Singleness & Spirituality

Singleness & Spirituality

In the 2018 blog posts, I intend to focus on family and relationship matters as they relate to the spiritual life. I plan to share insights by way of both book reviews and devotional thoughts from God’s word. As you seek God in this new year, I hope that you’ll follow along, that you’ll be blessed by the content, and that you’ll receive some direction about where to look further for spiritual wisdom in relational and family matters. Our vision here at West is for Jesus to fill every heart, head, and hand. I pray that these articles may be one way of leaning into that vision.

With Saint Valentine’s Day nearly upon us, love is in the air! I’ve been taking the same beautiful gal out on dates at this time for nearly 13 years now, so for me, the decision of “Who?” has been settled. Now, the decisions are narrowed to “Where?” “When?” and “How do we secure a babysitter before everyone else does?!” However, many of my friends are still asking that first “Who?” question, and they’re not just asking it for February 14th, but they’re asking it about their lifelong partner. “Who?”

Unique Challenges to the Single Life

I want to acknowledge the unique challenges of the single life today, at least the ones I am aware of. I add that disclaimer, because honestly, I don’t know what it’s like to be single today. I was single over fourteen years ago. Things have changed. Yet, some things are timeless for any single person of any era. Single people today wrestle with God about their marital status; some single people may be disappointed. You may feel like you missed your only chance to be happy, and you are still blaming yourself. Others wonder if they’ve waited too long. Impatience short-circuits the spiritual development needed to prepare you for what is next. The single person may find it difficult to find his or her place and voice in the church’s vision, mission, and goals. You may be dating someone right now, and you are looking for guidance. Finally, some of you are boiling angry that the thing that people notice most about you is your singleness, instead of the gazillion other wonderful things about you (Cue: SCREAM!!! Go ahead; let it out.).

In 2011, I performed a cultural assessment on the layers of the world’s voice and message to people, particularly in the areas of romance and singleness. The world has something to say to you, but it is the way of folly. The way of folly always leads to a grave of many kinds of spiritual death. The single, faithful Christian set on purity and pursuing God will receive ridicule from the world. Virginity today is mocked instead of treasured and protected. Unfortunately, single people who seek refuge in the church often encounter an even more perplexing, profound, and painful mockery. I have talked to single adults throughout my years and places of ministry who have experienced blindspots in the church when it comes to singles. For example, the church hurts singles when it carries the unspoken “rule” that marriage is the rite of passage into true adulthood.

Unique Joys in the Single Life

I also want to encourage the unique joys of the single life. It can be a season of unique friendship. The single life may provide a unique opportunity for adventure, education, career advancement, and spiritual maturity. It is a time for your skill in living to develop in areas such as finance, responsibilities, exercise, and trades and crafts that will benefit you and others. It most definitely presents a time of unique Christian ministry—particularly in connecting with and edifying children, tweens, and teens. Don’t worry; I’m going to catch myself here: Single adults also have a unique ministry to the church and its adult ministries. A faithful, single Christian adult is able to write, teach, and minister with a clarity, conviction, and boldness that sometimes escapes married people because the affections of our hearts are divided. Paul—a faithful, single Christian—called married people out on this, remember?

He wrote,

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another . . . I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, 26–35).

I have had the privilege to serve with an array of solid, single people throughout my pastoral ministry. They don’t simply acquire joy, but they spread their joy to those around them. They are often very self-less with their time, resources, and giftedness. The church is the body of Christ, and single people are significant members of the body—both historically and today.

Harmonizing with God’s Voice

Single friends, keep seeking God. Harmony is a wonderful sound to experience. God’s voice is clear, constant, reliable, and trustworthy. We must find his voice on the matters of the spiritual life. I’d like to share a number of harmonic voices that have helped me explore God’s wisdom on the single life. This list is by no means conclusive; in fact, I would love to hear from single people about what they’re reading these days on Christian spirituality and the single life. I hope that in the end you are able to find your voice and add it to the harmony. Here are a few resources that impacted my life in a way that matured my spirituality as a single person and a couple of newer ones that I recently encountered:

Oldies But Goodies

  1. The Bible — Well, duh Captain Obvious. I know, but seriously; consider all of the single writers and characters of the Bible (e.g., Jesus, Paul, Jeremiah). Still further, consider the characters whom we observe both as single and married (e.g., Joseph, David, Ruth, Naomi, etc.). Clearly, God employs people who are single to advance his purposes on the world stage. God made us, understands us, and cares for us. What kind of theology of the single life might you gain from studying God’s word from this perspective?
  2. He That Is Spiritual — I’ve read this book several times. I’ve gone back to it again and again when teaching on the spiritual life. It was written by Lewis Sperry Chafer in 1918. The book is an exposition on the (1) Natural Person, (2) Spiritual Person, (3) Carnal Person (the Christian who should be mature, but isn’t), and (4) Spiritual Infant (a new Christian). For Chafer, the key to the spiritual life is understanding the ministries of the Holy Spirit available to you in Christ alone. As a single person, this book helped establish me on a path of seeking the filling of the Spirit and of trusting in his works of grace in my life. It helped me put away some childish things and embrace the responsibility for my spiritual life.
  3. Basic Theology — It doesn’t have to be this particular theology for you, but every single person should work though a volume on basic Christian theology. What do you believe? It’s important for you to know, and it’s important for you to be able to share. I went through Charles Ryrie’s Basic Theology numerous times. I used it for teaching early on in my ministry.
  4. Wild at Heart — Aimee, my wife, reminded me the other day how important this book was to me when we first met. She’s right. Wild at Heart was written by John Eldridge. This book is for men, but ladies, I hope you can find something that is equivalent. There comes a point in every adult’s life where they have to face their past—things that were in our control and things that were not but affected us nonetheless. This book helped me confess, heal, and advance as a man who wanted to experience God.
  5. I Kissed Dating GoodbyeThere are actually some interesting, current developments going on with this 90s–2000s classic. For me in my own experience, it exposed the sexual and emotional sewage in which I had been swimming. It showed me the lies that I’d believed about love, trust, dating, happiness, purity, and more. It helped me discern what matters at 50. It caused me to be honest about the sickness in my heart. It challenged me in the area of genuine friendship. Joshua Harris had some wise things to say back in 1997 that are still relevant today; however, he may be presently fine-tuning his thoughts on IKDG. As a new Christian in 2001 wondering what on earth Christian spirituality in dating was supposed to look like, this book helped me.
  6. The Book of Romance — Harris’ book deconstructed my non-biblical worldview for dating, but Tommy Nelson’s book helped build something new in its place. Nelson looks at the biblical book of the Song of Songs, and paints a beautiful picture of what romance can be like for the person who loves God.
  7. Passion and Purity — Elisabeth Elliot’s book interwove the spiritual life and the romantic life by means of her own story. As a man, the book gave me insight into a woman’s perspective. A new edition was released in 2002. She’s real about our passions; she’s tenacious about purity. She understands that whatever estate we may find ourselves in, our lives must be brought under Christ’s control and lordship.

Newbies

  1. Just Do Something — Every Christian at some point has to have a frank conversation about “God’s will” for their lives. If you’re like me, you needed more than one conversation to clear the fog. John MacArthur has a sermon that I have listened to again and again for years. More recently, Kevin DeYoung authored this book. I love the subtitle: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will OR How To Make a Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, Etc.
  2. Gospel Fluency — In the Christian’s spiritual life either at the beginning or at a point of revival or re-commitment, he or she must encounter the reality that the gospel of Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING. When it is replaced by some counterfeit, the whole of Christianity crumbles. Jeff Vanderstelt places the gospel on the throne of the spiritual life.
  3. Exploring Christian Theology — If Ryrie is a little too old school for you, then try this three-volume set. Don’t worry; each volume isn’t too terribly long. The authors are professors whom I spent time with in seminary, and they have really put together a great beginner’s theology that also connects with the devotional life.
  4. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy — And may I add, single guy. Bonhoeffer was engaged, and he has some other books on that particular topic. However, his engagement was cut short. Eric Metaxas’ biography shows how God was at work in Bonhoeffer’s life and how he redeemed the time during evil days.
  5. Your Money Map — This book by Howard Dayton is one in a long line of succession from Larry Burkett’s influence. As a single Christian, one of the most beneficial things I did was to complete a financial workbook that gave me a sense of what God has to say about money. Single or married, a person needs to know how to handle money, or it will handle you!
  6. Living Together — In a world where cohabitation is on the rise and viewed as a smart thing to do, this book offers biblical insight and wisdom on the matter, particularly for those who find themselves in a situation to give advice. It’s written by my former pastor, Jeff VanGoethem. All the research says the same thing—cohabitation lays a poor foundation for marriage as a sacred covenant and as a life-long commitment. Single adults need to wake up about this, and the church needs to know how to approach the trend with grace and truth.

There are many more books that could or should be included. but these are some with which I have become familiar. I hope that you’ll let me know what book or stories God has used in your life as a single person. Face the challenges with courage. Embrace the joys with great delight. Remember that Jesus loves you; he has not lost track of you in the crowd. May the church be blessed by your presence.

What Is Revival? Part 2

Revival

Last month, we began to give our attention to Dr. Timothy Keller’s words on revival as it is portrayed in the Bible. He defined it as

. . . the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.

Those ordinary operations are (1) conviction of sin, (2) conversion, (3) giving of assurance, and (4) sanctification. He also suggested that in biblical revival three things happen: (1) sleepy Christians wake up; (2) nominal Christians are converted; and (3) hard to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. A revival of the adoration of God and the gospel, that begins within the church, beautifies the church in such a way that makes it attractive to even the hardest to reach unbeliever.

This brings us to Keller’s next movement in his teaching on biblical revival. He expresses five marks or theological descriptors of revival. First, whenever there is a season of revival in the church, it usually goes hand in hand with a recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is recovered from legalism and lawlessness. The gospel is neither of these things. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection is better than sacramental traditionalism, and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is also better than the antinomian (i.e., anti-law) chaos that James would call “demonic” (2:19). We have been saved by grace through faith, and the faith that saves is a faith that works (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). The new birth only gives birth to a persevering faith that saves and works. Keller instructs that the recovery of the true gospel is the first theological mark of revival.

The second theological mark of revival is repentance, not emotional bubbly-ness, but awe, even silence and stillness, not necessarily noisy. Preachers may be in revival with the gospel when the church gets quiet . . . no fighting or quarreling or bickering, but rather peace, unity, love, mercy, and listening.

A third theological mark of revival is anointed, corporate worship. On Tuesday, February 3rd, 1970, the students of Asbury College assembled for their normal, routine, required chapel service. Instead, a testimony from Adademic Dean Custer Reynolds gave way to testimonies from students, students pouring to the altar in prayer, songs, and repentance among both the student body and faculty. People began seeking forgiveness from one another for sins committed, and others committed their lives to Christ for the first time. The revival continued throughout the week, and then it spread through the students and faculty into other churches and places as they were invited to speak. Evangelism and mission flowed out of the revival that broke forth on the Asbury campus. Anointed, corporate worship happens when people show up at church expecting to encounter God, instead of treating church like their regular meeting at the local social club. Do you go to church expecting to meet God? Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 14 that the presence of God during the church’s worship should be tangible enough to “cut to the heart” of the unbeliever who may show up.

Fourth, revival also sparks real church growth. You can have some church growth without revival, but you cannot have revival without church growth. Also, I say real church growth, because there is mostly fake church growth being peddled these days. When churches “swap sheep,” that isn’t real church growth. It can be terribly unhealthy, and it could mean that church members are failing to reconcile relationships and conflicts at their previous house of worship. Others leave their church because another church “offers so much more”; therefore, consumerism rather than commitment becomes the basis for choosing. They fail to recognize that if all the people who left to attend the “Grass Is Greener Church” remained at the church to which they had originally committed, God could use them to be a part of a fresh work and a new season at their former church. Instead, they find themselves at a church where there are already tons and tons of gifted people, and their former church finds itself struggling to meet all of its ministry needs. Local pastors (including myself) should commit to healthy growth for their church and area churches by holding attenders accountable to their membership covenants. We aren’t helping people grow into mature Christians by turning a blind eye to unreconciled conflicts or to consumeristic tendencies. After all, a recovery of the gospel means a recovery of reconciliation and a recovery of perseverance. There’s probably only two reasons why a person should ever leave the church where they are members: (1) a geographical move, or (2) heresy (i.e., doctrinal or ethical deviance from core biblical truths). Real church growth in numbers results from conversions caused by evangelistic activity, and real church growth in maturity results from effective discipleship and Christians learning experiences. People transformed by the gospel in revival turn out to be bold and humble evangelists themselves.

Lastly, prayer marks revival. Extraordinary, kingdom-centered, prayer. Simple, yet sincere prayer, like that of the little girl named Florrie Evans, who sparked the great Welsh Revival of 1904–1905, who simply testified to Pastor Joseph Jenkins,

I love Jesus with all my heart.

The revival that followed saw more than 100,000 people profess Christ as Savior. You see, all of these great revival movements of the past were preceded by Christians burdened to pray. A dear friend always says to me, “Prayer isn’t everything, but everything comes by prayer.” A call and commitment to pray may very well lead us into a revival, and if revival comes, people will not want to stop praying for they will have found that sweet presence of God. Some of the Welsh Revival prayer meetings extended into the early morning hours, some lasting until 3:00am.

The gospel, repentance, worship, church growth, and prayer mark true revival. How do you seek revival? Go after these theological marks. In the First Great Awakening, there was the method of outdoor preaching, but outdoor meetings are required. In the NYC revival between 1857–1859, noon-time prayer meetings led by lay people catalyzed the Spirit’s work. Keller states, “Revival is like Narnia—you can’t get in the same way twice!” Keller goes on to explain that one of the tragedies of the Welsh Revival was that people got “stuck” in their method. Revivals, instead, oftentimes spark through new, creative methods of ministry as major cultural upheavals are taking place. Keller closes with two exhortations for today’s church to seek revival. First, for the church to experience revival today, sexuality must be addressed from a biblical perspective. The bible has much to say on the topic that we as a culture are neglecting and suppressing—even in the church. This is one of the major cultural upheavals we are facing. We must find a way to speak truthfully and lovingly about sexuality from God’s perspective. Second, revivals start with small things, much like avalanches begin with pebbles. Pastors and church leaders need to be willing to faithfully start with something small. Fabricating something huge from the popular church down the road may make us as famous as the next guy, but it isn’t  likely to spark revival. Don’t neglect that little group that wants to gather for prayer once a week.

Psalm 65 praises the Lord,

Praise is due you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.

O how we need such a God in our day, friends. May we pray to him, and may he hear, forgive, act, and maintain our cause in the gospel of his beloved Son.

2016 WLC Pastoral Intern: Seth Larson

Getting Started

Before I started my internship with Rex Howe, I believed that a pastor’s’ role in a church is to lead the congregation that God has placed him to lead. I still believe this, but I now realize that I thoroughly underplayed the role of a pastor in a church, but I will get back to that later.

I decided to enroll in this internship during the winter of 2015. I had been in close contact with my friend, Mitch Friestad, and he expressed that he enjoyed his time in the year previous with Rex as his intern. Once I told Rex about my ambitions to become his intern, he asked me what I wanted to get out of the internship. I had no idea. I think he could tell by my expressionless look that I was racking my brain to find an answer to a question that, to a normal person, should have required no thought . . . But I’m no normal person. Rex began listing off different things that we could go over as an internship. He mentioned things like biblical theology, pastoral ministries, missions, apologetics, and religious philosophy. My ears perked up when he said apologetics. I have always enjoyed the art of defending the Christian faith. There had been times when I was at work or I was at school, and someone would bring up their doubt or hatred of Christianity, and I was immediately happy, because that meant I had the opportunity to, “Give an answer to anyone who asks me for the reason for the hope that is in me” (1 Peter 3:15b). So, Christian Apologetics is where we decided to focus the internship.

Ministry Description and Experience

Studying 1 Peter 3:15, we discovered that there are two kinds of apologetics—a professional, academic kind and a pastoral, equipping the lay congregation kind. Because of these two distinct paths, we also decided to briefly dive into what it looks like to be a pastor of a church, on account that I would like to be a pastor some day. Through the course of the internship, we read 2 books. One titled, Apologetics for a New Generation by Sean McDowell, and The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. Both of these books were amazing. We also read most of the Gospel of John. We also watched a series of apologetics videos by Voddie Baucham such as how to use apologetics appropriately and expository apologetics. Towards the end of my internship, we did a project. I asked my peers what they thought was the number one spiritual question that their peers asked. We received a ton of great feedback. When the poll was finished, the most voted question was, “How can a good God allow pain and suffering?” As it turned out, Rex has a friend named Rick Rood (author of Our Story . . . His Story) who was very qualified to answer this question. I then spent a day finding eleven sub-questions[1] related to the main question of God, pain, and suffering. We made contact with Rick through Skype, a computer software that allows face-to-face video chatting, and asked him all of the sub-questions that I developed:

  1. Does God have control over my pain?
  2. If God allows these things to happen (pain and suffering), then does he love/care for me?
  3. Is there a bigger plan to my pain?
  4. Do other religions have an explanation as to why there is pain and suffering? If so, what are they?
  5. Does God understand/sympathize with our pain?
  6. Can God take away my pain or suffering? If so, why doesn’t God take away my pain/suffering?
  7. Does God find joy in my pain and suffering?
  8. Is my pain or suffering always the consequence of something that I have done?
  9. What part do I play in rededying my pain?
  10. How does the theme of pain and suffering develop in God’s story?
  11. How do I become a blessing to those who are in pain and suffering?

We recorded the conversation. I then did a two-week bible study at West Lisbon that involved showing the youth group the footage of the video conference between us and Rick via iMovie, and the second week I talked to the youth group about apologetics. Both of these went very well.

Internship Reflections

I remember at the end of the year thinking “I learned so much about apologetics, but I didn’t learn as much about how to be a pastor.” I didn’t have many one-on-one conversations about what it’s like to be in the pastoral ministry like we did with apologetics. Then I thought, maybe he was teaching me a little differently. Then I realized, I think that he was teaching me, just without talking. He led by example. He showed me how to be a leader by never being afraid to pause our internship to help anyone that came into the church that needed to talk to him. He taught me to be spontaneous by going to subway and reading John just because it was beautiful outside. He taught me to not be afraid to talk in front of people by having me do a bible study in front of my peers for two weeks. He showed me that to do what God calls me to do, I have to be willing to do the hard things, like when he truly showed me how much he preps for a Sunday sermon and how much work that entails. And finally, he showed me the imperativeness of mentoring others and sharing your knowledge with others. He did this by being gracious enough to allow me to study under him for a semester of school and gain some of the knowledge that he holds.

So now, when I think of all of the things that a pastor does, it isn’t a once every seven day gig. It is a nonstop job that only few have been given the gifts from God to carry out. My words can’t do a justice to what this internship has done for me, and I hope and pray that I am not the last to receive all that has been given to me in the last year. And above all, I thank God and Rex for all that I have learned since January.

Sincerely,

Seth Larson

2016 WLC Pastoral Intern

[1] Rick’s answers to these questions are available and can be printed or emailed. Please contact Pastor Rex to get a copy.