Whatever Happened To Singles Ministry?

Today the best thing for singles is not a singles-only ministry.

It was the late 1970s. John Travolta was taking the dance floor, and the church in America had a problem. How would it deal with the increasing number of single adults created by a growing divorce rate, career minded professionals placing work before settling down, and others delaying or never agreeing to the confines of marriage? It was a brave new world. Being single was in!

This zeitgeist, coupled with the attrition of the unmarried demographic from their pews, caused Christian leaders to mobilize. There was a new target for ministry professionals: singles. The race for success in reaching them was on, and by the late 1980s singles ministries had become a staple at many churches.

Almost 25 years later, much has changed. “Single” is not a term people normally choose to describe themselves. Being single, while accepted among those in their twenties, is often seen as something of a stigma after passing a certain “acceptable” age. In America that age is around 30 years old.

You almost never see a 20-something “singles ministry.” Instead, 20-somethings congregate in groups with more relationally non-descript titles like New Beginnings or Careers, and the groups include both single and married.

But ministries for singles over 30 are harder to find.

The last 25 years have seen the church alter the way it relates to and reaches singles. The fervor to target singles directly is no longer front and center. On the contrary, ministry to singles is seen as a burden to many churches. What started out as a brilliant success has disintegrated into the realms of an epic fail.

Singles ministry proved to be harder than the original pioneers expected. It took too much time, too many resources, and produced too few sustainable results. We are now …

Read the full article at Leadership Journal.

God’s Will Is An Industry

Proverbs 16:9 In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the LORD establishes their steps.

God’s will is an industry. If you don’t believe me, do an Amazon search for the term, “God’s Will” and see how many hits you get. It’s around 334,000. The reason for this is that Christian publishers know that God’s will sells. Big.
And the reason that God’s will sells is that it is often less about God and all about us. Whom shall I marry, will I get the mortgage modification, and should I move to France and become a potato farmer.
Like many of you, I am in the God’s will business. 40% of the conversations I have revolve around helping people sort out their future. The other 60% is a mix of sin management, past guilt issues and the joys and sorrows of this life.
But what if you could not miss God’s will? Think about it. How would you live your life if you knew that it was impossible to miss God’s will? What would you do with all of the mental and emotional space created by removing doubt and anxiety from your heart and mind’s grid?
What if God’s will was more about knowing Him than knowing his plans for your life? Would you trade knowing God in a deeper way for 10 now answers about your future?
Do you ever wonder if it is possible to live a fulfilled and dynamic Christian experience without knowing about tomorrow, next Thursday, or 36 years from now?
According to Jesus it is? In Matt. 6 Jesus goes out of his way to tell his followers to not worry about the fish they eat, the wine they drink, what they will wear or where they are going? Nothing. This includes God’s will for where he is going to take them. Go back and read it. Are we really to take Jesus at his word?
I think we are. Maybe it is because spending so much time on these issues in the name of righteously seeking after God is really a form of anti-faith that temporarily satisfies our deep desire to know.
You see, this unquenchable desire to know, a desire I believe we are created for is one of the Devil’s greatest tools to distract believers from what that insatiable desire to know was really instilled in us for. God! It’s an infinite search that has the power to consume the desire of your mind and heart to know for ever after.

The problem is that many of us would rather know about our future than God.

So here is the challenge. Don’t worry or think about your future for 30 days. Don’t pursue God’s will, just rest in the fact that He will lead you into it. Or do you think your ability to mess God’s will up for your life is greater than His desire to lead you into it?

The Noah Factor: Following God When Everyone Says You’re Wrong

The Noah factor is when everyone tells you that what you are doing is crazy and insensible, but you go ahead and do it anyway. If you follow God long enough, you will probably have to employ the Noah factor at some point.

Jesus used the Noah factor when he went to the cross. Noah used it when he built his ark on dry ground and in a land that had never seen rain. Ultimately, Jesus and Noah knew something in the depths of their hearts that eluded all others. Like the couple Karie and I had coffee with this morning. They adopted a son from the Ukraine. No big deal, lots of people do that—but how many go through with it when seven days before they are set to get their son, the wife is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given months to live?

Karie and I sat amazed as we heard the story. It’s now five years after the fact and with the cancer in remission and a 9-year-old adopted son part of their family. At the time everything and everyone told them not to go through with it. Both sets of their parents were adamant and a best friend angry. To do this would be unwise and going against the counsel of their trusted inner-circle. But like Noah, who was the only one that saw a flood coming coming, our friends saw and heard something in the quiet of their souls that said, “Go, go get your boy, the cancer can wait.”

This is the rub of following Jesus. Yes, we are called to live and hear in community, but at the end of the day we serve a personal Jesus; a Jesus who at some point in your life might challenge you to follow him where no one else is going and when everyone else sees it a different way.

This is faith you have signed up for, and unlike a good business plan, faith does not always pencil out.

Ambition: Should Christians Want Their Stuff To Succeed?

Sometimes I struggle with wanting to succeed. For some reason my Christian experience has programmed me to think that wanting to succeed in one area or another is a form of pride. A friend of mine recently challenged me on this by saying, “Okay, so God wants you to hope everything you do sucks?”

Over the years I have received all sorts of differing counsel on this. My faith-camp friends have told me to just let God do everything. If God is on it, nothing can stop it from happening.

Usually a few days after I have followed the faith-camps advice and released all of my desire to see the things I create find success or an audience, I run into someone from camp-free-will. These are your friends whose advice is to dedicate it all to God and then work as hard as you can to get your stuff or message out there.

Recently, a very successful recording artist friend said this on the subject, “God didn’t give it to you so no one would ever hear or see it. You need to market your brand.”

And that’s one of the problems right there. My friend is a legitimate rock star. He is supposed to get $600 haircuts, have a promotional team and care about chart success. Me on the other hand, I’m a pastor. We are called to enjoy dry toast and modest cars. Success and achievement need be shunned and avoided like the plague.

The more I have thought about it, the more I realize that I will never find the balance. My forty-two years have shown me that my life is a pendulum that only finds balance in the brief moments I am swinging from one extreme to the other. One minute I am giving it all to God, the next I am grasping my desires like Gollum with a slippery fish.

For me, the answer has come in being willing to walk. Here’s what I mean. Back in the 90’s there was a movie called Heat. It was a story about thieves. The tension of the movie was in the fact that everyone in the crew needed to be willing drop everything and walk if the heat was on. Nothing was as important as freedom.

The same is true for our dreams and pursuits in this life.

Whether you use a faith or faith and friction model to pursue your dreams and desires is not as important as your willingness to drop them and walk at any moment. If God says its done, its done and you walk.

Here’s the point. There is no pride in wanting your stuff to happen. There is no sin in co-laboring with God to put your dreams into motion. Instead, pride is saying no when God says let it go. So can you drop it and walk?

The Little Idol Factory in Your Heart

Have you ever had a million dollar idea, but not known what to do with it. Ten years ago, I thought I had that idea and started a dog leash company. “The Dingo”, was a multi-functional leash that did everything from tethering your dog in the back of your car to walking three dogs. You can find its remains online.
Back then, Google was pretty new, but still very effective. I searched something like, “make prototypes” and came up with about six results. Ten days later I had the first Dingo in my hand.
Deep in my heart there is another little factory with even faster turn around times. This one creates idols. It’s ability to shift the entire production operation in alignment with the newest desire of my heart or mind is unparalleled. One minute it is cranking out little bobble-headed idols fashioned to look like me with the word “pride” on its forehead, the next moment it is mass-producing idols that look exactly like you with the inscription, “Man’s approval”.
King David has one of these little factories in his heart as well. On one occasion it was willing to fire up in the middle of the night after one prolonged look at a woman bathing. We know the ramifications of that production order. Ours can be just as devastating.
Still, even after this major failure, David was committed to having nothing set before him other then God himself. He was a man desperately pursuing the heart of God. In Psalm 16:8 David writes, “I have set the LORD continually before me; Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”
So what is that little factory in your heart producing? There are plenty of idols ready to be cast. Idols of body image, addiction, fame and even your family can all beckon you to fall to your knees in worship.
So how do you close down that little factory? I’m not sure you ever will this side of heaven, but here is what you can do. Pray this prayer; “God, make everything and every area of my life where you are not preeminent, a bitter taste in my mouth.” Yes, pray now and as often as possible for the next year and see what happens to your desire to create idols. May God only be set high and exalted in your life today!

Acceptable Legalism: Finding God in a Stop Sign

Psa. 119:47 I shall delight in Your commandments, Which I love.

Everyone knows that if the speed limit says 65mph, you are free to drive 72mph. 7mph over the speed limit is the magic number of what is acceptable without getting a ticket. In school zones that number is only 2.6mph.

This is what I thought until I just got my 2nd ticket in 30 days. Even though I knew I was breaking the law, I was still ticked. I was mad at the cop for doing his job, politicians for agreeing to egregious laws, kittens and the universe in general.

Over the next few days, God barraged me with messages and teachings about loving the law. Ridiculous! Who loves the law?

The answer to that question was King David. When I came across Ps. 119:47, and especially the bit about David loving the law, I was immediately intrigued. I get following the law because God told me to, but loving the law is totally different.

David loved the law because he realized that laws are a representation of their author. The more you understand a law and its nuance the more you understand the one who created that law. For David, every law he followed became an opportunity to know and love God in a deeper way.

This is actually a form of acceptable legalism. It is a legalism allowed to us by grace. Grace is what gives us the opportunity to follow the law for loves sake. Without grace, you could not choose to follow the law strictly for loves sake. Without grace, law following is a requirement.

How stringently do you follow the law? Do you speed, show up to work late, cheat on taxes or walk when the light is red? Perhaps you are an ardent rule follower. The question to you is why? Is it for the sake of the commandment, self-righteousness or for the love of God!

Here’s a challenge. This week pursue a Davidic type of intimacy by trying to obey every law stringently. Do it because you want to know God. Yes, you are free from the law of death, but this type of legalism leads to life. As believers we need to be careful that our freedom in Christ does not keep us from knowing God.

1Pet. 2:13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority.

God Is Not Mad At You

When I tell Christians this, they often balk. Few believers know how to live their lives in the freedom of Christ-completed work. Instead these believers live lives in a three-step dance of sin, guilt and confession; the second step being unnecessary as guilt is a useless commodity for believers in the kingdom of God.

This process of sin, guilt and confession is what causes some Christians to hate sin for the wrong reason. Think about it. Why do you hate sin? If you are like me in the past, you’ve hated sin more for the way it made you feel or the results of your sin then hating sin itself. Yes, we need to hate the consequences of sin, but the primary reason for hating sin is because sin is everything God is not and when we sin we break God’s heart. For God, lack of condemnation towards you and a broken heart can co-exist.

Thus, the amount you hate sin is tied into how much you experience love for and from God. When you love God, you no longer avoid sin because of the law or fear. Instead, you avoid sin, because you want to bring pleasure to the Father. Your righteousness becomes a love language. This is why freedom from sin is found in the place you least expect it. Freedom from sin comes from focusing on your love relationship with God rather then creating a fail-safe program for sin management.

Since the Devil knows this, he will continue to convince Christians that God is mad at them. Why? The reason is that we tend to avoid people who are angry with us. When we avoid God, we are also avoiding his love and acceptance.

Here’s the truth, God’s not mad at you. Go in peace.

Rom. 5:9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

Rom. 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.