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Why The Church Needs to Stop Lying to Singles and Start Fighting for Them

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I’ve never…ever…lived alone.

I left home at 18, moved in with college roommate. Then I got married before my 21st birthday. When my wife and kids aren't home, I don't even know how to go to bed. I just turn out the light and kind of lay there. I don't know how to be alone. 

The book that helped me understand a little more about living alone is The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman. It's a story about a scientist who invents this suit that makes him almost completely invisible. He uses the suit to sneak into single people’s apartments to observe them for days and weeks at a time. He’s interested in seeing what people act like when they think they are truly alone. I know—creepy. But it's a good book. Take a look at what the Visible Man says about his experiment: 

“You want to know what I learned? I learned that people don’t consider time alone as part of their life. Being alone is just a stretch of isolation they want to escape from. I saw a lot of wine-drinking, a lot of compulsive drug use, a lot of sleeping with the television on. It was less festive that I anticipated. My view had always been that I was my most alive when I was totally alone, because that was the only time I could live without fear of how my actions were being scrutinized and interpreted [by other people]. What I came to realize is that people need their actions to be scrutinized and interpreted in order to feel like what they’re doing matters. Singular, solitary moments are like television pilots that never get aired. They don’t count. This, I think, explains the fundamental urge to get married and have kids, or even just the need to feel popular and respected. We’re self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting. We don’t have ways to quantify ideas like “amazing” or “successful” or “lovable” without the feedback of an audience. Nobody sits by himself in an empty room and thinks, “I’m amazing.” But being “amazing” is supposed to be what life’s about. As a result, the windows of time people spend by themselves become these meaningless experiences that don’t really count. It’s filler. They’re deleted scenes.”

So let’s talk about singles, that demographic of the population that often feels the most alone… and often feels left alone by the rest of us. We tend to treat single people as if they are in a constant transition state that’s a little less than being married with kids. We often treat people as if their alone doesn’t count. The only real bits of life are when you finally graduate to a marriage—and then you get promoted to having kids.

But so many of our single brothers and sisters are constantly in this fight of trying to figure out how to be alone. This shouldn’t be because  (1) your time alone counts; (2) your need for human interaction is a real need, a godly longing. There are two encounters with Jesus in the Book of Mark that show us something very important about singleness.

"And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he’s my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”

Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you’re wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” (Mark 12:18-25)

Churches have long looked at singleness as if it represents a necessary deficiency in a person. In other words, if you’re single, there is something wrong with you. See, when we see “married with kids” as completion, we’re bound to see single with no kids as incomplete. But that’s contrary to what God says about being single.

1. Marriage isn’t human completion and singleness isn’t immaturity.

For the church, as the body of Christ, to perpetuate a myth that singleness means that you’re incomplete and immature isn’t only a wrongful condemnation of single people; it's a wrongful condemnation of Jesus. He was single and totally fulfilled. Did you see what Jesus said in Mark 12? When the Sadducees ask him this crazy hypothetical question about marriage and to whom this woman will be married in heaven after she has married these seven brothers. His response? “You haven’t been paying attention to what the Scripture says about marriage. When you resurrect, there is no more marriage.”

Do you know why that is? Because God shows us in the Bible that marriage is a sign, not a destination. Marriage points us to something. It doesn’t point to itself. Paul says in Ephesians 5 that the deepest, most profound mystery to marriage is that it shows off the way Jesus loves his church. Passionately, permanently, intimately, unconditionally, and in a way that gives life.

So marriage is good, but it does not complete us. It points to the love of Christ that does complete us. It points to the promise of our resurrection. Married, single, we’re all incomplete. Like the exit sign in Orlando telling you you’re almost to Disney World, marriage is a sign but not a destination. You don’t get out and take a picture under the sign and drive home; the sign gets you to the place where the real, full joy is.

Marriage is not human completion—resurrection is.

So let’s not perpetuate the lie that your time alone doesn’t count, that it’s deleted scenes. It’s not. It’s powerful. It's a sign of the Kingdom of God. Singles can glorify God in their singleness because their hope isn’t in their relationship with someone else—they are complete in Christ, looking to their future resurrection. There’s not a night of sex or a day at the office or a sweet lower back tat that can replace it.

2. Singleness without having kids tells people that resurrection is better than family.

In the first century—and even today—we think of children as a way to carry on our legacy. As a way to guarantee that we’re remembered and cherished; it’s a way to pass on our name and heritage.

Did you know that in original Hebrew culture, they didn’t even have a word for “bachelor” because there was so much tied up in a man’s worth in whether or not he had a son to carry his name? And into that culture, that mindset, steps Jesus saying things like, “My family isn’t the biological kids I could have…that’s not my hope…my family are those who do the will of God. Those are my brothers and sisters.” Into this culture Paul gives commands in 1 Corinthians 7 that its better to remain single, because of the way it allows you to further give yourself away to others to bring them the hope of the gospel.

That’s not some concession that just follows cultural trends. Jesus…Paul…they are saying this stuff when people don’t even have a word to describe it! More than that, it’s testifying to that culture that when you understand the eternal family that God has promised you. You’re eternal not because your name will live on, but because you’re united by faith to the King of the Universe, who himself raised from the dead. And when he comes back, you’ll literally and physically raise from the dead to live eternally with him and your church family forever, on a New Earth that’s conspicuously missing sin and death.

That’s the story your singleness has the potential to tell. See, your time alone isn’t wasted. It’s not a deleted scene. I agree with Klosterman when he says, “We’re self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting.” But in Christ, I would tweak that statement like this: We’re God-created to require an audience, even if we think we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting.”

The way you live your single life is being watched. All signs are used by God to point others to the resurrection and his Kingdom. The deep longing of the human heart is to hear those that observe us say, “Well done. I’m proud of you.” The deep longing of the human heart is to be known and loved. It’s to be valued not for what we do…but simply who we are. In Jesus Christ, that’s exactly what we get.

3. Married or single, live as if it’s your hope—Jesus is.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul directly addresses single folks and married folks:

“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Cor. 7:29-31)

What does he mean, “If you have a wife, act as if you have none? If you buy stuff, act like you didn’t buy it. If you’re rejoicing, live like you aren’t really rejoicing?”

He’s saying there will be temptations to make things that are short-lived, both things that make you sad (maybe your singleness; maybe your marriage) and things that make you rejoice (like singleness sometimes; like marriage sometimes), and you’ll have this temptation to build your life on those things. He’s telling us to live like God is our joy, and like God is going to do something about our mourning. Live like the money you make can’t make you happy, because it’s temporary. And any time you use those relationships for anything else, it’ll devastate you.

So how do you live like this? How do you live with this eternal mindset that makes such a difference in the here and now? Jesus said that the greatest love in the universe is the laying down your life for your friends. He said that his friends become his family—he used those terms interchangeably. “My friends obey my commands…my family does the will of God.”

But the remarkable thing is this Jesus did this for a rebellious people. He didn’t do this for people that could repay him, but for back stabbers. He died for the people whose sins killed him. Our hope isn’t in marriage and it’s not in singleness. It’s not in money and it’s not in sex. Our hope is in the life, death, and resurrection of our Big Brother.

For more on this topic, listen to our sermon on singleness here.

in Race

Why Black Lives Must Matter to the Church

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Two weeks ago, on consecutive days, two black men were shot and killed by policemen—both were captured on video. Alton Sterling was selling music CD’s outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. He was pinned to the ground and shot. The following day in a press conference, his teenage son sobbing, “I want my daddy!”

Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight in Minnesota. He was shot in front of his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, as her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat. As they were taken from the car, the mother weeping, the 4-year-old comforted her mother, saying, It’s going to be OK, Momma. I’m right here.”

These are not isolated incidents. They keep happening, and we keep making excuses. It’s being spun for gun control; police hate speech; even blaming the deceased victims for some sort of non-compliance. Then, last night three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge. This happened only three days after 12 police officers were shot - five of them killed - in Dallas, as if someone thinks that the answer to this is more killing.

My goal here is not to speak about any of those agendas. I’m not here to stereotype a group of people or a spin a situation. I just want to make it as clear to you as I can that violence, racism, and injustice grieve and anger the heart of God, and it should grieve ours too. And as your pastor, I’m supposed to lead you to love as Christ has loved us. So that’s what I want to do here. Nothing more and nothing less.

For our black brothers and sisters, this is not a 10,000-foot theoretical problem. This is on the ground, in our families, in my family. My son is black. Does that mean if he’s 16 and gets pulled over by the police for a traffic violation and he’s in a bad mood that day, that he’s more likely to end up with a bullet in his side than my white sons? If so, that’s not right. And I mourn that broken reality. That’s systemic sin. I also hurt for many police officers who simply woke up this morning with a good desire to serve and protect and because of their uniform, they get angry backlash. Worse, in the case of Dallas and Baton Rouge, they lose their lives as well. That's not right. And I mourn that broken reality. 

This is not a minor issue tucked away in what someone might label an obscure verse in the Bible. This is cover to cover, from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem. The deep desire of God is peace and unity, and he uses racial diversity to do it.

In the Beginning

God’s good plan is all races living in unity. Killing each other is our dumb plan. There are only four chapters in the Bible where everything is perfect and killing doesn’t exist—the first two and the last two. Genesis 1-2 tells us about the Garden of Eden, about God’s original intent for humanity and for the world. Our human dignity comes from two things—we are created in God’s image, and we’re not animals.

In other words, we are not created to be gods deciding who gets to live and who has to die; rather, we are to show off God’s character in our lives by imaging him. We are not animals, driven by our instincts and desires. We are not created to be driven by fear, self-protection, survival, or comfort. Animals must submit to primal desires, but not us. Image-bearers know and comprehend the will and character and commands of God. Because we’re created in God’s image, human life is valuable. Not just human life that is convenient or productive—every single life matters. Humans create life, in order to create more image-bearers. From the beginning, God’s design is that humans have babies and for those babies fill the earth with many different ethnicities. 

Here it is as described in one of Paul’s sermons in Acts 17:26. He says,

God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”

In other words, God’s plan, from the beginning, was to have multiple ethnicities (that’s the Greek word ethnos for “nation”) filling the Earth. From the Garden, multiple races were intended by God to bear his image, to be human alongside each other all over the earth. When you look at another person, and because of their race, and you assume that they are going to act like an animal, only being led by their primal desires, you are by definition perpetuating racism. Differing races should cause us to see humans created in the image of God, and should motivate us to worship God for his loving plan for the world and love people—not pretend to be gods and kill people like animals.

In the End

If you want to know God’s heart, look at where he’s taking all of history. In Revelation 21, John sees this picture of what its going to be like when Jesus comes back and brings the perfection of the garden back to earth. He describes New Heaven and New Earth. No more hurt, or pain, or death, or tears, no more sin and injustice. All evil and chaos has been done away with by God.

"By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life." - Revelation 21:24-27

Then he says, this city, New Jerusalem, comes down from heaven and will be filled with the light of the glory of God. The gates are always open, and darkness is no more. And look who’s coming in: all nations. Every ethnos. Every race, every culture, bringing the Genesis 1 glory that God graciously worked into their ethnicity. Every skin color, every tribal dance, every hand-woven bag, every type of song, every bit of culture made by these ethnicities is given not as contrary to God’s glory, but as consistent with his glory. Then notice toward the end of the chapter, in verse 27: nothing unclean gets in the city. There is no ethnicity that it unclean. No ethnicity is held outside the gates. God loves and invites them all in.

God Loves All Ethnicities—And So Should We

Listen, from Genesis to Revelation, it’s stone-cold, lock-down, no-doubt, rock-solid clear that God loves and will be eternally glorified by every tribe, tongue, and ethnicity. There is not a human being—anywhere, anytime, any place—who doesn’t bear the image of God. Therefore, racism of any kind, and the physical and emotional violence that inevitably spews forth from it, is absolutely opposed to God. It is evil, full stop.

In Christ, we already are a part of this New Creation he is bringing—where all races and nations and languages will be reconciled to each other and to God. We have become Christ’s body. We have become his ambassadors. And by living in the truth of New Creation, we tell this broken world the true story that Jesus is coming back to fix it all. We ought to be living our lives to show that race doesn't separate us; instead, we are bound together in New Creation, in Jesus’s resurrection. The church becomes the hands and feet of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his enemies.

Romans 8:15 says the adopted children of God cry out to our daddy, We need you. We want you to fix this broken creation.” We echo Alton Sterling’s son when he said, I just want my daddy. The church becomes the voice of Diamond Reynolds’s little girl outside that bloody car in Minnesota: “It’s gonna be OK, Momma. We’re right here with you. And we’ll weep with you until Jesus comes back and makes this right.”

You know the way the Bible ends? Maranatha - Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” Church, as we continue to beg Jesus to come back and make all things new, let’s weep with those who weep. Stop making excuses or being afraid you are going to make a political statement you don’t like. 

When you see death and racism, weep. Cry out to God “Daddy, come get us,” as you cry out to your black neighbors “It’s gonna be OK, we’re right here with you.”