Four Things the Single Parent Needs from the Church

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Single parenting! I remember those days well! When I entered into this stage in my life I had just left the military but little did I realize I was entering into an even bigger challenge. One that would demand more physical and mental stamina than my Drill Sergeants had demanded from me.

My daily routine consisted of getting not only myself, but the kids, out of bed and ready for the day. I’d get them to the babysitter or school, then off to work I’d go. After work it was time to pick up the kids from the babysitter, arrive home, fix dinner, clean the house, help with homework, bathe the kids, then sit down to work on bills, plan meals, get up to clean the daily clutter and wash the dishes–all before collapsing in bed at night, depressed with the thought  that tomorrow would start the routine all over again. It felt like each day was a battle that left me exhausted, sometimes bloodied and bruised. I’d wake with the new sunrise, facing another battle to be won.

Chances are that within your church are many of these brave troops . Whether you are on staff or a concerned brother or sister, these brave soldiers need you and your church. They may not admit it, they may not even know it, but they need fellow believers to come alongside them in their daily battles.

Here are 4 things all singles need from the church to accomplish the goal of raising children who love and honor God.

  1.  Love: This is such a no-brainer really. We all need love, but single parents need to experience unconditional love and acceptance from the church. Single parents come in all shapes and sizes. Single parents can be widowed, divorced, or never married. They may have purposely adopted children while single. They may be taking care of nieces and nephews or grandchildren. They need to be known and loved for who they are and who they can become. Every situation, every single parent family is unique and face unique challenges but they all hold great potential and can be a great asset to your church. They just may need a little extra help to get there.
  2.  Protection: To begin with, the church must be a safe place for their kids. Your children’s ministry should be clean, safe, well-staffed and maintained. Make sure the staff knows who is allowed or not allowed to pick up the kids. A check-in system is vital in any children’s ministry. Single parents may be going through custody battles and who picks up their child could mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, I believe single parents may need protection from predators who may target their children based upon their vulnerabilities. This can be especially important for young mothers. We have all heard the horror stories of children being abused by a stepdad or mother’s boyfriend. Single parents who are left to deal with life alone may, in some cases, let their guards down because they are desperate for companionship and in real need of help in the home. The church can and should protect against this by coming alongside single parents to provide them with the very things that leave them vulnerable. Families of the church can help single parents by offering things like child care and assistance with transportation to events or sports practice. Churches can provide classes and advice about dating, what to look for in a man or woman, and how to introduce them to your children. These are only some of ways the church can provide protection for the parent and the child.
  3.  Help: This can come in many forms. Everything from outside yard work, handyman work in and outside of the house, babysitting, or providing housing. Assistance can come in many forms, but the most effective help comes from knowing the single parent personally so you can know the best ways for the church to step up. The single parent may need assistance education about handling their finances, dating advice, or classes on parenting techniques. Unless the church makes an intentional effort to get to know the parent and discover their needs those needs may never be met. The church needs to be proactive in offering assistance. Don’t wait for them to ask for it, or an incident to occur before offering help. Be intentional about connecting single parents with the church community and with leaders who can offer help and or advice.
  4.      Encouragement: For the single parent, this need is second only to love. At times, single parents become overwhelmed with their life and daily responsibilities. In the dark times it can be hard to see a way forward. To single parents It may seem as if there is little hope for their future or their children. Sometimes it is hard to see the future when you are mired in the present and haunted by the past. Single parents need to be reminded they follow a great God! One who has amazing plans for them. They need to be reminded that even if life seems challenging now, what they are experiencing is only temporary, God is doing something amazing in their life. The church should give them hope for the future. When I look back at the man I was then, compared with who I am now, I realize my time as a single parent was a period of growth. I failed many times, but no matter what life brings, God taught me He is enough.

He taught me to rely on Him alone for everything and then later He brought an amazing woman into my life. This year we celebrated 21 years of marriage. I am a pastor at a church in south Florida, and God is continuing to use my experiences as a single dad to encourage others. My hope is your church recognizes the incredible potential of single parents. Yes, they may need some extra attention, but the payoff is worth it in the end! Learn to see beyond the present and look to the future that God has in store for the single parent in your local church.

It’s ok if you’re wrong

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Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance. Proverbs 11:14

What a strange place to be right now for an evangelical. There was a time when the world made sense, when everyone, at least everyone I knew, voted Republican. We voted that way because that was the party that stood for the things we cared about. Things like being pro-life, protecting religious liberty, and promoting conservative values. We could, for the most part, agree upon the issues and the candidate that most reflected our values. There was a unity, or at least a majority, in our voting.

But then came 2016 and Donald Trump and all of that assuredness flew out the window! Actually, for some it may have started prior to Trump. Whenever it started, now things are complicated. Now decisions are messy and, along with it, the unity that we once had appears to be all but gone.

Never-Trump evangelicals accuse Pro-Trump and even Reluctant-Trump evangelicals of being motivated by fear and/or hatred to vote for a man who has no moral bearing. Or being idolaters who would sell out their moral credibility to push for an agenda.

Pro-Trump and Reluctant-Trump Evangelicals accuse Never-Trump evangelicals of acting like Pharisees and demonstrating hypocrisy. They argue that no one is perfect and therefore we have to vote for the platform, and besides the alternative is just too horrible to allow it to happen.

The arguments fly back and forth. Posting article after article, tweet after tweet, position, counter position. And you know what? I think that, for the most part, it’s a good thing as long as we don’t allow it to form a wedge between us. I hope that the watching world can see us an example of brothers with differing opinions. A peculiar people that don’t shrink from disagreements, but a people, who through living in community and sharing opinions, can sharpen one another.

Many people will preach that Christians should always be unified, but throughout history that has rarely been the case. Even the early church encountered disagreements on multiple occasions. The book of Acts records many of these disagreements. The leaders of the early church had a problem with the way the gospel was being spread to the Gentiles. They had some real issues with both Peter and Paul, but they worked it out through listening to each other and addressing each other’s concerns, not by censuring all opposing views. Later Paul would disagree with both Peter and Barnabas but they worked it out each time.

I know that reading opposing views and sparring with my fellow Christians has made me introspective on more than one occasion. We can’t afford to live in a world where there is only one opinion, where all think alike. How will we even know if we are correct in our thinking if no one is there to challenge us?

The culture today cries out for “safe spaces” and cringes at trigger words. We feel insulted and belittled if someone challenges our beliefs or philosophies. But we need to hear a differing view. A “safe space” may separate us from feeling uncomfortable, but it won’t help us grow, it won’t help us to refine our position or our beliefs.

Of course, the most important thing is that we don’t allow our differences to tear us apart, that we don’t take it personally that someone might have a different opinion than us. Instead we should listen to others, consider their position and evaluate it against ours. This process will make us stronger, it will sharpen our minds, it might even cause us to reevaluate or change our thoughts.
Would you rather be delusional in your rightness or actually right? Would you rather argue from a position of strength, having considered all the sides of a position, or just comfortably naive in your positions?

So, let’s state our positions with respect, love, and concern for those who disagree with us. Let’s not resort to name calling and character assassinations. Let’s listen to opposing views with a desire to understand and evaluate, not with a closed mind. It’s the only way we can grow in our perspectives and sharpen our minds.

So listen and state your opinions with honor and respect. And remember, at least we aren’t as wrong as the evangelicals who will vote for Hillary right? 😉

This is not a political post telling you who to vote for or who not to vote for!

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I have been doing a lot of thinking, and some rethinking due to a clash with a dear friend, about the election lately! Who hasn’t really? But something dawned on me that was really convicting. You see I just came back from a speaking at a weekend retreat in TX. While there I used the story of the adulterous woman as an example of how Jesus operated with truth and love. Truth and Love was the theme of the weekend.

I pointed out that when the scribes and Pharisees drug the woman caught in adultery out of her bed and threw her in front of Jesus and the crowd, they cared absolutely nothing about her nor did they truly care about her sin. Their only concern was to use her to get rid of Jesus. This woman was drug out in public, her sins publicly declared and shame was heaped on her for no other reason than to try to prove themselves right, trap Jesus, and ultimately to rid themselves of his presence. She was just a convenient tool in their war against Jesus. Nothing more, nothing less.

And yet she was more than that! Much more! She was one of the reasons that Jesus came, and he loved her with a sacrificial love. The kind of love that would cost him everything. Now to these men, and possibly to the crowd that Jesus was teaching, she was only trash, a woman caught up in a whirlwind of sin and carnality. But not to Jesus. To Jesus she was much more! So much more he was willing to die for her.

And this is when it occurred to me that in this election, and most elections, the candidates are often only tools to advance our causes. If they align themselves with our cause, good! If they don’t we have no use for them. We care little for the person, only the platform and the advancement of our cause be it conservative or liberal.

In this election even those, like me, that stand opposed to both candidates have probably not really given a thought to the souls of either Mr. Trump or Secretary Clinton. I have made it known that I don’t believe that either Mr. Trump or Secretary Clinton are fit to be President. I have posted articles listing the ways Mr. Trump is unfit, as a way to prove my point. Others have posted articles about how bad Hillary is. In a sense, I have thrown him into the middle of a crowd without thought or concern for his soul. My only desire was to prove I was right in not supporting him.

In contrast, there are those evangelicals who will vote for and even promote the Trump or Clinton campaign as a way to further their cause. Many of them will say “He/she is no angel but he/she is better than the other option and besides, think about the platform or the Supreme court!” This too is just a way to use the candidates for the advancement of an agenda with little to no concern for them or their souls.

I don’t know what the outcome will be in November. But I do know that when all is said and done there will be a winner and a loser, and both will deserve our love and prayers. Let’s put down our platforms and our desires to be right and begin to lift up these two in prayer. Let’s begin to change the tone of our voices. We should sound less like an angry mob and more like one that is grieved by our own sin and the knowledge that both Mr. Trump and Secretary Clinton need our love and compassion, not because of what they have done or what they stand for, but just because of who they are. Remember that Jesus died for them too.

Cautious Compassion: The Syrian Refugee Crisis

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He we are again. Caught in the middle of a raging debate that has quickly divided and then devolved into name calling and demonizing our opponents. On one side you have the zealots who are calling for a complete shutting down of our borders to keep out the crazies insisting that ISIS is hiding thousands of jihadist amongst the refugees bent on our destruction. On the other side you have calls for throwing open the doors in the name of Jesus and letting everyone stream in without regards to a responsibility for the personal safety of those we are called to protect. They try desperately to paint all refugees as widows and orphans driven from their homeland. And if you disagree with either side you are either and ignorant US-hating liberal or a people-hating bigot.

If ever there was a need for a middle ground this is it. And I believe this is where we would find our Christian faith. To be fair, I think that despite what we hear from either side, this is where most of us would fall. We need to find a way to show and demonstrate compassion for the hurting and displaced, not just because we are called to love everyone, but also because the US bears a huge responsibility for creating the refugee crisis in the first place. But this post is not about that.

We need to come together and find a way to aid refugees that includes allowing them to come to the US, but also looks for ways to help them stay in their home land. This is where they grew up and where they will feel most comfortable and at home. I believe that the US needs to be more aggressive in defeating ISIS so that there is no need for these poor people to leave theirs homes.
I realize that the US is a great place to live, and I am thankful to God that I live here, but I don’t believe that many people really want to leave everything they have and everything they are used to, journey tens of thousands of miles to travel to a foreign land with strange customs, where they will be looked upon with suspicion just because there is a Starbucks on every corner. If we believe that, we truly are an arrogant people.

That being said, we must show compassion and love for a people being driven from their homes. We must be a part of making sure they are cared for and given provision until we can make their homeland safe again. However, we should strive to do it in a way that sets up common sense protections for the people living in the US. We know that ISIS was successful in sending fighters to France. We can’t and shouldn’t deny that, but we also must not be ruled by fear or crippled by the complexity of the task before us. We must act, and we must act quickly. In order to find a solution, we need to come together. Stop the name-calling and senseless divisive rhetoric.

#LOVEWINS? The Attempt to Silence Truth

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No doubt you have seen the hashtag #LoveWins attached to many a Facebook status and tweet. At first glance you might assume that it is just another way to celebrate the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. You may interpret it as declaring love wins because now you are free to love whomever you please, but we have always been free to love everyone. However, to truly love anyone, you must understand the meaning and nature of love, but that is the subject of another blog.
Today we are going to talk about the not so subtle message that the hashtag #LoveWins really communicates. It is the same tactic that has been so effective in shutting down opposition to anyone who opposes the redefining of the institution of marriage. You see if love wins then hate lost, or at least that is what we are suppose to believe. As a society we have been given only two options from those who support same-sex marriage. You can either choose love and support same-sex marriage, or you are a hater and a bigot. There is no middle ground, or at least that is what we are led to believe.
It is an effective way to shut down the debate, because for most, there is an aversion to being labeled as a hater and a bigot, so one remains quiet. What is worse, and very dangerous, is that many Christian have begun to believe the lie that to oppose this issue or any other viewpoint that is counter to the Bible is equal to hatred.
As one meme I saw yesterday stated, “It is God’s job to convict, it is my job to love.” Even though the individual facts of the statement are true, the subtle message of those who posted it was “Shut up! Don’t tell me I am wrong. That is God’s job, you are just suppose to love me.”
But there is a real problem with that kind of logic. Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8; Romans 10:14; the example of every prophet and apostle tell us that we must speak Biblical truth. We cannot be worried about how the message of the cross will be received. We are to speak. God will use the words we speak to convict, and yes, we are called to love. Love like no one has ever seen before! Love enough to face name-calling, disparaging remarks and jail time, and even death if necessary. Love enough to tell someone they are wrong. Remember the story of John the Baptist? He spoke out in defense of marriage and was thrown in jail, and eventually beheaded.
Need more convincing? Did Jesus hate the Pharisees when he pointed out their arrogance? Did he hate the woman caught in adultery when he told her “Go and sin no more?” When a parent corrects a child, is that an act of hate or love?
I want to be perfectly clear, disagreeing with someone does not equal hate. Telling someone that their lifestyle is not part of God’s design, and that He wants so much better for them is not hate. Standing up for God’s design for marriage is not hate.
God designed marriage to be an example of the gospel to the world. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church Marriage is the vehicle through which mankind was meant to populate the earth with loving children supported by a man and a woman. In order for marriage to fulfill its purpose, it must remain as God designed.
With this understanding, drawn from Biblical truth, I ask you to love like very few are willing to love. Love the truth of God’s Word. When the world tells you to sit down and shut up, love enough to speak the truth. Love enough to cry with and support those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Love enough to listen to our LBGT friends and invite them into your lives. Love those who are like you and those who are not. Love those who agree with you and those who don’t.
Love, but don’t be silent, because that is not love at all.

The Emperor Has no Clothes: Bruce Jenner and Gender Dysphoria

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Something is wrong; horribly, disturbingly wrong. And it has to do with the way our culture celebrates a mental disorder. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner has brought to the forefront a condition that is growing in notoriety in our culture today, Gender Dysphoria.

This public spectacle reminds me of the old fable, The Emperor’s New Clothes. In this story, the Emperor’s vanity has allowed him to be duped into believing that he is wearing magical clothing that can only be seen by those who are wise. He doesn’t see the clothes himself but is afraid to say so for fear of being labeled a fool. In fact, no one sees the clothes because they do not exist, but no one will speak up for the same fear. One day he parades through town with his new “clothes” until one little boy has the courage to speak up and tell him that he is in fact naked.

Back to Bruce Jenner. Those who suffer from Gender Dysphoria, also known as Gender Identity Disorder or G.I.D. for short, have strong feelings that they are the opposite gender of their biological reality. Often they choose to have their bodies altered to reflect what they feel to be their true identity. This is what Bruce has done and now his decision is celebrated and applauded by nearly every media outlet.

As a Christian I struggle with knowing how to react when the culture celebrates someone’s decision to chase their happiness through drugs, hormone therapy, and gender reassignment surgery. I want to know what I should do, what I should say. Should I just remain silent? Celebration and applause doesn’t feel right. If I speak about my misgivings will I be castigated in the court of public opinion? How do I speak words of hope and healing when I don’t understand what people like Bruce, or Caitlyn, if you prefer, are going through?

I begin with two truths from God’s Word. First, God created us male and female (Gen 1:27). Second, there was intention in how each of us was created (Psalm 139:13-16). We can, therefore, deduce that the gender we are born with is not a mistake. We are who we are because that is God’s will for us. If I decide not to follow God’s will for my life, God calls that rebellion. Now there is something I know a little something about (a lot, really).

G.I.D. is really just another symptom of the fall of man. I don’t mean to oversimplify such a complex issue as G.I.D. However, original sin makes us all want to be something different than what God wants for us. We are all prone to choose our own way. Sin has distorted our view of God, it has distorted our view of others, and it has distorted our view of ourselves.

So back to how I react when faced with the media storm surrounding Bruce Jenner. First, I react with love, love for a fellow human being who needs the love and mercy of a righteous and just God. Then I speak the truth in love. Bruce Jenner will not find peace in being someone other than who God has created him to be.

There is only one way to peace, hope, and joy in who you are created to be. It is found in Jesus. Placing my faith and trust in Him means that I trust that He created me just the way He wanted me. I am not too short, my skin is not too pale, and I am the gender He wants me to be. All feelings to the contrary are a rebellion of who God has created me to be and therefore sinful. All sin leads to death (Rom 3:23) and for anyone to encourage others to revel in their rebellion is not helpful; it is destructive and mean.

I just feel like someone has to speak the truth!

 

How to Give Joy to Your Children at Christmas

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“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Romans 12:18

For single moms or dads, Christmas brings added anxieties. You worry about getting your children something they will like while remaining within your budget. You worry the non-custodial parent will get your child something nicer than your purchase.

And then there’s the question of whom will the child spend Christmas? Will they be with you or the other parent? Will they spend time with both of you on Christmas Day? What about the hand-off? Will you be seeing former in-laws? You know, the ones who hate you and blame you for everything?

Let me begin by saying first–Christmas is about Christ. Keep the focus on Him  and let everything else fall into place. We get so wrapped up in the “what ifs” of life that they can steal our joy of the season.

How do we keep the focus on Him? Remember, Christmas is a celebration of the greatest gift ever given. It is a time to focus on not just the miracle of the birth, but the entire gospel story. The greatest gift has already been given; nothing can top it, so stop trying! You will only feed yours and your child’s selfish desires. Give sensible gifts within your budget. Make Christmas a time of worship, not materialistic hedonism. You and your kids will be thankful and better off in the long-term.

Remember, after honoring God in this season, your second priority is your children. They need unconditional love and comfort. They need demonstrations of unconditional love! Remember, as a Christian, you are called to love and live in peace with everyone. Yes, even the ex. That doesn’t mean giving them a kiss or putting yourself in harm’s way. It does mean you need to show love and respect to the other parent, especially in front of your children. Bad mouthing, slinging insults, and trashing your ex or their family will only hurt your children.

Additionally, children thrive on routine and solid expectations. This means they need to know what is happening and when. If you and your ex can agree on a consistent experience for your child, then make plans and follow through. Tell your kids when they will go and return. If the other parent is undependable or does not know for sure if they can be there to pick up the child, then find a time when they can follow through.

Remember above all, we need to be pointing our children to Christ and setting good examples for them. If you do this, they will have a Happy New Year.