A new kind of Chaos theory

A lot of our lives are lived in confusion. Whether we’re insecure about our jobs or simply unsure what to eat for dinner, it seems we’re constantly in a state of indecision.

I suppose we can’t avoid making choices, for life consists of making at least a hundred of them in a day. To be sure, not all of them are particularly important; whether I put on the lucky rocketship underpants or Woolies-faithfuls hardly compares to the decision of whom I should marry. It’s those kinds of uncertainties that can lead to a whole lot of anxiety, and I’m not sure we should be tolerating it.

In the beginning God created. The primordial chaos was shaped into heavens and earth, a bright light was switched on to bring sleepy bedtime and crusty morning. The globe wobbled and green leaves turned to brown to pink to green and back again. Formless and void was molded and infused with the rhythm of life. No hint of chaos.

Of course things are different now compared to the days when our ancestors ran about naked in the garden. Sin. Pride. Discontent. Banished. From the Garden. From Peace with the creator. From Peace with each other.

And yet the same Spirit that hovered over the waters then still hovers over our cities today. Rhythm and Life still push through the cracks in the concrete pavements of our cities, offering to shape our lives and fill them with order again, with Peace.

Really? Can traffic hour, cranky boss, stifling meeting, crashed PC, grocery queue, domestic dispute; can those find order? Peace? The same Spirit that infused life into the first human body still offers to blow through his descendants today. Yes, Peace, possible.

That may be all well and good, but what about that deeper anxiety in my soul? The one not really dependent on traffic patterns or service delivery strikes?

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you’…And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”.

The risen Son of Man appears for the first time to his friends, huddled together sick with anxiety, and breathes Peace on them. A deeper peace, long promised:

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace

A promise to plant man back in the garden again, in created order, in loving relationship, with their creator, and with each other.

Let the dust of daily life settle. Let the dirty air between us be blown away. Let the fog obscuring our path back to God be lifted. Let Peace reign. Search after it. Make decisions that allow it’s reign. For God is not a God of confusion but of Peace.

John 20:21-22, Luke 1:76-79, 1 Corin 14:33

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Thoughts on being Single – Conclusion

There is one relationship that matters most. It is more important that a relationship with a spouse, child, friend or even dog. It is the one relationship that really matters.

Any relationship on this earth is temporary. We may harbor ideas of meeting each other again in heaven, but even if that had to happen, it would pale in significance to our being consummated into the fullness of our relationship with God. It is that relationship that matters most.

Jesus said that the most important commandment was for us to love the Lord God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls and all of our strength (Mark 12:30). Popular romance culture has successfully distracted us from this most important focus for our lives. Think about it for a minute:

“My heart is yours”

“We are soul-mates”

“I can’t stop thinking about you”

“I crave your touch

Are these the words of a worshiper entranced with the greatest commandment? Or greeting card sentiments between lovers?

What this means is that we are far more comfortable, or familiar, with giving our hearts, minds, souls and strengths to another human being, and it seems absurd really, to even contemplate the same degree of affection for God our Father.

And yet that is the command. All. Not a part of our heart, nor a part of our mind, nor a piece of our soul, nor a remainder of our strength. All. Make no mistake, no relationship on earth comes close to the significance of an eternal relationship with God.

By no means am I saying that affection or intimacy are somehow evil, or invalid, or a waste of any sort. What I am saying is that whether we be in the throes of a teenage crush, or in the dance of a fulfilling marriage, or in the search for either of those, that we remember; there is one relationship that really matters. It is this relationship that will sustain, fulfill and redeem either our singleness or our togetherness.

It all boils down to this then: A single person, as well as a married person, have access to this most important relationship. No-one has to miss out. No-one has to suffer. Everyone gets to experience eternal love, eternal security and eternal significance.

It may not warm your bed at night, but it will get you up in the morning. “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul” (Psalm 143:8).

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Thoughts on being Single – Curses

So we’ve spent some time looking at how singleness can be a gift, now we need to proceed onto some of the very real struggles that there are in being single. That may seem a little strange after all I’ve said about how it’s a gift and how it’s for our own benefit, so let me clarify.

I do believe that just because it may be God’s purpose for us, does not mean that it will be easy. It may be for our benefit and good but it may not be easy. It may fill us with satisfaction and meaning but it may not be easy. That’s Christianity; we are promised many things, but never that it would be easy.

There is quite a strong teaching these days that maintains that singleness is a gift, in the form of a spiritual gift. I remember doing a spiritual gifts test once and one of the options was gift of celibacy. I avoided all those tick-boxes.

I think we’ve seriously misunderstood something here. Yes, Paul uses the word ‘gift’ of singleness in the passage we’ve been studying (1 Cor 7, in this case vs 7), but he certainly doesn’t mean it as a spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts include: teaching, prophecy, healing, tongues etc. Celibacy is not on any of those lists. When Paul said it in this passage he said it along with the ‘gift’ of marriage. Marriage is not a spiritual gift. If you had to ask someone what their spiritual gift is, you’d be a little shocked if they said marriage. When Paul says ‘gift’ here he means it like a good and gracious ‘present’ to be received with delight, like the gift of salvation that the bible speaks about.

Why is this so important? Well because those that say celibacy is a gift, also believe that if someone has that gift, then they will (obviously) not struggle with it, meaning, if God wants you to be single, it should be a breeze. Conversely, they say, if someone does struggle with sexual desire then they obviously do not have the gift of celibacy, and should set out doing something about it. That’s an incredibly dangerous mistake to make, because it implies that being single is easy, and it misleads single people regarding God’s will for their life.

I think that God can desire to use someone’s devotedness in their singleness for long periods of time, sometimes for life, but because just because it is his will does not mean it will be easy. I believe that people who have devoted themselves for life to being single will still struggle with it.

One of the best examples is the famous Pastor and Author John Stott. As far as we know he never got married and remains single to this today at 87, after a life of prolific ministry. In his own words he says that he acknowledges that with the responsibility of a family he could never have written, traveled and ministered in the way he has. However I have also read of how he came close to marriage twice, which means he obviously desired it, and struggled with it. So although it was God’s purpose for his life, he still struggled it. Just because it may be God’s purpose for your life at the moment, does not mean it will be easy.

In fact this gift comes with many burdens attached, much like the well meaning family member who buys you a gym membership for your birthday.

The biggest struggle is not having a family. It is seriously hard for single people to come to terms with the fact that they may not have a family of their own someday. I know in my own struggle it is one of the most difficult burdens to accept,  since I’m such a passionate family guy.

Family is one of those good gifts from the Lord (not spiritual gifts, ahem), but good things held in high regard all through scripture. To have no desire for family pretty much goes against our human design, which means single people are going to struggle with it.

But even in the struggle God has provided a source of encouragement. Listen to God speaking about Eunachs again in Isaiah: “To the eunuchs 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.” (Isa 56:4-5)

I read a John Piper sermon on this entitled ‘single in Christ: a name better than sons and daughters’, and he basically sums it up by saying: ‘In other words, God promises those of you who remain single in Christ blessings that are better than the blessings of marriage and children.’

That’s pretty hectic. I know it may seem really unpractical and unreasonable but this is where we get to the point of believing God at his word. Is this really true? Is there a blessing in singleness better than children?

I know what kept me going for a long time was just knowing that in the kingdom I actually have many sons and daughters, just as Paul often regarded his proteges as family. I think this is why Youth ministry has always been so satisfying, I honestly feel a love and connection with these guys which may not be like real children but at the least helps fill the hole.

The second big struggle in singleness is aloneness. That’s a word by the way, and very different from loneliness. ‘Loneliness’ implies a sad emotion, whereas ‘alone’ just describes a lack of people around. Certainly anyone who is ‘alone’ can feel sad and ‘lonely but it doesn’t always have to be the case. All single people are alone when it comes to relationships, but not necessarily lonely.

Being lonely is so incredibly difficult, and I am convinced it is one of the plagues of the 21st century. We are not alone, but so lonely. Single people though, get it the worst.

We see this back in the book of Genesis, when God first took a look at a man without a woman and said it was not good for him to be alone. I don’t know how many times I argued with God saying: ‘you yourself said that my current state is not good and you made a plan for Adam and I think you should make one for me’.

Seriously, we were not made to be alone, so when there is no companionship from the opposite sex there seriously is something missing. It hits hard when you go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. It hits hard when you’re looking at something beautiful like a sunset and can’t really enjoy it because you know that true beauty is only enjoyed when shared. It hits hard when it’s Saturday night and everyone’s out with their partners and you’re alone. It hits hard when there’s no-one to share the pressures of life with.

I’ve struggled over whether to share this next excerpt, it’s a journal entry, and pretty emo at that. I’ve decided to share it not because I want to depress people, and definitely not for sympathy, but perhaps so that those who are not single can understand the depth to which loneliness can hit. 14 October 2008:

Loneliness. When the tv fades, and I sit alone, it hits the soul. Lonely. A lonely that can consume the mind and leave the heart paining. Pining. For some comfort. But it doesn’t find it in a book or in a poem. It may be lifted only by the slightest of a digital impulse. The smallest glimmer of a hope that this will not always be the life that I live. How does a God fill this void, when he himself said what he made lacked? How. How does Adam comprehend his loneliness? He has no idea of how it could be, he just knows that there is a space. But it is not defined for him, he does not see it displayed, he does not see it marketed and distributed and flaunted and abused and watered down. Wasted. Adam had it easier, in every way. This seems to be one of our curses. But how long will I wait? How long can I wait? I have no choice but to wait. The choice will be how I wait.

That’s how bad it can get. So how do you deal with that? One verse, a verse which has become an anthem, a verse which came alive and true in all of this: “In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures everlasting” (Ps 16:11). If this verse is true, then it seems possible that the companionship of the real and living God can produce fullness of joy. I came to believe this verse, not hanging onto it in hope, but knowing it’s truth in the depth of the heart, in that dark night.

I also realised that I was not as alone as I thought. There are actually many more people than you may think, people who are in your life filling voids and helping you out. Find them, and invest in those relationships. You may not have someone by your side in bed, but you can have a community of satisfying relationships by your side in life.

This is where I talk to the non-singles. Be aware of your single friends, and as much as possible help fill their deep void of companionship.

The third big struggle for singe people is having sexual desire, but not being able to do anything with it. I don’t know how hard this is for women, but I know that men are built with an amazing capability to make lots of babies and that’s exactly what the body wants to do. So lets not kid, single people, it’s tough.

One of the questions I would want to ask God someday is why he gave us bodies capable of having sex at 13, in an era where we would only be married at double those years. I know that in Old Testament times people got married a lot sooner; they were far better off. These days the average age for marriage is constantly rising, mainly due to financial constraints on getting married. Correspondingly, it’s getting very difficult to remain sexually pure prior to marriage.

I know the temptation here is to write it off and say: ‘Just control yourselves’, but Paul actually says that if you’re burning with lust get married (1 Corin 7:9). I mean he says it straight out. Just get married. I read an article by a guy on lust and trying to remain pure prior to marriage, and he basically said if you’re in a relationship and everyone thinks it’s Godly and good don’t wait around if you’re going to sin sexually. Just get married already.

Anyway I don’t want to get into a discussion on the right time to get married, all I want to say is this: it’s not a small issue to be glossed over. Paul does not minimise the struggle single people have sexually and neither should we, lest in minimising it we fall prey to it.

So as I’ve done with the other struggles I will try offer some advice and encouragement in this struggle. And here it is: the only way to handle this or control it is by the grace of God. Seriously. I am convinced that we take for granted the gifts of grace available not just for the occasions when we mess up, but the every day battles and temptations.

I also know that God has said that he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle. It may feel that it’s beyond your capability, or you may feel that since you have to ‘unfairly’ suffer you can give into temptation every once in a while. Don’t. Continue to fight the battle against lust that everyone else in this universe has to. No excuses.

So those are my top three struggles of singleness, I’m pretty sure there’s more, but I think these are the universal ones. Let’s just remember, it’s a gift. That may not mean that it’s going to be easy, but is a gift, given by God’s will and with intention. Good intention.

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Thoughts on being single – Blessings

My Pastor has joked that marriage these days is like a fly on a window: Those that are in are trying to get out, and those that are out are trying to get in. There is an element of truth in that.

As we saw earlier, singleness is a gift. Sometimes it’s hard to see it as that, but there are very definite practical reasons for believing it to be a gift. In verse 32 of 1 Cor 7 Paul says:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried 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 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.

It sounds so candid when Paul says it, almost saying that being married brings anxiety, which you should avoid. I think Jesus said something similar, but in a far more serious tone when he was speaking of the Eunuchs and said: “…and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:12).

Both of them are saying that there is at least one advantage to being single: it frees up your heart to be fully devoted to Kingdom work, and frees up your time to be fully devoted to kingdom work.

I use the word ‘devoted’ here, because it’s the word Paul uses all over 1 Cor 7. In verse 35 Paul uses it in this context: “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…“. Lets dwell on this sentence for a while.

Firstly, Paul says it is for their own benefit. Do you believe as a single person, that you are single for your own benefit? I know it hardly ever feels like that, and herein we are confronted with one of the fundamental questions of being a believer. I’m serious, I think the single person has to face this question daily, this most important mental hurdle. The question is: “Do you really believe that God knows what he is doing, and is doing what is best for you?

Do you? It may sound easy to answer, but anyone who answers this question absolutely truthfully in the affirmative, is a step away from being a saint.

Secondly Paul says ‘to secure their undivided devotion to the Lord’. That’s a very well phrased sentence. The reality is that no matter how much you try as a married person, a lot of your devotion to God will naturally, and rightfully, be divided between God and your spouse. You may well have an incredibly devoted heart towards him, but there’s no way you’ll be able to devote as much time, otherwise you will lose your marriage.

This is by far the biggest gift of being single. Time, lot’s of it. The ability to give your undivided devotion to God. My message is this: Don’t waste this time. Don’t throw away this gift. It’s a precious opportunity, and it’s your saving grace.

Seriously, the best remedy for loneliness is exhaustion. There’s not much time to feel lonely when you’re committing all your free time to kingdom work. To be sure, busyness is a killer, but so is loneliness, and I’d rather die exhausted and satisfied than lonely with some energy to spare. It’s a gift to have time on your hands. Use it well.

One of the authors I was reading said you should not be working to get out of this time but to be making the most of this time. Touche’.

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Thoughts on being single – Introduction

Valentine’s day has come and gone, and I know that for single people it can be a pretty tough time, despite how we may try pass it off as ‘just a money making racket’. So I thought I’d post some thoughts on being single, gleaned from the many talks I’ve had the privilege of doing on the subject.

I’d like to treat it extensively, so I’ll break the post up into four parts. In this first part I’ll just try clear up some misconceptions on the subject, and then in parts two and three look at the blessings and curses of being single, and then wrap it up in part 4. Feel free to comment and contribute to the conversation!

Being single and an adult is tough, make no mistake. It’s not good for a man to be alone, that’s what God himself said, just before he hooked Adam up with a wife. I wish it were that easy these days.

One of the reasons it’s so tough is because the world, and especially Christians, have such a strange and distorted idea of this issue. A while ago I was at a young adult function where I bumped into a very old friend and got chatting. He was sitting there with his lovely wife and asked me the inevitable question of whether I was seeing anyone. When I said ‘no’, he kinda rocked back on his chair, squinted his eyes knowingly, and said ‘we’ll have to fix that’.

Ahem. Fix what? Is something broken?

Christians are the worst at this. The world may admire singleness, applauding your independence, but within the kingdom you always get the impression that you must have done something wrong to deserve it. I remember hearing a well known author say that if you’re an adult and not actively pursuing marriage then you’re sinning. Recently when researching for this I heard one of the biggest figures in the evangelical world say that adulthood equals marriage and if you’re not married, then you’re just an adult adolescent, or boy who is yet to become a man.

Where do these guys get this stuff from? Quick, tell me two of the biggest names in the New testament. Did anyone say Jesus and Paul? Were they married? Are they adolescent boys then? Who changed the entire world? It’s crazy. Maybe they have some crazy translation of the bible that somewhere says: ‘thou shalt marry!’

Which sounds humorous, but on a serious level, try find a verse that vigorously promotes marriage, something more than a Proverb or word of wisdom. To be sure, it’s clearly a Godly institution, and I will get to that later, but for now lets accept this fact: nowhere in the bible are we ever made to feel like there’s something wrong with us if we’re not married. Right?

In fact on perhaps the only occasion that the bible actually deals with marriage and singleness side by side they are highlighted as both being gifts. Check it out:

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. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor 7:6-11)

I want to emphasise the word ‘gift’ here. Marriage is described as a gift, AND singleness is described as a gift. Has anyone here ever heard it said that being single is a gift? Normally it’s made out to be a curse, like a purgatory before marriage, something we have to go through when we’ve messed up. I know I’ve thought that before.

Whats amazing about a gift is that it is given with intention, and it is given at will. This means that it is very possible that God would give someone the gift of singleness, or marriage, according to his will. This is important because we tend to think that because God could give us the gift of marriage that he should give, but it’s really up to him!

Our only job then, is to accept it joyfully, knowing it was given with intention, and that the intention is always good. Which is hard to believe sometimes, and I’m going to spend sometime talking about how it can realistically be seen as a gift.

Before we get there though I just want to make sure we are absolutely clear on how single is ok according to the bible. I came across another verse where Jesus speaks and says:

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.” (Matt 19:12)

Clearly Jesus approves that some of his followers renounce marriage and sexual activity for the sake of serving Christ’s kingdom. Are we clear on this?

That leads us perfectly to the next part of the discussion, where we look at the various ways that singleness is a gift.

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Remember the Sabbath

I think God is trying to slow us down. Recently I was caught in the middle of a dizzy spell, and came across this article by Donald Miller on being busy. In it he talks about how life these days is all about progress and efficiency and how maybe God is trying to slow us down.

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