Celibacy Because Of The Fall Of Man

Today I want to talk about the second of the three groups of people that Jesus talks about in Matthew 19 who are unable to marry.  You can see the general overview from the initial post here.  But as a quick refresher, Jesus said that there were three ways that a person could end up a eunuch (unable to marry).  The first was that they were born that way (physically or mentally unable to marry).  The second was those that were made that way by man (which I am suggesting can include those that end up there because of the fall of man).  The third, which we will discussed in the previous post, are those that choose celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

Today I want to focus on the second group, those that because of the fall of man, because of sin, end up celibate.

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The Sermon On Singleness You Won’t Hear

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about why married people need a singleness sermon series.  The reason I wrote that post was two fold.  First, we need married people and single people to be taught from Christian leadership the truth about the whole thing.  Single people need to learn from a marriage and married people need to learn from singleness.  It represents the whole of the story.  One without the other comes up short.

Secondly, I think that one of the reasons that more pastors and leaders are scared to preach and teach on this (besides never having thought about it) is that they don’t know how to include the married people in it.  I outlined that in that post and I’d encourage you to go back and read it if you haven’t.

Today I want to share with you the opening remarks of that sermon series.  It’s the sermon you probably won’t ever hear, but the only one with a real chance to matter.

So without further adieu – pretend I’m in your pulpit.

“Today we begin our sermon series on singleness and the gospel.  As I mentioned last week, we all need this sermon series – no matter what our marital context.  It’s important because it affects not just the unmarried in our congregation but the marrieds and our youth.  It all works together.  This is one of the most important things we’ve done here in a long time.

I want to start today by saying this.  Most of what you have heard about singleness is wrong.  On behalf of the church – our church here and the church universally – I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for all the times that we skimmed over it or mentioned it in passing including the obvious scriptures.  I’m sorry for all the times we focussed on the nuclear family instead of the family of God.  For all the platitudes and easy quick answers, I’m sorry.  For all the times that we said things without actually studying and thinking about how all this plays out in the gospel and in the lives of our people, I’m sorry.

In the fight to rescue our culture, we’ve often failed to engage all of our people.  In an effort to fight for the marriages in our church, we’ve often left out or glossed over the unmarried. To those who are unmarried and struggling, I’m sorry for where we have not taken your context seriously.  For all who are married, I’m sorry for how what we taught you about singleness (or didn’t teach you as the case may be) may have hurt your marriage.

For all the times, and there have been many, that we made it seem like the only important thing for the unmarried was not having sex – I’m sorry.  There have been times where we have treated you as less complete, less spiritual and less capable of leadership because you weren’t married.  That was wrong.

For those of you who are called to celibacy there are no words.  We have just flat screwed that up.  We haven’t talked about it or offered you any guidance, support or teaching.  Nor have we honored your calling and choice.  I ask your forgiveness.

For lumping all unmarrieds into one group, I’m truly sorry.  The truth is there are those who are single by calling, those who are single by choice, those who are single because of sin in their life or the sin of others.  There are those who don’t know how to get married but want to.  There are also those who are divorced – some biblically and others not so much and others who were divorced before they even knew Jesus.  Finally there are those who are widowed – who never expected to be unmarried again.  These are all completely different situations, and yet we’ve often treated them the same.  That was wrong.

We’ve taught you what not to do, but not what to do.  At times – too many times – we’ve made marriage and family an idol.  We repent of that here and now, in public. Jesus invites us all to be in the family of God – and so do we – no matter what.

One sermon series over the course of a few weeks cannot repair all of that.  It can’t possibly heal all the wounds or fix all the problems – for you as an individual and certainly not as a whole church.  But maybe it can be a starting point towards a different discussion – and a discussion that actually includes everyone.  The conversation won’t be easy or short, and we won’t all agree on everything.  But we have to have it – both for those inside our church and for the lost outside the church.

Our hope is that this series will open the door to a whole different way of seeing singleness, marriage and the Kingdom.  So, here we go. . . . ”

The serious guts it would take to say the above and pursue this series would be incredible and probably won’t happen.  But it would be awesome.  Talk about changing a room.

What would you want to see in a singleness sermon series?

 

Who Diagnoses Your Life?

One night a couple of years ago I began to have severe pain in my abdominal area.  At first it was small, but as the night wore on it got worse.  I remember being at the gas station and barely being able to get out of my car.  I went home and went to bed.  I was breaking into chills and sweat.  As I laid there I began to think of the possibilities.  Could it be my appendix?  An ulcer? Worse?  Was it food poisoning?  I thought about what I ate that day and self diagnosed that indeed that Ranch dressing and salad was the culprit.

I stuck it out and the next day felt a little better.  But I was still hurting some.  I took it easy, went to the bathroom about 10 times and by the next day I was practically normal. Looking back I think about how stupid this was.  What if it would have been my appendix?  At what point would I have self diagnosed that?  At what point would I have called for help?  The funniest thing is I actually know doctors.  It’s not like I even had to start with the hospital.  It could have been disastrous.  If I’d gone down that night in my house who would have known.

It’s one of the perils of being single.  28% of Americans live alone.  That means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 50% of singles live by themselves.  This can be bad for practical reasons as I’ve written about here.  There really is a safety factor.  What if you fall or pass out etc.?  What if I had self diagnosed wrong?  Who would know?  On top of this many of us work alone, or at least without a big office?  How long would it take for someone to know you’re missing in action?

But the safety factor pales in comparison to two others.

The reality is it’s pretty easy to get isolated.  Now I don’t mean that you don’t see or work with other people.  Of course we communicate and live in the real world.  But it is very easy to avoid real community and therefore end up without anyone speaking into our lives. As bad as self diagnosing a physical problem wrong could be, misdiagnosing our lives is worse – and we all do it.

All of us are deceived about our own story.  We misdiagnose both our sin and our wounds.

We look at our sin as minor and we never know the impact it has on others.  There is sin in our lives that never even sees the light of day because no one else is there to view it.  We might literally not even know we are doing it.  There is often no one to see it or call it out. There is no one to confess to.  We desperately need this.

Maybe worse, we end up believing lies about ourselves that affect everything we are doing.  If we only have our view of our story, we are in real trouble.  Things that were never our fault end up being.  We end up agreeing with ideas about our hurt that simply aren’t true.  We can spend our whole time fighting against things like, “I’m ugly”, “I’m stupid”, “I suck” etc.  It’s hard to see God’s view of us if we don’t have people in our lives who know our story and can speak into it.

In short we will take responsibility for stuff that isn’t our fault and brush off the stuff that is.  Everyone does this, married and single, but as a single person we are more likely to face little or no resistance to it.  And that is a problem.  We can hide if we want to – and we often do.

Some of us are thinking food poisoning when we need to be thinking appendicitis.  We need to reach out for some help.  Even if we have tried before and gotten burned.  We have to fight for community as a single person.  There is no doubt that it is harder.  Maybe not if you are 25 but as you hit 30-40 it is harder as a single.  I’m not whining, that’s just reality.  The Church culture is not set up for us.  28-40 is when all your crap hits the fan and you can not face that alone and win.  You just can’t.

If you misdiagnose your life at 25 you have a chance.  Do it at 35 and you’re screwed.  

1 John 1:5-7 says, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

As a single we have to find this.

Who besides you has a view of your story?  Who helps diagnose your life?  Where are you being deceived?

Is Marriage Under Attack?

There’s a lot of talk these days in the Christian community that marriage is under attack. The idea is that marriage is no longer seen as valuable or as a lifelong commitment.  I’ve heard it stated that young people don’t see it as important.

I can see how people come to this conclusion.  We are all well versed in the numbers. 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A third of first time marriages are over within 10 years. But, the divorce rate has actually dropped steadily for the last couple of decades. (That doesn’t make it good, but it’s not going up).  (This is also in spite of the fact that no fault divorce has been legal in 48 states since 1983).

But one of the biggest reasons the divorce rate is going down is that people aren’t getting married to begin with.  Only 51% of all people in the U.S. are married at all.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 have ever been married.  That number is down from 60% 40 years ago. Catch that number again – 80% of adults 30 and under have never been married.

But here’s the part that should have everyone freaking out.  A lot of singles seem to not care about getting married.  They seem to be saying do whatever you want.  We haven’t quit having sex or even living with other people and having kids.  This is where the numbers are just astounding.  41% of women aged 15-44 have cohabited.  The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased 88% from 1990 to 2007.  Most startling of all, since the late 1980’s more women in the U.S. give birth to their first child out of wedlock than as a married person.  Read that last line again!

So everyone is dong what every generation has done. . . except get married.

That is not Biblical singleness.  Let me assure you that when the Bible talks about singleness it is not talking about living with someone and having a kid or two.

But here is where I think we are missing it. I’ve met literally thousands of people currently age 15-35.  I don’t actually think young singles are devaluing marriage.  In fact, a recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men said that marriage was somewhat or very important.  Only 5% said that it wasn’t important at all.

The problem is they have no idea how to do singleness and most don’t know how to get married. Many are scared crapless of marriage or better stated they are scared of divorce and bad marriages.  People like the idea of marriage, they just don’t know how to do it.

Marriage is under attack but not in the way we think.  The problem isn’t that people don’t want it.

I think we need a new strategy.  We need to quit defending marriage, and start helping people figure out how to get married.  This is going to take a lot more than slogans and rhetoric.  We are going to have to get messy.  We are going to have to actually go after these people.

First we have to help define what marriage really is.  We need a right theology and practice of marriage.  This is one thing that the Church is doing very, very well.  There has been a huge movement in the last 20 years to talk about marriage in a new way with an emphasis on covenant and commitment.  We have gotten much more real about how hard that can be.  We’ve become more practical and real in our sermons and books.  We’ve stepped up Christian marriage counseling.  I’ve been hard on the Church here and there so I want to give due credit here.  The Church truly is fighting for the married.  Not perfectly of course but they have changed.

But we also have to figure out how to help the unmarried.  We have to step into the mess, not just send out conflicting and confusing spiritual platitudes.  Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.  We have to help them face fear, be it fear of commitment, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of divorce, fear of choosing wrong, fear of being let down, fear of how hard it is, or fear that they’ve already disqualified themselves.

That requires reaching out to them.  Want to change the culture?  Change how we do singleness.  Want to help people not have sex outside of marriage?  Want to deal with homosexuality, abortion and porn in a new way, and help young single people navigate this stuff?  Then help these young single people understand the theology of celibacy and marriage.  Help them pursue one or the other. Don’t just call out their sin, help them face their fear, hurt, and wounds. We need some sermons and books on this.  We need Christian singles counseling – dead serious.

Right now, over all, we are not winning.  But it isn’t because young singles don’t want to be married.  We are helping married people stay married.  It’s time to help single people get married.

The Single Christian’s Anguish

This last weekend I borrowed a buddies truck and went down to my parent’s town to pick up some various items from my Grandmothers house that had just sold.  Things like a bookshelf, patio furniture and oddly enough Christmas dishes (some things really do change when you get married – Christmas dishes?).

At any rate, it’s about a 3 hour drive and since I didn’t have my ipod, I grabbed a few random old cds.  As I slid one of them in and the music came on, I just smiled.  It was a cd that a friend and I had made in a studio just over 10 years ago.

Now I wrote all kinds of songs but most fell into one of two categories.  The first was worship type songs – I mean I’m a Christian right?  But the second, was songs about the hurt I had in the dating world.

This cd was no different.  But it was the third song that made me famous among my friends.  It’s a great song.  It really is. It’s so full of emotion.  I wrote it in my basement at age 23, literally in under 10 minutes.  I had just been told by another female that she just saw me as a friend.  To be honest it wasn’t really about her, it was about the whole damn thing.

The last lines go like this:

Outside, looking in/ You’re using that excuse that you’ve used again and again and again/ It may be your loss, but it sure as hell ain’t my win/ It seems I’ve been caught, following my heart once again.

As I listened I had a range of emotions.  In a way it is so long ago.  That song is almost 20 years old.  And yet there is so much of my story there.  When it came to dating and marriage, I really was outside looking in.

There is anger in the song but anger it too simple a word to describe what I felt for really 15 years of my life.  A better word is anguish.

Here’s your google definition – Anguish – Severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Now there were all sorts of parts to my story and why I felt that.  I was not good with the ladies and I knew it.  I also had come to know Jesus at the end of high school, so now I needed to date not only someone where there was attraction, but also who knew Jesus. So as I left college, I was now looking for the one.

To be honest, as I got older, the anguish got worse, not better.  As I hit my late 20’s doing ministry in a college town, I was surrounded by great women who liked Jesus -none of whom I could date (or at least that is what I thought then).  Toss in some religion and self righteousness and I was in trouble.  To be honest, I just shut it down.

Then I moved to St. Louis and all of a sudden, there were options.  But the problem was, now I was screwed up.  I was a complete mess in this area of my life.  It was like somehow my awkwardness had grown.  All of this was exasperated by religious platitudes about how God just hadn’t sent me the person yet.

I share this because the anguish of many singles (especially in the Church) is completely underestimated and un-dealt with.  There are a lot of really hurting people.

Not everyone who is single wants to or should be married.  Some are called to celibacy for the kingdom.  But most are not and frankly it hurts.  And as you get older it raises a lot of questions.

The Church needs to deal with this by loving these people well.  We need people who step into our lives for real, not just with passing judgement and advice.  If we are going to face our anguish and get free of it that probably won’t happen alone.

But we as single people must actually face it.  We have to because if we don’t it will grow.  Anguish doesn’t get smaller.  You can disguise it, funnel it into work/ministry as I mostly did, or even just try to kill it.  But if we don’t deal with it and the wounds that both caused it, and come from it, we are screwed.

For me it came crashing down as I began to see that I was broken.  A woman I had pursued told me that she wanted to like me but didn’t.

I knew stuff was off.  All the things that I thought were holding me back, actually weren’t.  I had completely lost my way in this area of my life.  I remember thinking over and over again, “No!, No, No, No.  This isn’t right.”

All of it kind of came to a head and instead of going home, I sat in my office all night.  I literally sat on the floor and cried.  The anguish was real.  I told God, “just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

I was 35 and I was lost in this one.  I sought counsel and God provided.  People stepped up, mentors fought for me and frankly I had to do some hard work.  It was humbling.  It was awesome.  God changed me.

As I listened to “Outside Looking In” I smiled.  It’s a great song!  But I’m glad I’m not there now.

If you are in anguish may God step into your hurt.  May you one day be free from it.

Here’s the song Outside Looking In

Quit Beating Yourself Up

I don’t get mad super easily.  It’s a gift from my family, as my parents are the same way.  I can get pretty fired up and intense (those who know me are laughing) but in my heart it takes a lot to make me actually mad at another person – with the exception of the guy who cut me off in traffic, but that’s a whole other problem – Ha.

But when it comes to myself, it takes very, very little for me to get mad.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the fact that we are mad at God.  This is true for basically everyone but as singles it is very easy for us to become bitter towards God because He hasn’t “delivered” a spouse.  But the second person who I’m most mad at, if I’m honest, is me.

Now I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog challenging us to look at our crap and deal with our sin.  I’ve said we spend too much time over spiritualizing singleness, marriage and dating and it keeps us from dealing with reality and our shortcomings.  I’ve said a lot of the reason that we are single is us.  I absolutely, 100% stand by all of that.  But today I want to flip the script a little.

There’s so many directions I could take this but let’s start with a couple of key points.  First off it’s important to realize that we are not the only actor on the stage.  In our current Christian Culture we often act like the whole thing is about us and God and that only the two of us are in the story.  This is so bad on so many levels theologically, philosophically, and practically.  But it is also bad in our context of singleness.  It assumes that either I or God is to blame for everything that goes into me being single.

This can lead to a inaccurate view of the truth.  There are other players in the game.  For example, when you ask someone out, you have no idea what is going on in her world. Maybe her saying no has nothing to do with you.  The other person is on the stage.  I mean there’s been times when I think I’ve missed on someone I should have pursued – someone could make a mistake with you.

Even when it comes to dealing with our own brokenness we need to be careful.  Let’s say I struggle with passivity towards women.  Well being mad at myself for being passive isn’t going to help.  I need to dive into where that comes and while that will include my own sin, most of the time it will also include healing from wounds inflicted by . . . you guessed it. . . other people.

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that we have an enemy.

Usually what I do is first I get mad at God, then realize how stupid that kind of is, and start being mad at myself.  It’s very easy to just start pummeling myself – usually pouring salt into the wounds I’ve faced.  “I’m just not good enough” “Why did I say that to her – I’m so stupid.” “If I had my stuff more together” “I’m pathetic (worthless, ugly, a screwup, etc.)”. By the way this all get’s turned up a notch if I think there is only THE ONE and I’m scared of blowing it.

Making matters worse is that often the Church accidentally pours it on.  In attempt to remind us that we don’t earn salvation we often seem to define ourselves as just sinners.  I get the point but man we have to be careful.  All bad stuff comes from sin, but not everything that happens comes from my sin.  It’s not all my fault but I’m a part of the problem.

Worst of all what we usually do is get it backwards.  We view how we got wounded as somehow our fault and then we excuse our sinful reactions to it.  Holy smokes that’s bad.  We HAVE to reverse that.

Dealing with our sin, wounds, and shortcomings is critical.  But beating the crap out of ourselves adds to that.  That is not from God.  It is not humility.  In addition when it comes to dating it will never, never be attractive.  Never, not even a little.

When I’m mad at myself, I need to stop and ask what is going on underneath.  (For me personally it’s a huge check engine light – time to get under the hood).  I need to stop and get an accurate view of what is going on (community is key here), and then if it is something that has to do with me, I need to take that to Jesus and go about figuring out how to change it.

Where in the context of Singleness do you beat yourself up?  Do you only see you and God on the stage?

We Are Mad At God

When I was in college and right out of college, ok until I was 32 or so, I spent a lot of time (and I mean a lot of time) praying to God about getting a spouse.  It was a focus, I would now say an idol.  I wrote songs about it. The songs were about hurt, pain and angst.  Haha. I can laugh now but it’s what I felt.

I think it’s really easy as a single to become bitter.  You watch others have something that you want and you don’t have it.  It’s in your face – especially in the Christian culture. We desire to be with someone and we aren’t.  That seems like grounds to be upset.

For me I feel like my anger really started as a teenager.  I just wasn’t good with the ladies. But I never saw what I did wrong, what I saw was that I couldn’t get the whatever girl I was currently obsessed with.  College was ok, but then after college I fell into the trap of bitterness again.  It’s understandable, but it’s not a very good path.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to write about the people we get mad at as singles.  For today I want to focus on the main person we are mad at – God.  That’s right. We might not say it, but really that is where a lot of our bitterness and anger comes from.

Why God?!  Why can’t you bring me someone?!  I remember one day in my late twenties walking out of my office on a beautiful fall afternoon.  I looked at the day, my work (which was going extremely well), the opportunities I had in ministry.  I looked at the car I was driving and I thought about all God has provided for me.  But I also felt confused.  Why could God bring me all of that but not a wife?  I would think, “Come on God, I’m trying to follow you.  I’m doing your work.  I’m trying to live a pure life – when is it my turn.” Can you hear the entitlement?  Does God owe you a spouse?

Look I think it is good to be real.  If you are frustrated then you might as well take that to God.  But it’s dangerous as a single to stay there.  It’s so easy to let our focus slide to what we don’t have, what we want so much and what we think we are missing out on.

It’s one thing to share my frustration but it’s another to live in bitterness.  

It’s bad because I begin to view the world around me through that lens.  It changes how I view my married friends.  It gives the enemy a foothold to work with.  Can you just hear the enemy’s voice, “See, God doesn’t deliver on the stuff that you really want.” or, “God could do it but He doesn’t want to.”

In one sense it puts the focus squarely on me.  It becomes all about what I want, what I don’t have and I’m mad about it.  It’s all about me.  It also affects me because it makes me way less attractive to the opposite sex.  No one wants to date the mad, bitter, feeling sorry for themselves person.  I see this in my single friends a lot.  I know it because I’ve lived it. Ladies, no guy wants to date the girl who is whining about being single.  We are scared of the desperate chick.  Trust me.  And gentlemen, no girl, and I mean NO girl, wants to date and angry, depressed, focussed on what’s wrong guy.

This leads me to another key problem.  When we make it all God’s fault we tend not to deal with the parts that are our fault.  I wish I would have had less people who fed me spiritual platitudes about God’s timing, God’s preparing someone for me, and God’s got stuff to teach me, and more people who would have told me how I was doing it all wrong.

We all have wounds that mess us up in this area, are we working on those?  Maybe we date all the wrong people – is that God’s fault of something from inside me that I need to figure out?  Maybe I need to work on my appearance or my approach – is that God’s fault?  Maybe I want every girl to like me too much and have a huge approval idol.  Is that God’s fault?

There’s a flip side here and it’s important – it’s not all my fault.  I’m going to get to being mad at ourselves later.  But the first person we are usually mad at is God and we need to get that worked out.

So are you mad at God that He doesn’t have you married yet?  Have you spent time being bitter?  How has that affected you and your relationship with friends, the opposite sex, and most of all God?