Jesus and the Single Life

Have you ever thought about the fact that Jesus was single? My dear friend Jenni and I were talking last year before a wedding she was attending, and we were talking about how challenging it can be to attend a wedding alone, especially as you get older. But she said “If Jesus could go to a wedding by Himself, then so can I.” I love that perspective, and it got me thinking about what else we can learn from Jesus about being single. If Jesus is our model for living a holy and perfect life (not that we can ever be perfect this side of heaven, but that He is and showed us perfection), then it naturally follows that as Jesus was single His entire life, we can look to Him to learn what our lives as singles should look like.

As I read through the gospels looking for parallels to the single life, here are 5 things I discovered:

1. The goal of Jesus in every place and every situation was to be a blessing to those around Him. His focus was on them and meeting their needs, rather than on Himself and His own status or situation. The ease in which we get so caught up in ourselves and the frequency of our fixation on relational status is somewhat alarming. We are so quick to look inward instead of focusing outward. How different would our churches and communities look if those who are single were intent on being a blessing to those around them in every situation? What if we looked up and out, instead of always bemoaning our lack of a companion? What if we sought to serve generously, to give of our time and resources, to bless those around us as long as we are single?

2. Jesus intentionally surrounded Himself with community. In a culture of independence, isolation, and the detached relationships of social media, true community is becoming obsolete, especially among my generation. Jesus stands out as an example of one who entered into the lives of others and invited them into HIs own life as well. He built deep friendships with all kinds of people – men, women, married couples, the sick, tax-collectors, and prostitutes. He did not limit Himself to befriending only those who looked like Him or came from the same socio-economic or religious background. He loved all people, and actively pursued relationships with them.

3. Jesus did not squander His time, but used it wisely and with purpose. This does not mean He was always busy. Again, this does not mean that He was always busy. That bears repeating, because we often think the only way to use time “wisely” is to fill every moment with something important. We have plenty of examples of Jesus resting, going away to pray, sleeping on a boat, hanging out at wells chatting with people, eating dinner with friends, etc. He shows us what one person can do in a short amount of time. We have a plethora of opportunities and excuses to waste time in today’s culture, and Jesus shows us the importance and feasability of time well spent.

4. Jesus lived on-mission. Everything He did was on purpose, and His whole life led to the cross. Where is your life leading?

5. Finally, Jesus did not shrink back from hard situations. He went to weddings by himself, funerals of dear friends, large gatherings, and even the cross, all in joyful obedience to the Father. He saw the value in celebrations and goodbyes. He confronted false religion and heresy (as a sidenote, this goes back to the first point – even in His rebuke, it was for their ultimate good). He was willing to be ridiculed, shamed, and persecuted, because He knew that He spoke the truth. He walked through hard times trusting the Father to sustain Him.

If you are single, how can you start living more intentionally today, following Jesus’ model for us? If you are married, how can you be encouraging the single people in your life to live with purpose? How can we mutually enter into community and seek to be a blessing to one another?

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Beginning the Year with Purpose

Sunrise in Nepal last April
Sunrise in Nepal last April

Let’s start at the end. Who do you want to be when 2014 is over?

Have you thought about that? I am not talking about resolutions that will be forgotten by next month – this is about constant, gradual growth that results in ending a year different from who you were when the year began. One of the most important lessons I have learned about growth is that it does not happen by accident. Very rarely does someone look up after plodding the same path year in and year out and realize that they have become a different person. Growth requires intentionality, a pursuit of knowledge, and the willingness to try life in a different way than you have done before. Change comes when we resolve in our heart to think, act, speak, and live with purpose.

As each new year begins, I sit down with the Lord and answer three questions:

  • How did I grow in the previous year?
  • In what ways did God provide for me as my Jehovah-Jireh? (We are given an example all through Scripture of taking time to remember God’s faithfulness to us, and celebrate what He has done for us. This is a beautiful way to begin a new year!)
  • How do I want to grow in the new year? 

 

Last year, I chose Proverbs 31:25-26 to serve as the theme for my growth and development. The verses say “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue”. As I stood on the brink of a year of major change, my prayer was that these two verses would be reflected in my life: that I would face each new day with strength and dignity, and my lips would speak with wisdom and kindness.

2013 was a significant year, because for the first time my trust in the Lord and in His plan was so much stronger than my own will and desires. O, Praise Him! Slowly, slowly, I am learning to trust the One who is eternally trustworthy. So often my own feeble will rises up and declares that I know better, that I can manage my own affairs; yet time and again my way fails. The gospel enters then, reminding me that even my best effort is worthless, compared to Jesus. In His grace, the past 365 days have brought me deeper intimacy with Jesus, a greater reliance on Him & insight into His will and plan, and a few steps closer to becoming like the One I have chosen to follow.

Another noteworthy area of growth over the past year was in seeing my singleness as a gift, and choosing to embrace this time in my life. Recognizing that marriage is not the holy grail – it is a gift from the Lord, full of its own challenges – but singleness is also a gift, one to be treasured and used to bring God glory, a time full of potential and hope! And whether married or single, my focus and my treasure must be in Christ alone.

This year as I prepared to work on answering the questions, I was challenged by speaker and author Tim Elmore to take it one step further and write out a plan for each month of ways to grow in the specific areas. As an almost OCD-planner type, I can’t believe I haven’t done this before. I am so excited for 2014, and to see where I am in 12 months!

2014 Growth Plan:

Theme Verses: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35.

Areas of Desired Growth:

  • Leadership
  • Writing & Photography
  • Community
  • Priorities
  • Relationship with Christ

I have written out specific ways I want to grow in these five areas, and have picked out 25 books to read during the year (two for each month, with one extra) on a wide variety of these topics, decided what conferences I am going to attend, and located areas in my life that need change in order to re-adjust my priorities.

The Lord has designed each one of us differently, and maybe all of these lists and having so specific a plan sound like torture to you. Everyone’s growth plan should look different, because we all grow in different ways. My challenge to you is to live this year with purpose. To start by asking the Lord to help you know who you are right now, and what He wants your life to look like by the time the year ends. Whether you answer the three questions above, or completely different ones, the goal is to dream big, and trust the Lord to grow you in mighty ways this year. As we grow, our impact on His kingdom most often grows along with us! What joy to experience growth brought about by the Holy Spirit, and make an eternal impact on the world.

Happy New Year! May the Lord richly bless you this year as you walk in obedience with Him.

The Flipside

Last week in a meeting at work I had the opportunity to share a little bit of where my heart is in the midst of transition, with not being overseas, no longer serving as a supported missionary, now living in NoVA and working at MBC – many aspects of my life I am working through in this new season. As I shared about this not being where I thought I would be, one of my co-workers said this:

“There are two sides to every story, and the flipside of your story is that the Lord brought you here in part because we needed you. He brought you here to be a blessing to us at this specific time.”

Wow. I had not previously thought about the Lord keeping me here in that light, and I am thankful that she said those words. What a timely reminder of a great truth. The Lord often puts us in specific places to meet the needs of others, and to use us to bless those around us. And the greatest joy is in being a blessing to others, we are immeasurably blessed in return! In calling me to this place, at this time, and using my gifts and abilities to serve others, the Lord is continuing the process of sanctification and growing me to be more like Him. What joy is found in this spot!

The story of Abram is a great example of this. In Genesis 12, the Lord calls Abram to leave his country and everything he has ever known, to go to an unspecified place the Lord would show him only after he responded in obedience. As God is giving Abram his instructions, he says “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing…” (v.2). If Abraham had refused to obey God, and stayed in his homeland, the impact of his life would have been limited. It was through his willingness to follow God’s leading no matter what, that a nation was born and a blessing came in abundance.

Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, and so are we today. The Lord has you exactly where you are supposed to be, and He has you there for a reason. It may have very little to do with you, and very much to do with the Lord using you to be a blessing to those around you.

One of my favorite quotes is from author Leo Tolstoy, who said:

Life is a place of service, and in that service one has to suffer a great deal that is hard to bear, but more often to experience a great deal of joy. But that joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.

Who are you serving today? Take some time to thank the Lord for where He has you, and the ways He is using your life to bless others.

Godliness vs. Giftedness

This summer was the bi-annual all staff conference for Cru out in Colorado, and Alistair Begg was the keynote speaker. He has long held a place on my list of favorite pastors, and it was a joy to join the sessions via the live feed even though I am no longer on staff.

He spoke to us from Jude on how to live as believers in light of our culture, and something he said has stuck with me for weeks:

Right now the world’s greatest need is our godliness, not our giftedness. 

My first thought has to do with how we as the church react in light of our current culture. There is a tendency in ministry to want to fit in, to make our message palatable and acceptable. Many of us are drawn to try new methods and new programs, to change the outer wrappings to make it look pretty. We falsely think that by acting like the rest of the world, the world will want to join us.

The second thought has to do with the culture of performance within the church. Great pressure is felt on our hearts and minds to have the best sermons or talks, the most current programs, the nicest buildings, the best staff. We are convinced that we actually bring something of our own to the table, that our ‘giftedness’ in a certain area is of more value than anything else.  Again, we falsely believe that the mission will go forward based on our talent, that people will be drawn to us based on what we do, not who we are.

I am using the plural pronouns because I have both seen these trends and been a part of them. And yet, in reading Acts 2, we see a completely different scene. The early church believers were set apart in virtually every way from the culture of their day. They lived authentic community. They shared their possessions. They gave freely to the poor. They showed forgiveness to their enemies as well as their friends. They lived the gospel of Jesus Christ as a lifestyle. They spoke differently, loved differently, even died differently. They had a reason for finding joy in death, because their hope lay in what was to come, not in anything they had on earth. They were fearless, bold, confident, and captivating to the world around them.

This generation on many levels seems farther away from the Lord than ever before, and I wonder how much of it has to do with putting our giftedness above our godliness? Of putting our desire for relevance above our passion for living distinctly from the culture? This generation actually needs us to show them a different way a live. A way that is so captivating because it is nothing like they have ever seen before. It is counter-intuitive in a sense; this idea that living ‘other’ is more significant and will have a greater impact than living as close to the culture as possible.

Godliness, not giftedness. We don’t need to model our great talents, or show how hip we are. We need to model love for Christ and others, dedication to the Word, and a lifestyle in line with all that the gospel holds. Our culture cannot change if it has nothing better to strive towards. There is a better way, and that way is found in Jesus. True culture change will come when we stop living like everyone else and start practicing true godliness.

This challenge is just as much for me as for anyone else. What do people see when they look at my life, or at your life? Do they see the gospel? Or do they see someone who looks just like them? Are they drawn towards Christ in us? How can we be culture changers today, this week, this year? How can we engage with the culture, yet not forsake the truth of the gospel?

This is my prayer for the church….that we would become captivating as we continuously choose to pursue godliness.

 

Compassion vs. sacrifice

I’ve been reading through the gospels for the past few weeks, and came to this passage in Matthew:

“And it happened that as He [Jesus] was reclining in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “why is your Teacher eating with tax-gatherers and sinners?” But when He [Jesus] heard this, He said, ‘it is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice,‘ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

– Matthew 9:10-13

———-

The burden on my heart to preach the gospel in the context of fighting for the justice of the oppressed continues to grow as I seek the Lord and study His word. Jesus made the bolded statement above to the Pharisees as they marveled in incredulity that Jesus would stoop so low as to eat with sinners and tax-gatherers. These Pharisees were zealous in their Quest for perfection as regarded the Law, and they thought that Jesus would be proud of them for disassociating themselves from the unclean, from those who failed in keeping the Law.

And yet the exact opposite is true. Christ tells this group of Pharisees to go and learn a part of the Law they had missed entirely. The phrase ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice’ is originally written in Hosea 6:6, when God is lovingly calling the wayward tribes of Israel who refused to repent of their sin and guilt, back to Himself.

The Pharisees talking with Jesus were blind to their own sin, proud of the fact that they obeyed the Law and kept themselves clean. But the gospel will not reach the dirty and broken unless it is taken to them. God could care less about how perfectly we follow the Law if we fail to love those He created who are eternally lost and wandering in the darkness.

His gospel is centered on the fact that on our own we are helpless, broken, lost and unclean. He, and He alone, can fix our plight. Only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse, repair, bind-up, and heal us. Without His blood we are without hope. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves clean enough to merit His favor and enter His presence. Yet in His great compassion He made a way for us to be saved, and then in His grace and mercy He allows us to take that same compassion we were shown and pour it out on the lost around us. Oh, how much we miss when our focus in on ourselves and our own obedience, rather than giving ourselves away in compassion to the lost.

 

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