes from the last part of the message on thriving as a single person that I shared at CVC weekend before last.

***

I can thrive when I focus on pleasing God aim at undivided devotion.

All of us have hearts that are pulled away from God. We love Him half-heartedly. But look what singles can do.

I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.
I Cor. 7:35 (ESV)


Undivided devotion. Is that you?

If you are single, don’t waste your single life! Live your life to the full. For God. Wholly devoted to Him. No half-hearted love will do!

If you are single, you can remind those of us who are married that the kingdom of God is more important than anything else. If you’ve never been married or divorced or widowed, remind us through your undivided devotion that Jesus is worthy of every ounce of dedication.

When a single person devotes himself or herself to Jesus and is satisfied in Christ without marriage and without children and when that person has joy, then the single person declares to a watching world, “There is something better than the anything this world has to offer. Jesus is real and He is worthy. He is more than satisfying to my soul!”

You can show us married people through your undivided devotion just how awesome Jesus is.

If you have the “if onlys” – “if only I was married” – aim at undivided devotion. That’s the way to thrive.

What is God doing in your life through your singleness?

1) You can show a watching world that Jesus alone satisfies. Not a spouse. Not a family. Jesus. Just Jesus. And Jesus is so worthy, He can sustain lifelong singleness, lifelong purity, lifelong chastity.
2) You can give more of your life for ministry - for service, for volunteerism that is so desperately needed in our world.
3) You can have the rough edges chipped off through the chisel of your singleness. It's a tool in GOd's hands to sanctify you. He desires to use the unique pain of your singleness to make you more like Jesus.

There are many things about being single that hurt. But, singles, don’t forget that the hurts come from the hands of your Father. He is making you like His Son. You are His masterpiece. And He’s chipping off your rough edges through the chisel of your singleness. Will you trust Him?

Don’t wait until marriage to thrive.

When a single person, man or woman, lives with purity, joy, and contentment, that person preaches through their very life that Jesus Christ is greater than anything in the world.

And consider the promises God gives to singles. "For thus says the Lord: 'To the eunuchs [singles] who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off'" (Isaiah 56:4-5, ESV).

God promises singles blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children. Singleness isn’t somehow falling short of God’s best for your life.

And just think about this: In Matthew 22:30, Jesus said that in heaven people will no longer marry but will be like the angels in heaven. You know what that means? All of us will spend eternity in heaven together as singles!

May we all ask GOd for grace to live a life of undivided devotion.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Thriving as a single person (3)

Here are some more notes from last weekend's message on being single.

God's word teaches that singles can say, "I can thrive when I focus on pleasing God. I Corinthians 7:32-34

Ever heard the phrase, "If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy"? If you're a guy who is married, you better make sure your wife is a happy camper. You better be worried – concerned and focused in a good way – about what it takes to put a smile on your wife's face.

But God says that He wants some people to be free from those kinds of anxieties.

I want you to be free from anxieties [the anxieties that are associated with marriage]. The unmarried man [think: single man] is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman [think: single woman] is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
I Cor. 7:32-34 (ESV)


When people are married, they are mutually responsible to care for each other in the home. But a single person has more freedom to serve God whenever, wherever, whatever.

Our worship paster, Brian Howell, tells about teaching piano lessons in the inner city in Nashville when he was single. Now, he has a wife and three girls and he just doesn’t have as much free time to serve in those ways.

Married or single. Neither lifestyle is more spiritual that the other. Each has its place. Each has its advantages and its disadvantages. But it’s clear in I Corinthians 7 that the single person is more free to explore more ways to serve and please God.

In England some females like to call themselves "freemales." They are women who say that they don’t need men. "I don’t need to get a man to make my life complete." And that seems kind of admirable, I guess.

But listen to Becky Lee, who is 34 and a TV producer from London. She was a female with a male for 7 years. Now, she’s in her third year of being a "freemale." "At first, my instinct was to dive back in and dabble in internet dating. Then I realized I was having more fun being on my own. I am always doing something - out clubbing or listening to bands. I hardly ever make plans, just see where the day takes me. And if that means spending all weekend going out, or spending all weekend at home alone in my flat watching movies, I can do it. I have that freedom. Now I absolutely put myself first."

She's free, but she’s not using her freedom to please the Lord. She’s using it to please herself. Pleasing self is not what followers of Christ who are single seek to do. Instead, they seek to live according to Colossians 1:10, "Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God" (ESV).

If you are single, you may think you’re all alone. But you’re not. Not if you know God. You’re part of His story. And in His story, there are other people – people with needs. God says, "It pleases me when you serve them." And as a single, you have more opportunity to do jsut that.

If you have the “if onlys” – “if only I was married” – focus on pleasing God. Serve others. That’s the way to thrive.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Alan Duncan records and edits Sellers Johnson's "I'm home"

Check out this video that our son, Alan, recorded and edited for our friend, Sellers Johnson. Sellers is a rapper whose life has been changed by Christ. Now, he says, "I'm home."

Thriving as a single person (2)

Yesterday, we learned that singles can say, "I can thrive when I see singleness as a good gift." That truth comes from I Corinthians 7:7-8.

Today, we'll see that singles can say, "I can thrive as a single when I fulfill God’s call on my life. That truth comes from I Corinthians 7:17.

Not everyone will marry. John the Baptist didn’t. Jesus didn’t. Paul didn’t. They fulfilled God’s calling in their lives in unique ways. And we ought to thank God every day for that.

And in a similar way, our single brothers and sisters in the church today can fulfill God’s calling in unique ways.

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him...
I Cor. 7:17 (ESV)


There’s a life the Lord has assigned to you. There’s a life to which the Lord has called you. Do you know what that calling is? Being single can be a special calling from God and we should all honor it.

It’s a calling to do what only single men and women in Christ can do in this world. You can show the world that Jesus is more satisfying than a marriage. And you have been made by God and called by God to do good works as a single person that you might not be able to do if you were married.

For we are His workmanship [both singles and married], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)


I believe that we ought to raise our level of respect for people in the church that God has called to singleness. We ought to honor their unique role in the body of Christ.

One of the most influential singles in the Christian world, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, wrote:

"I am not single by accident. I am not single because the 'right man' has never asked me to marry him. I am not single because I have made up my mind not to marry. Rather, I am single because God has chosen for me the gift of singleness.

The question is not 'What do I want for myself?' but 'What does God want for me?' What will please Him and bring Him the greatest glory? What will best fulfill His purposes here on this earth?

True joy is not the result of having everything I want but of gratefully receiving exactly what God has given me. The enemy has robbed many of us of joy by getting us to live in that foolish realm of "if only ..." We feel that we would be happy, "if only ...":

"If only I had a husband ..."
"If only I didn't have a husband ... !"
"If only I had a different husband ..."

The fact is, if we're not content with what we have, we will never be content with what we think we want. I am always concerned when I meet a single person who has not learned to be content as a single.

The deepest needs and longings of our hearts cannot be filled by any human being but only by God Himself. To expect to find our needs met in marriage is to set ourselves up for certain disappointment.

The key to joyous living is to embrace the will of God and to receive with gratitude whatever gift He has given us.



If you have the "if onlys" – "if only I was married" – fulfill God’s call on your life. That’s the way to thrive.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thriving as a single person

I began this past weekend's message by apologizing to a very large group of people at CVC.

I said, "Weekends at church might be one of the lonely times of the week for you. Why? Because most of us see church as couples' and families' world. Messages, announcements, even the way Community Groups are structured can communicate that singles are not really part of the program. If we have ever come across that way here, I am sorry."

The US Census Bureau gives us some stats about unmarried Americans.

The number of unmarried Americans 18 and older is 95.9 million – almost 100 million. That’s 43 percent of all adult Americans. There are about 60 million people in America over the age of 18 who have never been married. Over 20 million Americans have been divorced. And about 15 million Americans have been widowed. And unmarried, single America is growing rapidly. 17 percent of American households in 1970 were made up of people living alone. Now that number is 28 percent.

So, as our creative team thought about our "Thrive" series for the family, we thought it would be important for us to spend at least one weekend talking about thriving as a single person.

I anticipated that some married people would be thinking, "Hey, Rick, I’m not single. I’m married. Why should I listen to this message?"

My answer? "Well, many of us who are now married may one day be single, God forbid, through death or divorce. You need to know what god says about singleness if that should ever happen to you. If you are a teenager who’s planning on marrying, someday, chances are you’ll spend some time as a single person before you say “I do.” It’s loving for us to know what the struggles and challenges are that our single brothers and sisters face. We need to know how to encourage and support them. So, listen up today."

As a single person you might be thinking, "If only I was married, then I would be thriving. I don’t think it’s possible for me to be happy until I say 'I do.' I am all alone in this world. And I can’t thrive. If only I was married…"

God's word has something to say about that. The man that wrote the words in I Corinthians 7 was a spiritual leader named Paul. He wrote to a group of Christ-followers in a city in the ancient world called Corinth. And they had questions about marriage and sex and divorce and remarriage and children and singleness. We picked out the verses dealing with singleness.

God's word says that as a single you can thrive when you see singleness as a good gift. I Corinthians 7:7-9.

It is not God's will for everyone to be married.

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am (I Cor. 7:7-8).

We’re going to see why He says this later.

Question: Is singleness for everyone? Absolutely not.

But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion... (I Corinthians 7:9).

Some should seek marriage and some should not.

Paul was simply echoing the words of Jesus. "For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it" (Matthew 19:12).

In the ancient world, kings had harem – a big group of wives and mistresses. Harems were often managed by men. But the king wanted to make sure the man who managed his harem wouldn’t be tempted to have sex with the women. So, an operation would be performed so the man could not have sex. And men like that were called eunuchs.

Jesus is saying that there are three groups of singles or eunuchs. First, ‘from birth’ refers to those are born without the ability to have sex. This is rare. Second, eunuchs “made by men” refers to this ancient practice of performing an operation so the man couldn’t have sex. Third, those who “made themselves eunuchs” doesn’t describe someone who mutilates himself. It’s using the term to describe someone who could marry but chooses not to for a very specific reason. Notice that Jesus says they do it “for the sake of the kingdom.” They say, “I’m not getting married because I want to focus on building the Kingdom of God.

You know, the great Christian leader Paul was one of those people. And so was Jesus. Single for the sake of the kingdom.

“How do I know if I have the gift or not?”

If you ask this question with fear or horror, it probably means that you do not have the gift of being single for your entire life here on earth. In some cases, it may be that God gives the gift for a person to remain unmarried for a season and then later in life provides a marriage partner.

Look again at verses 7 and 8. Singleness is a gift and it’s good. A good gift. We should not see singles as second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. Their gift is a desirable gift in the life of the church. It’s a good gift. It comes from a loving Father who seeks to give the very best gifts to His children.

Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God. To some, He gives the gift of marriage; to others, He gives the gift of singleness. Either way, we are to receive our marital status as a gift.

If you have the “if onlys” – “if only I was married” – see singleness as a gift. That’s the way to thrive.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Single for the sake of the kingdom

At CVC, we talked this weekend about what it means to thrive as a single. Brenda Leisinger shared some of her story.

***

Paul says in I Corinthians 7:26-27, and I paraphrase, "… Are you unmarried? Do not look for a spouse…" and I guess I took that to heart because I have never married, at least not up to now.

Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God and I love the gift of singleness that God has given to me.

But society has not always recognized singleness as a gift.

When I was in my 20’s there was pressure from friends and family to get married and my favorite story is when I met a friend of my grandparents at a family function who said to me, "Why isn’t a pretty little thing like you married?" to which I replied, "Just lucky I guess!" Then in my 30’s there were work functions like the annual black tie dinner dance where you were expected to bring a guest. Even food was packaged in family serving sizes. And why do tables always have an even number of chairs?

But there were two things that were especially difficult.

The first was churches that I attended that were almost totally focused on families making singles feel like an after thought and by the way CVC is not one of them.

And the second was single friends who got married and forgot they were ever single. Any social gathering they would have after they were married would be exclusively married couples, which puts a single person in a continual state of replacing friends and friends for a single person have an even greater importance. When you have joys or frustrations in your day and you don’t have that built in person at home to talk to it is your friends that you call.

Today, the single population is much greater than it has ever been and some of the societal pressures to marry have disappeared but the real crux of the question is not what society thinks but what God thinks about singleness and how we as singles respond to the place God has put us.

I accepted Christ into my life at 14 but when I graduated from college and moved away from home I found myself in a twenty something single world with all kinds of distractions and temptations and did not always make the right choices. I began to feel guilty about being disobedient to God and was longing to reconnect. It was not until then that I really learned that I could not gain inner peace in my life if I was going to follow the world’s view of what a single should do. So at 28 I made a whole new commitment to Christ that I would honor him as a single person and God has blessed me in my singleness.

As a single I do not have the added concerns of a spouse and family and I have great freedom to devote my time and attention to work God has given me. This has allowed me to be involved in many outreach ministries including Christian Business Women of Greater Cleveland, the Billy Graham Crusade, and the annual Cleveland Leadership Prayer Breakfast as well as the Arts Ministry here at CVC. Having more freedom has also allowed me to be very involved in the lives of my nephew and nieces a role that I cherish. And God has blessed me with a career that I love and friends and a Community Group that are like family.

I love my life and am content to serve Him in the place that I am. But I know that if I had not let go of my wants at 28 and given God the reins that I would not be in the position that I am in today.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Life, whether single or married is a continuing journey and there are many challenges along the way but if we trust God he will be faithful to help us thrive regardless of marital status.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lifting the leadership lid

Here are some words I shared with our staff today at the all-staff meeting. Maybe these words might be helpful to you.

***

We have been called by God to be leaders who build God’s kingdom. But I’ve learned over the years that the number one leadership lid for me is me.

Sometimes, we complain about how our lack of resources or opportunity keep us from being better as leaders. Sometimes, we can’t control the amount of resources or opportunity available. But the biggest problem in my leadership is not lack of resources or opportunity. It’s me.

And by God’s grace, there are some things that I can control when it comes to lifting the leadership lid.

So, what can I do to lift the leadership lid that’s on my life? I can increase…

#1 – My Knowledge Of God.

God wants to be known more than we want to know Him. He desires that we know Him better.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)

And when we get to know Him, we will see just how big and magnificent and beautiful He is. And we will see that He desires to do so much more in and through and with and for us than we have yet dared to dream.

How many times have we backed off of what we felt the Lord was leading us to do because of our small view of God? Is He calling us to take greater steps of faith both personally and in ministry? Why don’t we? Could it be that we aren’t getting an ever increasing view of Him?

God is big. He’s an awesome God. So, we should be seeking to attempt big and awesome things for God. We could be doing greater things for Him. Seeing Him as He really is will embolden us to dream big dreams and attempt great things for His glory and His kingdom.

What else can I do to lift the leadership lid that’s on my life? I can increase…

#2 – My Obedience To God.

[Jesus said], If you love me, you will keep my commandments... Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me... If anyone loves me, he will keep my word...
John 14:15, 21, 23 (ESV)

We say we seek to love God. Jesus says that the way we show our love for God is by our obedience to God.

More than likely, God has been speaking to you about something in your life recently. Three questions:
1) What has God been telling you to add to your life lately?
2) Since you probably already have too many plates spinning, what has He been telling you to delete? (If He’s going to add something to your already too busy life, doesn’t it make sense that he would correspondingly tell you to delete something?)
3) Why haven’t you added and deleted yet?

God knows what you need to be doing as a leader. He will sovereignly lead you to new habits, relationships, and experiences that will expand your leadership territory. But you have to obey.

Leaders, we must never underestimate the importance of obedience is in our lives and ministries.

What else can I do to lift the leadership lid that’s on my life? I can increase…

#3 – My Dependence On God.

CVC is a large church with a great staff. We are gifted. We can be pretty creative and innovative and adaptive. But our best human efforts mean nothing apart from the energizing life of Jesus flowing in and through and with and for us.

[Jesus said], I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5 (ESV)

Notice that Jesus said, “Abiding.” Not trying.

G.K. Chesterton once said, “Anything done in our own strength will either fail miserably or succeed even more miserably.”

Getting things done while not abiding in Christ equals doing good things through self-effort; it’s doing things in our own strength. And Jesus says, “That's a sure-fire way of doing nothing of eternal value.” Getting things done through self-effort is fruitless. Ecclesiastes calls it “chasing after the wind.” I Corinthians calls it “wood, hay, and stubble” that burn up on the day of judgment. Galatians calls it “running in vain.” Philippians calls it “laboring in vain.” Hebrews calls it “dead works.”

Our deeds done when we’re not abiding in Christ may be successful in men’s eyes, but they are not successful in God’s eyes. And, in that sense, they fail. And to make matters worse, the “success” can reinforce even more self-effort on our part.

That's why we should pray, "O God, save us from 'successful' self-effort." Unless God shows up then all we have produced is wood, hay and stubble.

Bruce Wilkinson, in Secrets of the Vine, writes, “Picture the place where ancient trunk meets vigorous branch. Here is the touch point, the place where abiding happens. Here is the connection where life-giving nutrients in the sap flow through to the developing fruit. The only limitation on the amount of sap that goes to the fruit is the circumference of the branch where it meets the vine. That means that the branch with the largest, least-obstructed connection with the vine is abiding the most and will have the greatest potential for a huge crop” (p. 95).

Leaders in His church need to be reminded that it’s HIS church. Therefore, we need Jesus. I don’t want to see what I can do. I don’t want to see what we can do. I want to see what He can do!

And I don’t think we’ve even seen the beginning of what He wants to do at CVC.

***

So, there it is. What can I do to lift the leadership lid that’s on my life? I can increase my knowledge of God, my obedience to God, and my dependence on God.

Which of these three needs the most attention from you?

Friday, September 04, 2009

Are you a salty saint?

My friend Mike Medved leads a community group at CVC. He had a question recently that he sent to Dan Fries, Andy Sikora, and me. I thought his question was insightful. Here it is:

***

Dudes of Knowledge and Wisdom-

So we're going to talk through the salt and light part of the Sermon on the Mount on Thursday, and I've heard at least 3 different interpretations from reliable sources on this scripture in the last couple of months. I'd like your guys' thoughts:

1. Salt is a flavoring agent, hence, Christians make the world palatable, or edible, or better tasting. We bring flavor to the party.
2. Salt is a preservative. The world is basically rotting, and Christians keep it from going into utter evil by being God's preservative.
3. What is important about salt is that it must be used... it goes no good in the shaker. So the Church is the salt shaker, and the use isn't really what is important, it is that it must be deployed to be any good.

I guess #3 is compatible w/ #1 & #2. Martin Lloyd-Jones mentions #1 & #2, with a heavy emphasis on #2. This makes the most sense to me... the "flavor" argument sounds a little lightweight for where this scripture sits in the Sermon.

Here are a couple of different translations:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?" (NIV)
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?" (NASB)
"You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?" (ESV)

This is just a small part of our study on Thurs (Matt 5:13-48), but I thought I'd get some opinions.

Thanks!

M

***

Here's the answer from Dan Fries.

***

Mike,

I need to be careful because I tend to naturally lean towards “both and” interpretations rather than “either or” ones. However, in this case, I actually don’t have a problem at all saying that it is both 1 & 2.

Salt is consistently used by Christ as a symbol of character or spiritual/moral righteousness according to God’s standards.

In each of the passages I’m thinking of (Mt 5:13; Mk 9:50; Lk 14:34), He also emphasizes the purity of the salt because of the warning against “losing its saltiness” and the worthlessness of that state.

The Matthew passage is unique because it’s certainly talking about persons as salt rather than salt being something people possess.

Therefore, I understand this passage to teach that followers of Christ, those who have the pure & righteous character of Christ as described in the preceding beatitudes, are both a productive and preservative force in a naturally-declining society.

There is plenty of historical evidence documenting the positive effect Christianity has had on the world. In addition, common sense tells us that if we truly lived Spirit-filled lives, the world would be impacted for good.

This influence for good also has a preservative effect (in conjunction with the grace of God) that counteracts the invariable decline of a sinful world.

Mt 5:13 is a convicting passage (along with the following “light” passage) because it points to the contrast between Christians & non-Christians. The presence of even a small number of true believers should distinctly impact the people around them.

The surrounding context of this passage supports the idea that true Christ-followers will generate a response – either a negative response resulting in persecution or a positive response resulting in pagans giving glory to God.

There’s a lot more I could say, but that’s my opinion in a nutshell.

As a side note, I don’t think interpretation #3 is helpful. I would clarify and say that the church (the people of God) is the salt (not the salt-shaker). The way it’s currently stated sounds like the salt is good works and the church should sprinkle them around.

I’m thrilled that you and your group are working your way through the Sermon on the Mount, and I’m pleased to see the level of preparation you are doing to guide your group through the text.

***

Dan got to the question before either Andy or me. Andy wrote, "I would agree with Dan on his assessment. I think that the both/and approach offers good insight both ways and they both seem to be faithful to what Jesus is encouraging his listeners to do and be."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

CVC's 2009 Wallace Lake Baptism

This was a great day. 65 people baptized! We give thanks to God for all these stories of lives changed through the ministry of CVC. What a great church, leaders, and staff that I serve with!



Thanks to John Powell for filming and to Jeff Ziolkowski for editing.

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