Singles Are Blessed by God

1 Corinthians, Marriage No Comments »

SingleSweater

If you are unmarried — divorced, widowed, never married — please allow me to remind you that your identity, your peace, your wholeness, your value, is never going to be realized in a spouse. Your identity, your worth, is found and made complete in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“You are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption.” ~1 Corinthians 1:30

This is so important for us to hear, both married and unmarried: We are only made complete in Jesus. We need to recognize that in our marriages, we need to stay grounded in that. And if you’re not married, you need to understand it, too. You are perfectly whole in Christ. And the Church should never pressure you to change your status. We all need to stop trying to set up our singles with every neighbor’s grandson or second niece that comes along.

Singleness is not a disease and marriage is not the cure. Yes, singleness can be a struggle and single folks can become discouraged and weary. But can’t you say the same thing about married folks? Marriage can certainly be a struggle and there are plenty of married men and women who become discouraged and weary. But we don’t jump in and offer to help them get a divorce! No, we encourage them and support them and help them grow and persevere and serve and continue to be changed into the image of Jesus.

It’s OK to be single. Single Christians belong to God and are made perfectly complete in Christ. Scripture affirms that being single is a gift from God — stay tuned, that’s for tomorrow’s post. In the meantime, if you’re unmarried, believe that if you’re in Christ you’re already perfectly whole. Everybody else, let’s stop feeling sorry for our single brothers and sisters and stop butting in to their business as if they’re not complete without a spouse.

Peace,

Allan

Your Marital Status is Not the Point

1 Corinthians, Mark, Marriage No Comments »

SinglePew

Whether you’re married or single is not important. Your marital status is not the key concern. The question is: Are you being faithful to the Lord? Paul’s main concern throughout 1 Corinthians 7 is that we “live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

“The time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” ~1 Corinthians 7:29-32a, 35

The time is short, he says. The old order of things is doomed. Because of Christ Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, this present way of life is on borrowed time. It’s passing away. But not quite yet. We live in the in-between times. Paul calls it the “present crisis” in verse 26. Jesus calls it the “days of distress” in Mark 13. So, yes, the world goes on as we know it. All the social and material concerns are still there. We’ve got to plan and work for tomorrow. We can’t just lay around and watch Sponge Bob until Jesus returns. But what we know about the Kingdom changes our attitudes about all of it. We ought to be glad about our successes, but not overly glad; we should be sad about our failures, but not overly sad; we should enjoy this present world and the things of this present world, but not be engrossed in those things. All those things. Including marriage and family.

Both being married and not being married are good conditions to be in. We shouldn’t be overly happy about being married or overly disappointed about being single. And vice-versa. You shouldn’t be super excited that you’re single or down in the dumps because you’re married. The question is, married or single: Are you becoming more like Christ?

Paul addresses every possible situation in this chapter: singles, virgins, married people, divorced, widowed, all of it. And in each case he makes it clear that the particular situation is fine, it’s inconsequential, it’s not worth worrying about. In fact, he urges all people in each situation to remain just as they are. The specific circumstance is not the pressing issue. Our energies should not spent on worrying about or trying to change our marital status. Married or single, the focus is on our undivided devotion to the Lord.

Peace,

Allan

Christian and Single: Intro

1 Corinthians, Marriage No Comments »

SingleScarf

Most churches have a blind spot when it comes to singles. We’re pretty good at supporting families. If you want to become a better father or mother or a more godly husband or wife, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got classes and books and sermons and small groups and support groups and tons of volunteers. But a lot of the time we don’t know what to do with unmarried people except try to force them into one of those frames. We don’t do a great job with this.

Today, for the first time in the history of the U.S., less than half of all adults are married. More and more people are staying single and staying single longer. And nobody thinks these trends are going to change. It’s way past time for us to have a better theology and a better practice when it comes to the unmarried. We need more faithful beliefs and actions as it relates to singles.

You know how there’s stuff in the Bible we ignore because it goes so against the ways we’ve always lived or the ways we’ve always done church? It would be too hard to change the way we think or the way we live, so we just ignore it. We don’t talk about it.

Like prayer postures. The Bible tells us to pray with our hands raised, to pray standing up, to pray on our knees, to pray flat on our faces. But the way we most often pray is the only way not mentioned in Scripture: sitting on our rear ends! We ignore the biblical teaching; we act like it’s not there. Like almost every sentence in the Sermon on the Mount. We ignore it.

There are huge chunks of 1 Corinthians 7 we just flat-out ignore. We pick out the parts on marriage we like. We index and proof-text and take out of context a lot of it. But there are huge sections of it we never address. Like the very first verse:

“It is good for a person not to marry.”

The apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wants all Christians to remain unmarried. Singles, widows, divorced — he says everybody who’s single ought to stay single. And he doesn’t just say it once:

“I wish that all people were as I am…” (7:7)

“About virgins… I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you divorced? Do not seek a wife… Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” (7:25-28)

“I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (7:35)

“He who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.” (7:38)

This whole chapter urges Christians to be single. Paul certainly permits marriage; it’s not a sin to get married. But Paul claims it’s best to be single.

Paul is single. He’s not married. And because he doesn’t have a wife or any children, Paul is able to risk his health and his safety and even his life to spread the Gospel. By the way, spreading the Gospel is the most important thing to Paul. So it’s not surprising that he would recommend to his churches that, if you’re unmarried, you should stay that way. We would expect that from Paul.

But this idea of voluntary singleness? We don’t get it. Voluntary celibacy? What? We pass that off as some kind of first century weirdness and we move on to other verses because the only reason we’re in 1 Corinthians 7 is to argue about divorce.

But we’ve got to come to grips with this. Paul thinks it’s better to be single.

Through the course of this week, we’re going to telescope this. Tomorrow, we’re going to look at the big picture of this and then bring it in closer and tighter to us in our churches.

We all have a very high view of marriage because we believe our God has a very high view of marriage. We believe marriage is created by God to embody and reflect the relationship between the Father and the Son. We believe marriage creates an experience of and provides a testimony to the love and faithfulness that exists between our Lord and his Church. We have a very high view of marriage.

But not everybody’s married.

Peace,

Allan

The Punch and The Code

MLB, Texas Rangers 9 Comments »

OdorPunch

I am still baffled by the events of the eighth inning of Sunday’s game between the Blue Jays and Rangers in Arlington. Baffled. I am confounded by the punch, by the slide, by all the decisions made by managers and players, and by the power of the code.

While a lot of you are praising Rougned Odor and taking great joy in his haymaker to Joey Bautista’s jaw and vilifying Bautista as an arrogant such-and-such who got what he had coming, allow me to note that if the tables were turned, you’d be feeling just the opposite. I’ve never seen a punch like that in a baseball game. Never. Not like that. Wow. And, yes, as a Rangers fan, I really dislike Bautista. But if Odor were a Blue Jay and Bautista were a Ranger? Come on. As Seinfeld once famously observed, we’re all just rooting for laundry. Odor is more regularly criticized by baseball people as a dirty player than Bautista.

And please stop comparing this to Nolan Ryan’s handling of Robin Ventura in 1993. Nolan was a universally revered legend and hall of famer and widely-acclaimed good guy. Ventura was a young kid, a good kid, who made a terrible one-time mistake. This thing Sunday was between a couple of guys with shaky reputations and histories of being punks.

But, this post is about the power of the code, not the character of the two players or the violence in our popular sports that we Christians cheer and/or ignore.

In my rational brain, I want to believe Bush’s pitch that nailed Bautista in the side to start the eighth inning was an accident. My head keeps telling me there’s no way they put the tying run on base in the eighth inning. It was a bad pitch that got away from a nervous pitcher in a pressure situation in only his second MLB appearance. But my gut keeps saying it was a pitch with a purpose. It was intentional all the way. Bautista had upstaged the Rangers in that playoff game seven months ago, he had over-celebrated that three-run, series-clinching homer, and he still needed to pay. In front of the home fans. And this was the last chance.

That’s the power of the code.

You’ll go insane trying to figure out the code. The code in baseball says it’s not OK for you to flip a bat after a dramatic home run, but it’s quite fine and even expected that you’ll slide cleats up into a second baseman in retaliation for a supposed slight. It’s not cool to trot around the bases to show up a pitcher. It’s disrespectful. But it’s good and even expected that you’ll drill him with a 97-miles-per-hour fastball the next time he’s at the plate. It’s kooky, this code.

But that code is what compelled Rangers manager Jeff Banister to order the beaning and put the tying run on base in the eighth inning. The code is what prompted him to risk the win in order to send a message.

The code is also what caused Bautista to illegally slide into Odor.

Bautista knew that if he came in on Odor at second base with a slide that has been made illegal this year by Major League Baseball, it would result in an automatic double play and the inning and the scoring threat would be over. But he did it anyway. He was willing to risk the win in order to send a message. He knew what he was doing. Several times this year, games have ended on these automatic double plays after an illegal slide into second. It’s happened to the Astros twice. It’s been much debated and publicized. It’s already happened to Bautista this year in a game against Tampa Bay. He cost Toronto the game with an illegal slide. But he went ahead with it Sunday, knowing he would end the inning, in order to uphold the code.

This code is more important than the game. That baffles me.

I remember one night in ’02 or ’03 sitting next to Steve Busby in the Ballpark press box. He asked me if I was ready for Jay Gibbons to get it. Gibbons was an outfielder for the Orioles who had hit a homerun against Texas the year before and over-celebrated. Both dugouts cleared and exchanged the typical pushing and shoving and tough words. This night was the first game between the opponents since that dust-up the season before and Busby was preparing to talk about it during the post game show. He said both teams were anticipating it. It was going to happen.

Nothing happened that night. But it happened the following night. Gibbons got plunked. I can’t remember who did it. There was some pushing and chirping and then it was over. Score settled. Everybody was good.

That really opened my eyes to the power of the code. It’s weird. But it’s real and everybody understands the deal.

Odor took things to the next level in dramatic fashion Sunday. Bautista was planning to come hard at second base, exchange in one more round of pushes and shoves, both dugouts would clear, and it would be over. The scores would be settled. Everybody would be good. Well, it’s a little tricky sometimes deciding just when things are even.

The code is enforced within the rules during play in a football game; violence and retaliation are part of the game’s DNA. The code is enforced immediately on the very next face-off in hockey; nobody waits until the next period, much less the following season. There is no known code in basketball, no understood avenue for settling scores there. That’s why brawls in basketball games are viewed as horrible harbingers of the apocalypse. But in baseball, it’s there. It can take months, but it’s there. And managers and players will risk a win in an important game against a league rival in order to enforce it.

Peace,

Allan

Full Time Work

Jesus, John, Ministry, Preaching No Comments »

HardWork

Today I’m speaking downstairs at our weekly Loaves and Fishes gathering, I’m finishing up the sermon for this Sunday, re-reading the passage in Mark I’m teaching in our Bible class, writing questions for the small groups discussions, and visiting a dear church member who was moved into hospice care last night. While you’re slaving away at the office or the construction site or the airport or the school, I’m at the church building doing God’s work. Right?

WRONG!

We are all doing God’s work, together, every day, seven days a week.

Sometimes we speak in ways that make what I do as a preacher “full-time Christian work” and what you do as a member of the Body of Christ “part-time Christian work” or “weekend Christian work.” You must know that you are a full-time Christian banker or plumber or homemaker. You are a full-time Christian truck driver or repair man, administrator or salesperson. When we are at our work, we are at the same time at God’s work. Just like our Lord Jesus.

You realize that most of what Jesus did he did in a secular workplace: in a farmer’s field, in a fishing boat, at a wedding feast, in a cemetery, at a public well, on a country hillside, in a court room, at dinner with friends and family, while walking along a road, in the marketplace. Sometimes in the Gospels Jesus shows up in a synagogue or the temple. But he mostly spends his time in the workplace.

The Fourth Gospel identifies Jesus as a “worker” 27-times. It quotes our Lord as saying, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.”

Your work does not take you away from God, it continues the work of God. Our God is always in his workplace, your workplace, working. And once we recognize that, we can more easily see ourselves — all of us — working in our workplaces in the name and manner of Jesus to his eternal glory and praise.

Peace,

Allan

Game Seven

Dallas Stars No Comments »

StarsBluesGame7

I know it sounds blasphemous here in the great state of Texas. I know it cuts across all Texas sensibilities and goes against the grains of my culture and my upbringing. But here we go. I’m saying this and I’m standing by it:

NHL Stanley Cup Playoff hockey beats football any day of the week. And for energy, nerves, tension, excitement and drama, any Game Seven in the NHL playoffs beats any football game at any level. Ever.

The most obvious attraction to me is that overtime in a hockey playoff game is the only true “sudden death” of any sport. In basketball a tie game is settled with a ticking clock. In baseball the home team always gets a last at bat. In football you can generally see the end of overtime coming a mile away as the running back takes two harmless dives up the middle to set up the 40-yard field goal. But in hockey, overtime always ends suddenly. Without warning. A turnover in neutral ice, an odd-man rush off a nasty collision, a clang off a cross bar and behind the goalie — it’s fast and it’s completely unpredictable. The puck changes directions in a flash, faster than you can imagine, and your team goes from having all the numbers and all the momentum at one end of the ice to shaking hands and cleaning out their lockers in about two seconds. There’s nothing close to that kind of tension and drama in any other sport.

The thing, though, that I’ve come to appreciate more about hockey Game Sevens is the grind of the nearly two weeks it takes the two teams to get there. Even if the two teams are in different divisions and don’t have much of a rivalry, by the time they get to Game Seven, they know each other very well. The game is too physical, too demanding, to in-your-face intense. The two teams and all their players have worked up a true distaste for each other by this point. But take a true division rivalry, like with the Stars and Blues who face off in a Game Seven tonight in Dallas for a berth in the Western Conference Championship, and it’s hatred with felonious intent. For the fans, after six games, we’ve come to know the opposition players almost as well as we know our home team. But for the players themselves, there’s an animosity between them that adds another layer to the competition that’s not duplicated by any other sport.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight. But as Brent Gilchrist said after a crushing Game Seven defeat to the Edmonton Oilers at Reunion Arena in ’97, you’re never more alive than during a Game Seven.

There’s nothing like it in all of sports.

Go Stars!

Allan