March 12, 2012

The Word That Stands For Ever…

In reading through a chapter in Barry Webb’s Commentary on the book of Isaiah, I was once again encouraged, uplifted and deeply comforted as he reminded the reader of these sure and certain truths… 

“The truth is that God's word can be relied upon.
It does not decay and fade away as we do, but stands for ever.

The person who cannot rest his or her whole weight on the word of God can never know peace, for in the last analysis, it can be found nowhere else than in a trusting relationship with the God who made us and rightly claims us as his own.

Reliance on the word of God is not fatalistic or superstitious. It is not trust in something impersonal like the stars or a good luck charm. It is trust in a person who is committed to us and has all the resources necessary to care for us.

It is the word of our God that Isaiah speaks of, a word or message that arises from a relationship. And the truth is that God's word has the same character as God himself. It is as unchanging and reliable as the God who speaks it.”

A voice says, “Cry out.” 

And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
Isaiah 40:6-8

As it was for Isaiah over two and a half millennia ago, may it also be for me. May I continue to put my unwavering confidence, assurance and lasting hope in the unchanging and enduring word of the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:7-8).

March 7, 2012

Singleness: Not Fate But Faithfulness…

I rarely read anything on singleness these days.

Having read countless books and articles over the years (both secular and Christian) and listened to what must be dozens of talks, interviews and sermons, although there have been the occasional rare nuggets of ‘pure gold’ on the topic, I’ve generally found that much that’s canvassed seldom tends to lift the single person’s horizon beyond (what I’ve loosely coined) the predictable 3 C’s of singleness – that is, ‘contentment’, ‘choosiness’ and a call to mitigate the grief of childlessness by minding other people’s ‘children’.

Now, let me be clear about what I am not saying.

These 3 are all very helpful spiritual and practical truths (though I have some pastoral hesitations with the third), and useful to address in their own right when predicated on wisely chosen personal pastoral timing. Each of these aspects of life’s challenge to find contentment and to avoid excessive, ungodly ‘over particularity’ (whether in marriage or singleness) have a good, wise and helpful place when taught within the right context, or pastorally shared in appropriate circumstances with the right person.

The danger however, can be that the ‘3 C’s’ used in a generalized way can also tend to address singles and singleness almost on a one size fits all basis. Where, whether the hearers may be 25 or 55, whether never married, widowed, divorced or separated, whether emotionally and spiritually mature in life and Christian faith, or just beginning their first steps in Christ, the unique challenges, concerns, temptations, hopes or fears of the ‘generic single’ can be treated as if they are static. As though, regardless of maturity, life stage or radically diverse circumstance, their practical, personal, emotional or spiritual issues, temptations or anxieties must necessarily always be the same.
For myself, I can say without hesitation, that the way I approach and think about life, singleness, faith, friendship, sex, celibacy, security, marriage, childlessness, grief, hope, joy (or let’s face it, pretty much anything!) today, is radically different from the way in which I understood, managed or approached those things age 20.

A second potential danger in using the ‘3 C’s’ as a general spiritual coverall for the single state, can also be the unintentional negative bent it can bring to the topic. What do I mean?

The tendency can be to focus on what are presumed to be the consistent areas of spiritual or emotional lack in the lives of singles that must be countered. A necessary spiritual lack in the area of contentment, faith, or trust, an emotional lack of realistic expectations regarding marriage, a rational lack of wise judgment in deciding potential life partners, or a potential lack in the ability to turn an emotional desire for children from something self-serving and self-preoccupying into something other person centred.

In opting for over generalized breadth, our teaching on singleness can ultimately become overly simplistic or myopic, and therefore often lacking in spiritual, practical and pastoral depth.

So, when I recently stumbled upon this rare ‘gold nugget’ in a book on ‘How God Shapes us Through Relationships’ by Douglas Webster, I found it radically refreshing, emotionally encouraging and spiritually uplifting.

"Many singles are the people most committed to Christ and yet most vulnerable in the culture and in the church...If you wanted to be married today you could be...If you had no criteria, no real guidelines, or no moral standards to speak of...Anybody who doesn't have any standards can get married...Singleness for the right reasons is not a matter of fate but of faithfulness, and we need to see it through the eyes of the Lord, who honours those who honour him with their whole being."

What I loved about this quote was that rather than centering around the spiritually ‘corrective,’ it focused on the ‘affirmative’. It gave a fresh positive perspective and spiritual encouragement to those engaged in choosing radical, godly, faithful lifestyles over anything else the world has to offer, purely because of their unswerving commitment to Christ and nothing else.

It pours the cool waters of acknowledgement on often parched, world weary and discouraged souls whose very ‘singularity’ can often appear somewhat peculiar and idiosyncratic to those in society and church alike.

It gives honour to the Christian single’s faithfulness, trust and godly obedience in a world that still offers them all the things they have chosen to forego…’not out of fate but faithfulness’.

For the Christian single, man or woman, God’s call to faithful discipleship remains a higher calling than marriage, sex, procreation or sometimes the hope of earthly family (Matt 10:37-39, 16:24, Jn 12:25-26). In our society this kind of costly discipleship (and it is personally, physically and emotionally costly) involves both trust in, and radical commitment to, God’s will, God’s timing and God’s goodness in all things and all circumstances (Ps 84:11).

Webster’s helpful quote reminds us that God blesses and honours the Christian single who says…

* I know I could go out and get married now if I wanted to, but I will deliberately limit my godly choice to a believer in God’s household…even if it means I may never marry’ (2Cor 6:14)

* I could experience as much sex as I want right now, but I am determined to commit myself to honour God with my body in purity and godly self control’ (1Cor 6:20)

* ‘Time is running out, I don’t have to wait for a husband to have children, but I choose to trust in God’s design for marriage and family…even if it means that for me, it may never be’ (Heb 13:4-5)

*I could easily use all my money to perpetually travel the world, but I want to honour God with my wealth, to be a good steward of God’s good gifts in life and ministry’ (Prov 3:9, Matt 6:24)

* ‘I could use all my free time and weekends to do what I please, but I want to use the time God gives me to care for others and to serve his people’…(Eph 4:12)

For the faithful Christian single, though they may legitimately desire (and they ARE legitimate desires) all that most have - marriage, intimacy, love, affection, children and family, they must daily (and sometimes moment by moment) choose to lift their eyes beyond all the world would readily hold out to them, if they chose to grasp it, and seek first ‘His kingdom, and His righteousness.’

So, let’s spur on the faithful saints in their commitment to honour God by: ‘honouring those who fear the Lord’ (Ps 15:4).

“Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is (and will be) the strength of my heart
And my portion forever’
-Ps 73: 25-26 -