Category Archives: personal

Closing thoughts of an almost-no-longer-single pastor

C&J

4 days.

Four more days of singleness.

It’s a strange thing to consider — almost 32 years behind me as a single guy, with musings about relationships and romantic interests and sermons on singleness; a lifetime ahead of me as a married man, with a whole host of new joys and challenges.

My counselor told me once:

Change = Loss = Grief

In other words, any change involves a loss of some kind — whether of good things or bad things — and there is a grief that accompanies that. Even if the change is a positive one, a step in the right direction, things are lost that may never be regained.

In the quiet moments with God that I’ve been able to snatch amidst the busyness of wedding preparations, I’ve been excited for what’s to come — getting to spend the rest of my life and the adventure that’ll continue unfolding with Carolyn; I’ve been grateful for the faithfulness of God throughout this chapter — during the times when I was striving and impatient and frustrated as much as the times when I was content and at peace (the latter were far less frequent!); but I’ve also had time to grieve the end of this part of my life.

I like to say — and only part-jokingly — that it took me 29 years to fully comprehend the gift that singleness is. And then I met Carolyn.

But seriously … there are things that I learned to appreciate as a single person, ways in which God grew me, for which I’ll forever be grateful:

  • being present and available and stable for friends as they went through some difficult times;
  • having the time and freedom to see and hang out with as many people as my schedule and boundaries allowed;
  • getting to experience singleness for most of my twenties and into my thirties, and thus being able to empathize with and minister to those who have been — and some who remain — single for longer than they’d like;
  • discovering and pursuing God’s call to holiness and God’s design for us to be in relationship (whether in a romantic relationship or in relationships of family and community) and God’s value of us far beyond our relationship status.

From Friday, I’ll no longer be “the single pastor.” It’s strange to think that that’s been part of my identity, part of the way I’ve labeled myself, but that’s the way it’s been for the last four years — and in a church that’s almost three-quarters single, that’s been a unique point of connection. I don’t know how things will change when I’m married, how relationships will change, how ways of relating will change.

And so in this, just as with any step into the unknown, looking back with gratitude and grief, and looking forward with hope and excitement and eager anticipation, I place my life into the hands of a great, big, loving God, and see what happens. I know that some things will be different and some things will remain the same — I’m not sure exactly what just yet nor all of the details, but I’m stoked that I get to figure it out with two of my favorite people.

Here we go … see you on the other side.

For old times’ sake, here’s the blog series taken from last summer’s “Being Single” sermon:

  1. An Apology
  2. Not a Waiting Room
  3. Not a Terminal Disease
  4. Sex
  5. A Gift

Slow down

Lake

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

- Dallas Willard

In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by His slowness. He is slow: we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and He has been for eternity. …

There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow our souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and wet, in the thunder and the lightning, in the cold and the dark.

Wait, and He will come. He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road.

When He comes, go with Him, but go slowly, fall a little behind; when He quickens His pace, be sure of it, before you quicken yours. But when He slackens, slacken at once: and do not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for He is God.

- Frederick Faber

Going slow is difficult for me. Especially since I’ve learned what it means to put my faith into action, and I just want to do it. Especially in a church that’s committed to the work of justice and the renewal of our city, and there’s so much to do. Especially in a city where your value is often based on your activity.

But in these contexts, going slow, even stopping, and learning to listen are particularly important. Because it’d be real easy to think when you’re busy and active that it’s what you do  that matters, rather than who you are and who you are becoming.

Who you are and who you are becoming are far more important than what you do.

So …

  • Remember to sabbath.
  • Build your life on a foundation of love and devotion for God.
  • Spend time tending to your soul by spending time with God — quality time.
  • Make time for things that give you life — whether that’s with friends or on your own (or both).
  • Build in habits of rest and silence and solitude and prayer.

William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery activist and parliamentarian — I’m guessing he was probably fairly busy — said,

Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer.

Doing good is good. Doing good is important. But doing good won’t last long if we’re disconnected from God because we’ll constantly feel stretched thin, worn out, and burned out. We weren’t made just to do good. We were made to live with Godto do life with God (and part of that involves doing good).

And doing life with God means we have to move at God’s pace — James Houston wrote, “The speed of godliness is slow.” So slow down a little; don’t miss what God’s doing.

[Both quotes taken from John Ortberg's Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You.]

Baptisms and birthdays

This past weekend, we celebrated:
EAST SIDE’S FIRST BIRTHDAY (yeah, it’s already been a year!). Thank you for your prayer and your support as the first District Church plant has reached this milestone — and we’re still here! It’s a tremendous testament to the grace of God at work, cultivating relationships, and we celebrated with a cookout in a couple East Siders’ back yard!
BAPTISMS. Five people got baptized on Sunday, including A., a teenager who’d walked into one of our first East Side services and stayed, helping out where she could and joining us for post-service dinners. Two weeks ago, I was able to pray with her to accept Jesus as her Savior, and on Sunday I was able to baptize her. It was an amazing experience and I may (or may not) have gotten a little choked up. Again, so grateful for the grace of God powerfully and evidently at work.
Please be praying for all of those who were baptized and for all of us here at The District Church, that we would continue to seek after God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbors.

A prayer request

With just under 50 days to go till the big day, Carolyn and I have been learning that the page-turn between chapters is a hard one, particularly when it happens in the middle of already-busy seasons and already-busy lives.
This past week, I moved out of my apartment and into the one that we’ll be sharing as a married couple … and by “I,” I mean “I packed my stuff up [see above] and then Carolyn and a bunch of our friends helped to move it all into the new place because I was teaching a discipleship class that night and it was the only night that either of us could do.”

This coming week(end), Carolyn moves her belongings out of her current house and into our apartment, and she moves herself to stay at a District Church friend’s a few blocks away until the wedding … and by “Carolyn,” I mean “Carolyn, me, and whichever friends can help on a holiday weekend.”

All that to say, this has been a challenging and tiring time for both of us – moving out, moving in, consolidating our stuff, getting rid of things, setting up a home, not being fully settled, flitting between homes – and I’ve definitely felt the need for God’s peace and strength to see us both through, even more so than when we were in the heat of wedding planning! So we’d really appreciate your prayers.

How Do I Know? Relationships Edition #2

[Part 2 of the blog adaptation from yesterday's message at The District Church: "How Do I Know? Relationships Edition." Read part 1 here.]

Holding handsHow do I know whom and how to date? Our city has one of the highest percentages of single people in the country; and our church is about two-thirds single.

Before you read this, you may want to read part 1 because how we view and practice Christian community has a tremendous impact on our dating lives. And that’s because how we view and practice Christian community has a tremendous impact on our lives, period.

It’s easy to think of romantic relationships as their own separate category: school, faith, work, friends, dating. But that sort of compartmentalization can be dangerous because faith is supposed to be interwoven through everything else. As theologian Abraham Kuyper said:

There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’

So what does it mean for your dating relationships—or, taking a step back, the way you look at romantic relationships—to belong to Jesus? Last summer I preached a sermon on what it means to be single (July 28, 2013)—you’re welcome to go back and listen to that too, if you want. But this week, I was reading a book and a line in it jumped out at me:

Jesus was the greatest Lover who ever lived.

My first reaction was to get defensive—What do you mean? Jesus was single and celibate his whole life—and if you’ve been following the latest news, the so-called fragment that said that Jesus was married was shown to be a fake. How can you say he was the greatest Lover who ever lived?

And I realized that I’d made the mistake that’s so easy to make, the mistake that the world around us makes all the time: confusing sex with love; thinking that in order to be a lover, in order for you to know what love is (and I want to know what love is), you have to have had sex or at the very least, been in a romantic relationship.

But Jesus lived the fullest life any human being has ever lived, he lived the most loving life any human being has ever lived, and from what the Bible tells us, he was never in a romantic relationship. So maybe we need to reevaluate our understanding:

  1. of what it means to be human,
  2. of what it means to be in relationship, and
  3. of what it means to experience life to the full.

You are not incomplete without a romantic relationship.

You are not any less because you are not married.

You are not barred from life to the full until you’ve had sex.

Your worth and your value are not based on your relationship status.

Your identity is not found in how many boyfriends or girlfriends you’ve had, whether you have one now, or whether you will ever have one.

We are all incomplete, flawed, and broken human beings; and none of us will find our completion in another incomplete, flawed, and broken human being. The early church theologian Augustine wrote,

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

We are made for God, and God alone will truly satisfy the deepest longings of our souls. Our problem is that we often put the expectation of a need that only God can meet on the shoulders of another person—with his or her own baggage and needs and sin—and in doing so, we fall into the trap that C.S. Lewis describes, where: “Love, having become a god, becomes a demon.” When we put all of our emphasis on romantic relationships, it can become all-consuming.

Now I’m not telling you to kiss dating goodbye. We are created for relationship, but not necessarily for romantic relationship, though we may get to experience that too. Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13, the passage where Paul talks about love, the passage that’s so often quoted at weddings:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Two quick things I want to point out. First, Paul isn’t talking here about romantic love—yes, love in the context of romantic relationships should look like this, but all love should look like this. Loving your friends, loving your parents, loving your siblings, loving your roommate, loving the folks in your small group, loving your colleagues, loving your boss, loving your neighbor … and loving your enemies. Jesus commanded that too. This is what love looks like in every situation.

We often approach marriage knowing that it’s going to be about sacrifice and commitment and putting the other person first and love in that sense; but we approach dating thinking it’s all about me and who fits best with me and who is most compatible with me.

I realized a couple years ago that, with that approach, I was basically looking for a person exactly like me but female and much better looking—she’d fit right in to everything I was already doing: love the same TV shows, the same books, have the same political stance and the same life experience. That would require the least effort and the least change. And I realized that that would also mean the least growth. So when Carolyn came along and was different in what felt like almost every way, apart from the fact that she loved Jesus as much as I did and she loved me like I loved her, I had to decide whether I wanted to stick with it and to grow, knowing it would be hard.

Here’s the second thing I want to point out about 1 Corinthians 13: it takes maturity to practice this kind of love. It takes self-control and sacrifice. It does not come easy. You can have many years under your belt and not practice this kind of love because you’re still living like a kid; you think the world revolves around you.

One of the ways God grows us is through relationship, through community: by bringing us into contact with other people. It reminds us that God is far bigger than just our experiences of him and it challenges us to keep growing, to keep being transformed to be more like Christ. So, if you want to know how you’re supposed to know whom and how to date, think about it in this way:

What will help me to become more like Jesus?

This question is applicable not only to romantic relationships, but to life and to every single “How do I know?” question you’ll ever have.

In the realm of dating, the odds are that you’ll meet someone who’s different from you, and you’ll have the opportunity to grow because you’re different. Sometimes the question you ask may be the one Carolyn and I asked: “Are we different in a way that complements each other or are we different in a way that drives us apart?” But if we try to look at it in light of the goal of becoming more like Jesus, the question may become more like:

Is this relationship helping both parties to do that or are your differences so great that you spend more time arguing than you do praying, more time defending your corner than you do serving each other, and more energy recovering from your reactions than moving together toward Christ?

Maybe what will help you become more like Jesus right now is to stop treating people as simply a means for fulfilling your needs—whether emotional or physical or sexual. Maybe you need to step back and step away from dating for a while because you’ve been bouncing from date to date, from person to person, hoping that you’ll meet “the One” as long as you keep churning through. Maybe God wants you to stop looking for the one you think you want to be with, and he wants you instead—and we’ve said this before—to be becoming the kind of person the kind of person you’re looking for is looking for.

And that person that you’ll want to become is probably patient and kind and not boastful or envious or arrogant; that person is probably a 1 Corinthians 13-type lover; that person is probably not actually worried whether he or she will end up with anyone because that person will know that it is God alone who satisfies; that person is probably very similar to what Jesus is like—that’s the person God wants you to be because that’s who you were made to be, because that is life to the full.

I’d encourage you to start letting God do some work in you now, because unless you take action to make changes—to allow God to be at work in you—what you do before you date is probably what you’ll do when you date, which is probably what you’ll do when you’re engaged and probably what you’ll do when you’re married. And that applies to everything: checking out good looking women or men whenever they walk by, turning back to old addictions when things don’t go the way you hoped, using dating relationships to fill the void in your life and distract you from the deeper issues or from the fact you don’t feel like you have any control. God has given you control over certain things in your life, including the direction you walk in, the person you model your life on, and the God you choose to trust.

There is no formula to know whom and how to date—though there are principles you can follow: treating each other with honor and respect as image-bearers of God, for instance; or treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. There is no formula to know the ‘right’ friends to hang out with or how often—we are all wired differently and so are the people God has placed around us.

Formulas don’t help us to become better people; formulas don’t help us to develop character; formulas don’t help us to grow because formulas don’t force us to wait or to figure out who we are choosing to become rather than just looking for what we think we need right now. Formulas don’t help us to become more like Jesus.

Relationships and community can help us to become more like Jesus; that’s why God intended for us to be in community—and specifically in the community of faith—worshiping together and praying together and weeping together and supporting each other on the path toward God and Christlikeness—not just the path toward marriage (which is only part of the road, though we often make it the whole).

Community is not just meant to be something you pay lip service to—“Yeah, I love community”—but when you make big decisions about where to live and where to work and where to go to school and whom to pursue and whether to move away from DC, you make that decision on your own and then just “brief” everyone. It’s in community that we encourage one another and challenge one another and submit to one another and sharpen one another, like iron sharpens iron; it’s in this community—the body of Christ—that we help each other—regardless of our relationship status—become whom God intended us to be.