Left Behind

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As a single guy who is old enough to be pondering questions such as, “Am I contributing enough to my 401(k)?” or, “Does my potential new job offer dental benefits, because I might need dentures soon…?”, I have been around long enough to have witnessed the marriage of many of my best friends. Heck, most of my friends are on their second or third kid and are worrying about which school district has the best honors program for their supposedly gifted offspring!

Single adults often have to act enthusiastic in uncomfortable social situations, but perhaps the most painful and awkward act we have to perform is putting on a big smile and offering a heartfelt “Congratulations, that’s awesome, I’m so happy for you guys!” when our best buddy or childhood friend finally decides to tie the knot – and we have no prospects on the horizon whatsoever!  Maybe you have “made your peace” with the whole Being Single thing and are content with where God has put you in life – good job, great friends, nice place to live, a church you feel really plugged into, etc. – but, to my mind at least, there is nothing that will challenge this state of contentedness more profoundly than the news of a close friend that’s getting engaged.  Sometimes it doesn’t even take that much – we’ve all had those friends who were mainstays of our social group and who we hung out with all the time, but as soon as they found and began dating their soul mate they immediately vanished from the group and were gone from our lives as suddenly as the flip of a light switch.

Now don’t get me wrong – as someone who hopes to be married someday myself, but more importantly, as a Christ-follower who, in my better moments, attempts to treat others the way I would like to be treated – I am definitely not saying we should not or cannot truly rejoice with our friends when they come to us with the news that their lives are going to be permanently changed – far from it!  But if we are painfully honest with ourselves, we will admit that sometimes it is like attempting to grin cheerfully during a root canal to try to be as sincerely happy for our soon-to-be-married friends as we hope they would be for us if it were our turn.

So what to do?   First of all, acknowledge that it stinks – not that you necessarily need to tell them that (and if you do tell them, pray long and hard beforehand that God would give you the right words, the right time, and the right spirit in which to have that conversation).  Just be honest with yourself and with God and admit that, yes, you are losing someone, at least for a while.  In fact, it’s almost like someone close to you has died.  For a romantic relationship to strengthen into a God-honoring, rock-solid marriage, the couple has to enter into a much more exclusive relationship than any they (and you) have ever experienced.  Know that your engaged or newly married friends are not (99% of the time, at least) intentionally trying to leave you, their single friend, behind – they just need to spend a lot of quality time together in order to enter into that intimate relationship that God desires for them to have so that they can truly become one.   But none of this changes the simple fact that you’ll miss having them around like they were before!

And of course, as a single adult, having a friend get engaged and married is just another not-so-subtle reminder that we are not.  It’s not that we mean to be childish or jealous, it’s that our minds are being bombarded with thoughts like, “Why not me?” “Am I going to be the last one standing?” and on and on it goes… So yeah, just say it, “It stinks!”

Having said that, know that genuinely rejoicing with your friends while at the same time mourning the passing of an era and the permanent alteration of your friendship is not only possible, it’s also not “wrong,” so you shouldn’t feel guilty or weirded out about being in this seemingly conflicted state of mind.  As a guy, I’m not too proud to admit something like this, but let’s face it – God also made men just as capable as women of feeling loss.  We men probably don’t express it the way the ladies do, but yeah, we’ll definitely miss not being able to spontaneously call up our buddy to go skeet-shooting on a Saturday morning without him having to first check with his “social planner.”

Finally, remember that your “couple” friends still need you!  Yes, they will withdraw into themselves for a while and yes, your relationship with them will never be exactly what it used to be, but just because they are getting married doesn’t mean they don’t want or need your friendship any more.  It may take them a few months or so to realize it, but they will wake up one day and realize that their husband or wife, however wonderful he or she is, cannot satisfy their every human need – and God made each one of us with a deep need for friendship.  They need your friendship as they enter their new romantic relationship, and they will still need your friendship months and years after they get married and start having kids.

God is not the author of pain, sadness, or loneliness – His word tells us that all these things are the by-products of our fallen and broken world and will one day pass away with the coming of the new Heaven and Earth. Sometimes, though, I believe God allows us to deal with the “loss” of a good friend so that we will be reminded that He is, indeed, truly enough. He and He alone is our constant companion, and in a world of constant turbulence and change, we need this reminder often.  He always has a way of providing exactly what we need at just the right time – and sometimes He has to take away what we think we need to show us what we really need. Thankfully, His wisdom and timing are always perfect, and when nothing else in the world makes sense, we can trust His heart and know that, as a gracious and loving Father, He will never fail to provide for our needs in ways that are far greater than we would ever imagine!

Sunday Single Selection

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It is Saturday night and you know you should go to church tomorrow, yet you have reservations in your heart about where to go or if you should find somewhere new to go. You want to Worship and hear the Word preached, but the church you go to does not seem to get being single or you can not find a church with a singles group. Many singles have this Saturday night emotion, wanting to go to church for all the right reasons, but still desiring more in community with other singles like yourself.

Many churches don’t have a targeted group for singles, if they even seem to acknowledge they are present. Those that do have singles groups may not feel like they are targeted at people like yourself. While the emotions are valid, your response to these issues should have only one outcome and that is to go Worship with other believers. Worship is not a self serving activity where you get something for doing something. Worship is about praising God for who He is and learning more about Him through that experience. So here are a few encouragements for singles with regards to church selection.

  1. Base your selection on if the church Worships God and honors His Word.
  2. Connect with a congregation close as possible to enhance your ability to participate.
  3. Look for churches with existing singles ministries listed, if none are found it may be time to start a singles ministry in your area. Chances are there are several people like you looking for a place to connect.
  4. Bring or invite a friend to help you select a church, it helps to debrief with someone over lunch after Worship.

Finally, choose! Go to a church where God is calling you, make roots and serve. Don’t spend all your time looking when you could be connected to a church and start building a singles ministry for people like yourself. Your efforts to do so will not return void and God will honor your commitment to serve Him.

 

All In

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If I had known at 20 that at age 30 I would be serving as a single female missionary in the Middle East,  I would have probably married the next guy that came along.  And, I would have regretted it, I’m positive.

Why?  Because I am right where I am supposed to be.  On the good days, my heart is so full of love for Him and others that I feel it may explode.  On the hard days, when I tend to ask, “Why, Lord?” and my prayers are peppered with complaints, it is often through tears and on bended knee that I renew the choice to trust Him.

Marriage was my plan. Always. Truthfully, it is still in my plans, and I consistently bring it up in my prayer life.  But I don’t think the life I’m living is some sort of backup plan to the “perfect life” that could have been.

There was a moment, a few years after I became a believer, I felt Him asking me how much of my life was really His, how much was I really willing to give up?  Would I hold back areas of my life, my plans, and my dreams from His touch?  Would I cling to the things of this world over Him?

It was one of those rare times in life, when the world may see nothing happening, but in my heart I was forever changed.  I was set on a path to following Him–whatever He wanted of me, my answer was yes.

Really, it’s the commitment every Christian makes– if we make Jesus Lord, then we are giving up our lives then and there.  But how often do we (and I mean myself in this!!) simply take our lives back and go on doing what we want to do and living how we want to live?

Shortly after that time of commitment (re-commitment?), I felt called to missions.  At that point my experience was limited, and I am pretty sure my answer of “yes” still included a husband, children and “white-picket fence” future.  Never could I have imagined where He would lead me.

After living in sixteen different places since college graduation, I feel like I am finally home–in the Middle East, odd as that may seem.  I am convinced that He is working in the lives of the women around me and some have hearts burning with desire to know Him.  As I move about my city, I am trying to meet these ladies and share with them the Truth they long to know.

I’m living the life He means for me to live, one day at a time.  Tomorrow I could be hit by a car (I mean, really, there are no crosswalks!) and be on my way to see Him.  Or something could happen that sends me on a plane back to the States.  Maybe I’ll get married someday, or maybe I won’t.  It could be I will see crazy large amounts of people turn to Him. Or possibly His purposes for me will be different.

Whatever He has in store for me, I’m all in. Not all in with bitterness. Not all in with hesitancy.  I’m all in with a great big smile on my face.

The Width of My Hand

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Honestly, I thought I had more time, more time to develop the best strategy and to muster the courage. If I would have just had more time to get my own issues figured out, my own life goals in order, THEN I’m fairly certain I would have been ready. I guess I was waiting for the perfect moment. But maybe that’s not it at all. Maybe it is worse than that. Maybe I just didn’t care enough. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter now. My high school friend is dead and I never said a word, not one word. I have no idea if she knew Christ personally or not. If she did, it was definitely not because of me.

The Bible admonishes us in Ephesians 5, “So be careful how you live…make the most of every opportunity…understand what the Lord wants you to do.” (CJB) As a foreign missionary, this is what my life is about each day. I pray for the people who exercise with me in the gym; I give a Bible to a store clerk; I ask my language students questions that will cause them to consider spiritual concepts; I explain redemption to a professional friend who doesn’t know what to do with her sin; I pray for opportunities to have Bible studies with friends who know virtually nothing about the Scriptures. How is it then I didn’t say anything to someone I went to school with for five years and have known for more than twenty?

There’s a Pink Floyd song called Time that spans the course of one life and marvels at what little impact it has had. Even before he realizes it, this man’s life has already wasted away. The lyrics say, “The time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say.” We do have something more to say as believers, and we need to say it before the music stops. We need to say it before ‘time ticks away’ as DC Talk reminds us. The Psalmist put it this way:

Psalm 39: 4, 5
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath.” (NLT)

One of the last conversations I had with my friend she asked me what I was doing overseas. I told her I worked for a non-profit religious organization. But that’s all I told her. I have the deep peace and the love a merciful Savior to guide me, and that’s all I told her.

The width of my hand is about two inches. It doesn’t leave a lot of leeway for foolish, wasteful, fearful, or selfish behavior. May we all learn to love others enough to tell the truth before time runs out.

Did I Make a Mistake?

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My plane landed in Central Asia in the wee hours of the morning. After training, I couldn’t get here fast enough. This is where I felt called to and had been working towards for a long time. It was finally happening. I was joining the work of taking the Good News to the nations.

I piled my four VERY heavy bags on a cart, and basically skipped to the exit to meet my mentor. I was so excited to meet her. She dropped me off at the guest flat and told me she would pick me up in the morning to attend an office luncheon where I would meet the rest of the team. I was ready to hit the ground running.

The “guest flat” was in a dilapidated Soviet apartment building, and I was nervous to stay by myself. However, updated my Facebook status (you know, first things first), and settled in…. And then.. it hit…

I started sobbing. I’d never felt more alone, trapped, or scared. Doubts and fears flooded my heart. Three years suddenly seemed like an e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y. After texting with one of my mentors, I fell asleep two hours later. It would be better tomorrow, right? Nope…more tears. When my mom called, I tried to disguise my emotions (because, you know, moms can’t see through that), but I wept. I felt like a child again, being held by her momma. And through her, God held me. She didn’t tell me to come home, instead reminding me I was right where the Father wanted me. The first two weeks I could barely talk to anyone without crying. I even struggled to comprehend the Word through the jet lag, culture shock, and roller coaster emotions.

A local Believer shared with me she thinks we are often like the Israelites. She explained that although God parted the Red Sea to deliver them from the Egyptians and lead them to the Promised Land, they were grumbling about the mud on their feet. Okay, so the part about the mud is not in the Word, but there are plenty of accounts about the Israelites grumbling about other things.

This made me reflect on the grace and love He has shown me. He has done miraculous things in my life, demolished seemingly unmovable strongholds, and surrounded me with amazing supportive friends and family. And yet, I was struggling to trust. God never promised comfort or ease, but He does promise that He will NEVER leave us. I am NOT alone. Evidence His hand facilitated my journey to Central Asia is apparent. He led me here, He has a plan, and He will sustain me. Those first few days brought me to my knees, but it is the best place to be if I’m kneeling before Him. I’ll always remember His first Words to me in this country – “Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:14

Wholehearted Devotion

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Are You All In?

Being “all in” is who I am and proud to be. I am not sure when it happened, but sometime after my ministry call hit me, I decided to be a man who made his Yes be Yes and his No be No. Like Matthew 5:37 tells us, I decided to follow God and be all in for whatever He planned for my life.

At 19, I hadn’t been on a God-directed path. My life was good, and I was a moral person, but it was not sold out for Christ. I now recognize if this life is to be one lived for Him, I need to be willing to go wherever He leads.

It’s not all roses being all in. I have moved all over the country following His path. During the journey and through several jobs, I was blessed. Each step was a learning experience. While God had me moving around, I dated some. But I mainly focused on preparing for the something great God had in store for me.

Shortly after I married, that something great lead to unemployment for six months. When I could find work, it was still not enough to pay bills. For a year I couldn’t even afford to pay housing for me and my wife. Job offers were slim and while some got close, they all fell through. In the back of my mind, I wondered if paid church ministry was ever going to happen again for me. Then, the path lit up.

Within the course of three months, I was called to launch Table for One Ministries. Not to pay bills, but to do what God called me to do, to reach singles. A few months after that (and after yet  another move), I was employed again at a church. A month after, we were able to purchase our first home. Within the year, we were blessed when our daughter was born.

When it was the darkest, I cried out to God and asked to be shown His path. He made the way clear.

Through the ups and downs during these three years, I have been told countless times I should have more gray areas, and be less rigid with my choices. But James 4:13-17 is my driving force for being bold today and everyday.

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”  (NIV)

Let it never be said that I was unable to follow God wherever His path lead, no matter the risk or costs. Sin should never happen as a result of us not listening to the Lord’s direction.  I want to be one who asks first to be shown the Lord’s will, and when He says go, I move.

An Eternal Perspective on Worry

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I Love Jesus.

Jesus Loves Me.

I’m Going to Heaven.

 

Simple right? But how many hours do we worry over paying bills, our retirement accounts, and having nice cars? All for what? As born-again Christians, Matthew 6:25-34 is clear how we are to feel about this life. If you want to know more about being a “born again” check out our Am I Alone page on our website.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (NIV)

I Love Jesus

Christ died on a cross and rose again as an atonement or payment for our sins. “We love because Christ first loved us.” 1 John 4:9 (ESV)

Jesus Loves Me

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have life everlasting.” John 3:16 (NIV). God loves you. Jesus loves you. When you have accepted Christ you receive life everlasting.

I’m Going to Heaven

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28 (NIV). Christ followers have assurance they will spend eternity in heaven despite our sin, despite our worry.

Life is hard. Things happen. Worry creeps in every way we turn, and we struggle over and over until we worry about worrying! John 10:10 is a simple and powerful reminder to live with less stress and as God wants us to live–abundantly!

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” – John 10:10

 

Christmas Music All Year

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I have a confession to make. A few years ago I decided to make a major decision in my life. I would no longer contain Christmas music to one month of the year and in fact I would proudly say Christmas is my favorite music all year long! I play it when coworkers are around, in my car with friends, even post on Facebook anytime I had the urge to sing some Christmas cheer! Not all people approve of using Christmas music in this manner, but most find it amusing that I am so bold about my favorite music.

You see, when I play Christmas music all year round, I get to sing about the birth of God becoming man to pay a debt for my sins I can not repay. Yes, not all Christmas songs are about Jesus and I enjoy them as well, but the majority of them are about Jesus or a time of year when people come together as family and visit with each other. Singing is a way of reminding me of Christ and what He has done for me as a reminder to share that gift with the world.

God becoming man is major! So is Christ dying on a cross to pay a debt for all mankind’s sins so that we would not die, but have everlasting life. Christmas music will often calm me down when I am upset about something or worked up for no good reason. It has also become a way for me to share my testimony with others as I am afforded the chance to explain why I love Christmas music all year round. I have been able to give full Gospel presentations in the middle of huge retails stores and talk with strangers in line all because of my love for Christmas music. Because, love it or hate it, Christmas music all year is a great conversation starter, a starter that involves Christ.

So what music do you listen to most? I am not saying you have to adopt what I am doing, but what you listen to the majority of the time may influence your actions more than you think. I love all kinds of music and listen to it all, but I want the music I listen to most to motivate me to share the Gospel with others. What do you want the music you listen to do for you?

Come and Follow Me

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We live in a world of would-be leaders.  An American adult who ventures into a bookstore or spends time browsing on Amazon will find hundreds of titles that promise to unlock the hidden potential of our “inner leader”. Books claim to distill the essence of leadership by examining the lives of successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and statesmen. Leaders are the ones who make headlines, who supposedly make history, and who our culture is constantly telling us we should emulate if we want to have lives worth living.  Being a follower, we are told in many ways, is for the lazy, the not-so-clever, the unoriginal, the weak.

Little wonder, then, that so few people speak, preach, or write about how to follow!

And yet…the command for anyone who would call themselves a Christian is unmistakable: we are to follow Him who had mercy on us and saved us from a life of sin and despair apart from God.  Jesus used the same words for each of his disciples: “Follow me.”

Okay, fine, says the Christian.  We know on an intellectual level that we are called to be followers of Christ, but in a culture where there is so much talk about how to lead, what are we to make of (and, more importantly, do with) Jesus’ unavoidable calling to follow Him?  Strange and somewhat morbid-sounding words and phrases such as “obey,” “lay down one’s life,” and “take up one’s cross” are used in the Bible to describe the posture Believers must have if we are to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

I would guess that when many, if not most, Christians hear phrases like these and have a vague, somewhat ominous view of a God who wants to deprive them of their every comfort and happiness in life. A God who might call on them to go live in the jungles of Africa and eat the insides of strange animals.  This fear has served to paralyze many people (myself included) from acting at times when they have sensed God speaking to them.

One of the many subtle and ingenious lies the Enemy whispers in the ears of many Christians is “following Christ” implies merely a vocation (often a change of vocation), when in fact it means something simultaneously much greater than, and also more ordinary than, a simple change of careers.

In Matthew 4:19-22, Jesus calls Andrew and his brother Peter to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Verse 20 says, “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.”  Verses 21-22 tell of Jesus calling James and John, who also “immediately left the boat and their father, and followed Him.” It is significant that Matthew uses the word “immediately” in both cases–there was no hesitation on the part of any of these men when Jesus issued his very radical call for them to leave their families and give up their livelihoods to accompany Him on His earthly mission.

How many of us can honestly agree we would follow Christ’s command with no second-guessing or “a sober weighing of the pros and cons,” regardless of what He asks?

There is another point we often forget. Jesus’ calling for the disciples wasn’t really as much about giving up their families and changing their vocations as it was about just being with Him and spending time learning His ways–learning to love Him and absorbing His very presence. What Jesus really wanted from them, of course, is the same thing God wanted from Abraham centuries before when He called on him to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac:  an utter trust in Him which results in a willingness to immediately relinquish whatever or whomever one loves most on this earth to follow Jesus with one’s whole heart, mind, and strength.

God doesn’t want just our vocational service; He wants our hearts and our very lives.

Yes, this does sometimes involve a radical change of direction and even career path, but most of the time following Christ means following Him in the everyday, ho-hum routines of life–as we fight traffic to get to the office, eat lunch with friends and co-workers, or interact with the people we see at the gym.

 For me, at least, this constant obedience to Christ in the mundane things is usually far more difficult than a dramatic act of “sacrifice” such as giving up a career and moving to a faraway land.  I firmly believe the heroes of the faith are not necessarily those who answer the call to preach, move overseas to be missionaries, or give all their possessions to the poor, but are those who faithfully serve the Lord unnoticed, day in and day out, by being the hands and feet of Christ wherever they may be.

Any act of following Jesus requires a trust born only out of love for Him, a love that in turn can only happen on our part when we have spent so much time in His presence that we no longer believe the lie that God wants to rob us of our joy and make us do something dreadful to prove our love for Him.  It is only by obeying Him in the first place that we begin to trust Him to be who He says He is. Single or married, we all make a choice every day when we decide to either ignore God’s voice out of fear and rebelliousness, or to trust in our loving Creator, who knows us infinitely more than we can ever know ourselves.  Who will you choose today?

Build Your Testimony

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What is a testimony? It is simply sharing how you responded to Christ call in your life. After his encounter with Christ when he spoke before King Agrippa the Apostle Paul was an example for us on how to share our testimony.

Read Acts 26 to hear Paul tell his story.

Answer the following questions to help form your salvation testimony:

  • Before: Your life before you knew Christ
    • Before you came to Christ, where were you spiritually? How did that affect your life in general?
    • Before you became a Believer, what were some ways God began drawing you to Christ?
  • How: Your conversion
    • What motivated you to invite Christ into your life as Lord and Savior?
    • Specifically, how did you come to Christ, receive His forgiveness, and submit to His Lordship?
    • If a church played a part in your conversion, how did you come in contact with that congregation? Who and what do you remember from your first visits?
  • After: Your new walk with Christ
    • What changed in your life after you accepted Jesus as your Savior?
    • How did knowing Christ change the way you define your life?

Simple right? All you have to do is share what happened in your life and how you came to Christ.

Do not be fooled by the enemy who says your story is not as cool or powerful as someone else’s. Don’t fall for the lie that you are not saved as much as another person. God meets people where they are and calls them to Him. Not everyone must have an extreme testimony of being radically saved in order to connect with another person.

Take some time and watch the testimonies of others on YouTube. It is captivating to hear how each one is so different and how God worked in each of their lives. Watch a few of these videos and notice how different each one is. Yours is just as unique and just as powerful. Share your story.

If you don’t know the Lord, start down the path of knowing Him today.