Wednesday, 26 February 2014

On Baptism in Water and the Spirit

One of the convictions about the Bible that has slowly solidified in my heart over the years is that if you cannot clearly ground a New Testament teaching in the story and/or imagery of the Old Testament then you are barking up the wrong tree and need to start again. If it isn't clearly foreshadowed in the Old Testament then, however fashionable it may be in the modern church, it is at best misguided and at worst heretical.

Now of course, my last paragraph could sound like overweening arrogance, I don't mean it to be. I don't have all the answers to complex theological question, but I do believe deeply that this is the standard to apply to any aspect of church teaching (doctrine) or church life (ecclesiology).

Take the controversial baptism of the Holy Spirit - to put it simply, conservatives say he is given fully at conversion, charismatics say he comes fully with the laying on of hands after conversion / water baptism.

So which is it?

The New Testament describes believers as, amongst other things, a royal priesthood (1Pet.2:8). In order to understand that term, we need to know how the Bible defines it, and there is very little on it in the New Testament, but plenty about it in the Old, so it is to the Old we go.

In Leviticus 8 God gives instructions to Moses as to how Aaron and his sons are to be ordained as priests in the service of God.

Lots of symbolism goes on with Aaron being set apart as high priest (see similarities with Jesus own baptism in Matt.3), but cutting a long story short, first they are all washed Lev.8:6...
Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water...
Then they are all anointed (v30) with  special oil that is strictly forbidden to be used in any other context except the ministry of the priesthood (Ex.30:22-33).  To anoint anyone else with this oil was punishable by death / banishment...
...Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood from the altar and sprinkled them on Aaron and his garments and on his sons and their garments. So he consecrated Aaron and his garments and his sons and their garments.
Setting these men apart for service to God happens in two distinct stages (hooray for charismatic position and boo to the conservative position), but those two stages happen at the same time, (hooray for conservative position and boo to the charismatic position).

If Leviticus 8 is the starting paradigm, then I don't get why many conservatives don't lay hands on Christians after they have been baptised in water and pray for them to receive the Spirit. It feels like they publicly testify to half of the Spirit's work.

Equally, I don't understand why many charismatics seem happy after baptism in water to allow new Christians to wander around in what they would consider a spiritual wilderness for a couple of weeks (or perhaps months or even years) before suddenly announcing in a meeting that they need to be baptised in the Spirit by the laying on of hands. It seems like an unnecessary (unbiblical?) delay. Imagine Moses sending Aaron and his sons away after washing, telling them that at some point in the future, at his convenience, he will call them back again and anoint them.  Why wait? The apostles didn't. As soon as they heard of the "unfinished business," they were quick to rectify it, Acts 19:1-5. (Note to those who think about these things, I therefore think that the book of Acts is both prescriptive and descriptive.)

Now, if one were to adopt a position that feels a bit more like an echo of Leviticus 8 then, there are two obvious and opposite dangers to avoid:
  1. Clearly the whole thing could become a ritualistic "batch" process where we go through the motions and don't expect the Spirit to take hold of someone and give them a life changing experience - and besides that kind of thing can be messy and awkward especially when we want to get home and eat lunch / dinner / supper / watch TV / check social media etc!
  2. Praying for someone to receive the Spirit after they have come out of the water and when everyone's eyes are boring into them could be a terrifying prospect for some and a devastating prospect for others if the Spirit doesn't appear to come to them at that moment in the way they hoped he would. However, he is not a spell or formula and he comes and ministers as he sees fit. Whilst I see no reason why he would not want to bless the person in question, we can never assume his motives for him.
Both these pitfalls need to be handled with great wisdom and sensitivity for the sake of the whole body of Christ.

A final thought...

God has also placed this "Leviticus-8-ordination-of-the-priesthood" paradigm at the heart of our daily rhythms. Most of us, every day, before going out to work or at the very least, before going to a special occasion - like a wedding feast (Rev.19:7-8), wash ourselves with soap and shampoo etc then and anoint ourselves with deodorant, perfume/after shave etc.

This too is a (daily) echo of both our once for all salvation and our day by day dependence on the risen Christ and his Spirit - to confess our sins (1Jn.1:8-10) to hear and receive again the eternal word of  the cleansing Christ and to be clothed with his anointed power to live the Godly life (Eph. 5:18).

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Inside Mecca - A Fascinating Insight into Muslim Pilgrimage

I can't remember if I've posted it before, but this documentary is a fascinating insight into what goes on during Muslim Hajj (pilgrimage) - probably the largest single annual mass participation event on the planet. And it can help you understand some of the Old Testament rituals in a new way. For example, the Kabbah in Mecca is the representative of the house of Allah. In the Old Testament, the Tabernacle, Temple is representative of Heaven - the house of Yahweh (Hebrews 9).

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

RFC Marrieds on Singleness Survey

Another enormous post. Brace yourself...

What was the best thing about being single?
  • Man speaking: Fun and freedom and enjoying the company of many girls.
  • Free time was my time!
  • Decision making flexibility in scheduling and activities
  • Having more 'free' time to spend how I liked and with a range of people. I think I had a lot more time for friends because once you're married a lot of that time is spent with your partner. Being more flexible.
  • Having good times with friends. Having more time to have to yourself for chilling or quiet times with God.
  • You can do what you want when you want with no one else to take into consideration. You can spend your money how you'd like to and treat yourself without feeling guilty. You can spend more time with your friends. You spend a lot less time doing housework and boring "running a family" chores.
  • Not having to worry about how selfish you were
  • One of the best things was living with other guys of a similar age.
  • Wasting away the hours playing computer games ... hang on ... maybe that wasn't so great after all
  • Not answerable for how I spent money and more male attention.
  • Being able to change my plans after stating them, without being held to them.
  • Not being accountable in actions or decisions
  • Spontaneity
  • You can be as selfish with your time as you see fit- be social and polite or just not enter communal living.
  • I have some awesome friends from uni, when I was single, who really are friends for life, and there when I need them. I was able to cultivate deep friendships with people.

What was the hardest thing about being single?
  • Underlying pressure to chat a girl up to get a girlfriend and knowing I wasn't very good at it !
  • No sex, even if there was opportunity.
  • Uncertainty
  • The desire to not be single!
  • lack of romance no children
  • I was blessed to meet my husband very young so didn't have any real battles.
  • Living a holy life (with regard to lust and sexual purity)
  • Sometimes feeling that I didn't have any one special person who I was very close to. And now that I'm married I think it would be very hard to go back to living as a single person, I think I would probably find it quite lonely, although that isn't always solved by being married and people can still feel alone.
  • Always feeling under pressure to meet someone
  • Living at home.
  • The desire to want to share life with someone. The trips home to see family where everyone in my family is married...and questions why you are not married!
  • Purity!
  • Tried and failed relationships - high emotional cost of break ups
  • Feeling left out, because we live in a such a "coupley" society - i.e. dinner parties etc. Lonely, not having someone to share all your experiences and thoughts with.
  • Being single-the fact that in our society single is only one part of the process to getting married.
  • Having to spend time in your own company when you really wanted to be spending times with others
  • Not knowing if/when I would find a partner
  • As someone who really enjoys the companionship of being married, looking back it was difficult when I didn't have one person who I could share everything with and work together with.
  • House sharing
  • Not having someone to share special occasions with, not knowing that I would one day meet someone
  • Less physical affection...wondering if I would get married/have kids.
  • Insularity, loneliness.
  • At times severe feelings of loneliness
  • lack of companionship
  • Wanting to be in a meaningful relationship.
  • Loneliness
  • Flipside of being alone- being lonely- not always having someone to share life with- the +ve and the -ve
  • Missing Companionship
  • Sometimes being lonely. Being married is a big deal in church life so being single can be made to seem like a lesser status.
  • Sexual purity
  • Not being the most important person to anyone. Having crushes on people who weren't interested, people having a crush on me, and not being interested, lost a couple of friends that way. Pastors making such a big deal about it!!!

Is there anything you feel you have "lost" since getting married? 
  • Me time. Early on I felt I lost out socially with friends who weren't married. Didn't feel as free to join them when they went to pub or clubs.
  • No
  • Time alone
  • Making decisions by myself knowing the outcome would just affect me.
  • I often feel like a mother first, a wife second, and "me" third. I know this is the wrong way round!
  • Perhaps a sense of freedom. Sometimes I feel restricted in how I can spend my time and have to take into account expectations from a Husband, although occasionally I can feel encouraged to do something I might not have tried or had the confidence to do on my own - so I guess people could feel more free.
  • Can't think of any thing at all, we were engaged when I was 17 and all I ever wanted was to be married.
  • On reflection, 2 things, a less close relationship with girlfriends due to not seeing them as often, and secondly time for chill alone, which is not a big loss.
  • Having my own personal space to think - a personal (bed)room.
  • Part of myself, because you become more like the person you married, partly to please them, partly because it makes life easier. This can be a good thing too though as you learn from one another.
  • Independence
  • Not hugely, but sometimes I feel a loss of being able to make quick decisions on certain things. It can take a lot longer to make a decision these days as I have to consider someone else.
  • the duvet, clothes space & ability to decide my own bed time
  • Probably less disciplined in quiet times and prayer (contrary to what I would've expected!)
  • Spontaneity
  • I think initially it was hard to become a "couple" and be seen as such- but that transition worked through before marriage in some ways.
  • A tidy house!
  • Definitely not.
  • not really, I got married when 23, straight from uni, so we started adult working life together, and have grown up as adults together.

If you had your time as a single person again is there anything you would do differently? If so, what?
  • Sought older role models for discipleship to help me mature.
  • No
  • Stop worrying!
  • Embrace life rather than dwell on wanting to not be single.
  • Embrace the independence and try not to fear the future. I look back now and see that worrying about the future stopped me from enjoying the time.
  • I would make better use of my time.
  • Not really, I was quite happy being single. Although I would encourage others to make the most of living with other friends where possible.
  • I would love to have been a Christian when single
  • Move out to a flat or shared house.
  • Wait patiently, trusting God more.
  • Spend less time looking for a good husband and more time training to be a good wife. To honour the men I dated better and cause them less pain.
  • I would probably looked at joining groups for example art classes
  • I would love to have been more content with my life as a single person and not been anxious about if/when that would change. Not sure that I would automatically be any better at that if I was single again though!
  • After breaking up with a girlfriend there was often not that much time before I started to pursue another girl. I would have like to have enjoyed my time without having a girlfriend more and attempted to be more content.
  • I would prepare for marriage better
  • Not really - I felt a sense of Gods purpose and timing in my singleness. Although getting married and having kids were idols for me if I'm really honest
  • Pray more for my future husband.
  • Travel back overseas, probably somewhere sub-tropical, but this time, south of the Equator; making no long term destination plans.
  • Get married sooner! :-)
  • I would try to view it more as a positive season sand make the most of the positives rather than dwelling on the negatives.
  • save up financially
  • I wonder- if I was suddenly independent now- life and priorities would be different but that is because of what has gone before, which I would not want to change at all.
  • Get to Know God more, build myself up more, not worry about half the things I once worried about.
  • Being more aware of the consequences of actions further down the line. (sorry for the vagueness)

What positive habits / attitudes did you cultivate in the singleness season which have reaped a blessing for you now that you are married?
  • Spontaneous. Fun.
  • Purity in relation to my friends and a driven-ness to love and honour God's ways. Consequently, I have no regrets, baggage or the like to deal with.
  • Friendship, tidiness
  • Spending time with other families/married couples who were older than me who have been a good example to follow.
  • some focus & self control
  • Being clear that God is in control.
  • These are hard questions... I guess just living the way you think God wants you to so that then when you get married you can hopefully carry on living that way. Not waiting to get married and thinking that will solve a lot of your problems.
  • none seem to be very negative habits.
  • Living with other singles and growing in hospitality, and learning to share life closely with them helps with moving in together when married.
  • Praying for my spouse
  • A dependence on God for intimacy, knowing that he knows me best
  • Spending time with God. Spending money sensibly. Serving at church. Became strong, confident and secure in myself - great thing to bring into a relationship.
  • Caring for others
  • It was an opportunity to practice trusting in God and his providence. This has helped when on occasion I have felt let down by my spouse - as no spouse can ever fulfil all that we need!
  • Being interested in people and seeking to put others first.
  • patience and honesty, being accountable and truthfull with a friend / friends before being married and then doing so with my wife
  • regular prayer & worship, routine & self-discipline
  • Serving, trusting God for his timing, house sharing was great preparation for living with a spouse!
  • Spending time with married couple and families who were open.
  • Trustworthiness; reputation for it.
  • politeness, tidiness, thoughtfulness
  • I spent a lot of time with God, including fasting and spending large periods of time focussed on him. This solid foundation has helped now that our circumstances mean that I don't have so much time.
  • Not sleeping around
  • Being part of a community. Living in a shared house- having a group of close Christian friends of both sexes. It was a great way to learn communication and grace and forgiveness and joy (not perhaps always in that order! They were a great blessing!
  • Knowing who I am and not needing people to validate everything I do. Having passion and drive to be better.
  • An ability to be self-sufficient which helps... It is never healthy to be too reliant on another person. Even in a marriage I think it is good to maintain your own interests, friends etc as well as jointly.
  • Learning how to trust God with everyday living.
  • Having travelled and done a gap year before getting married, I didn't change my plans because I was no longer single, and we still make sure we both have time to follow our own interests and do things independently.

What negative habits / attitudes did grew up in the singleness season which have painful for you to undo now that you're married?
  • I didn't really mature or grow up. Didn't have a job. Hadn't lived alone, except uni. Little life experience. Etc.
  • Nothing painful or which needed undoing, but one negative thing which happened a bit in my earlier teens before becoming a Christian was looking at boys mags with school friends. The images I saw will always be there but have now been replaced with an even better image, the delight of seeing my wife (I'm biased!).
  • Drinking
  • Selfish attitude to time and money
  • self sufficiency
  • Worrying about the future and looking to the next thing instead of enjoying the present.
  • Allowing my thoughts to wander where they ought not to.
  • Not sure... I'm not sure it's a habit but once married I think I became a lot more open than I had been previously. Perhaps it would have been helpful to have been more open with others before being married too? But I guess having someone supportive you can be open with and trust builds confidence to be more open with others.
  • Very possessive of my girl friend even when we were first married, with a great fear of rejection, which was hard to get release from.
  • Sin with others in past relationships before becoming a Christian.
  • Independent mind set, wanting to spend my own money how I want, making my own decisions, managing my own time.
  • I'm quite controlling and like to just get on and make decisions and do stuff - not good in marriage - you always have to stop and consider the other person, ask if it's OK and shall we do it? etc Huge independence - not helpful once married.
  • Spending money on yourself
  • sharing my time
  • A certain amount of selfishness and liking things done my way had to change when I got married but I think this is likely to be the case for many!
  • purity issues, lust, selfishness that I never really understood the extent of until I was married
  • Lust & being used to going to sleep with the radio on
  • An unhealthy emphasis on a husband to fulfil my needs. Should've have relied on God more.
  • Political stubbornness: Left of right-wing tendencies compared with wife's socialism; no meeting ground at that point.
  • Independence, false strength, enjoying my own company
  • over-reaction
  • I was obsessively tidy, which cannot be easily maintained with others around.
  • Being so independent.
  • Liking things my own way and wanting my husband to do things the way I like them to be done!
  • Being selfish with material things
  • not sure, can't remember if any, too long ago....

Is there anything you wish you had known about married life as a single person before you got there?
  • It's ok to argue in a marriage. Healthy conflict is good.
  • It takes effort and commitment to work as you want it to (which is not all the time), but it's worth it!
  • You have to work hard at married's not as easy as it sometimes looks!
  • I used to look at married women with children and think they had "made it" and must be so fulfilled and have everything sorted. Now I see that's really not the case and wonder if single girls ever look at me and think the same.
  • How to make 'joint' decisions in a sensible and satisfactory way.
  • I don't think I appreciated until I was married the level of influence that the other person can have on you. I think you choose by marrying to let them have the greatest influence on you and will probably naturally become more like them... so pick someone you like :) Also their attitude towards you and the world will probably have a massive effect on how you see yourself and the world around.
  • Wish the marriage prep course had been available then would have been a great help
  • Honestly no..or not yet.marriage prep as time to ask openly was v helpful.
  • That it is not always as hard as people tell you it will be!
  • I think I was prepared as well as possible by the church and the support of friends and family
  • There seemed to be a lot of focus on how difficult marriage can be when I was leading up to getting married which was really helpful to hear. But this was almost at the expense of hearing how good it can be. Perhaps married people feel bad about saying that marriage is great because they might get labled a smug married!
  • It takes more work than you would think. When you are single you have so much free time (that you won't have when you are married, particularly once you have had kids!)
  • How to listen and empathise better
  • The extent to which you have to trust someone else with your life/well being
  • Love hurts
  • :) no- the fun is in the growing and learning and being together.
  • That it really matters who you marry, and I married a great guy for which I am thankful to God everyday. Marriage is a huge commitment but for me, it's not as hard as people sometimes make it seem. For me that's a blessing.
  • How your relationship will change as you age and the seasons of your life change. Even though marriage is incredibly tough at times it is still better to be with your soul mate than on your own!
  • Hard to say as everything changed all at once for me, marriage, work, relocate. I think I wish I didn't think I knew all the answers as a student, I know now how much I don't know, and I am much happier as a result, much easier to trust God and your partner when you don't think you have the answer all the time.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

RFC Singleness Survey Results

OK, this is a long one, here goes... (just so you know, the survey was made possible thanks to the good people at

The following question was adapted from an article by Mark Driscoll at  Which of the following five negative attitudes do you catch yourself falling into and how often?
  • SIN You can decide that God has not come through for you, so you take matters into your own hands. You decide to be someone who parties a lot, casually dates people you’d never marry, sleeps around, moves in with someone, or does other things that will really hurt your relationship with God. If you take this path, you will eventually come to feel horrible for what you have done and miserable in the world you live. 
  • SURRENDER You can give up on ever meeting someone worth marrying. You can just stop taking any risks, meeting any people, or trying in any way. Often this is because you are sick of getting your heart broken and would rather lock it away in a vault than take another risk. But when you shut down your heart to life in general, you are not just foregoing marriage but also hope and joy. 
  • SETTLE You can lower your standards to the point that nearly anyone can meet them. Single men and women are prone to have a list of what they want in a spouse that is way too detailed, long, and unreasonable. But, it is also possible to keep editing your list to the point where “godly spouse" eventually becomes “believes in a higher power of some sort,” and “I love him/her” becomes “I think I can put up with them.” This may get you a spouse, but not a long-term, joy-filled, God-honoring marriage. 
  • SUFFER You can allow your singleness to become the devastating, discouraging, and defining aspect of your life. You can let it make you feel unwanted, unloved, and unworthy. You can allow it to haunt you, pushing you into shame, isolation, and despair. You can let your singleness be a club for Satan to beat you with over, and over, and over, and over . . . 
  • STRIVE You can start to obsess over doing literally everything you can to land a spouse. You never leave the house without looking like you are going out on a date. You obsess over your appearance. You start an account for every Christian dating site that exists. You attend every church with a decent number of singles, and never miss a singles ministry event at any m"decent" church within a two-hour drive of your home. The center of your life is no longer Jesus, but someone you are determined to attract to fill his place. Which of these options best describes the negative attitude you can find yourself in when feeling down? (You can tick more than one)
Click on the table to view a larger version:

As a single person, if there was one thing you could change about Reading Family Church what would it be?
  • More opportunities to meet with other single people not just socially but in supporting each other with the untruths that circulate in your head!
  • Not putting pressure on 2 single people of the opposite sex that might be interested in each other.... be patient
  • Have single programme in order to help people, because we always have marriage course and dinner but nothing for single.
  • That more families would include singles in invitations to meals/activities rather than just inviting other couples/families
  • Nothing - I think RFC handles singless well and actually I dont think that it's something that needs to be brought up too regularly - the reason being, I dont regularly think about my singleness... and i certainly dont let it get me down, so when someone draws attention to it then I become aware of it, along with all the emotion that goes with it.
  • More consideration to the stories we tell. What metaphors or anecdotes do we use when we preach? How well do these speak to single people? Do our stories privilege certain kinds of lifestyles? (i.e. married with young-ish children living at home). 
  • It would be good to give more prominence and profile to single people. It seems that couples are more commonly asked to lead Life Groups, for example.
  • Not as much as RFC issue, but a Church issue in general. There needs to be more emphasis on the fact that is FINE to be single, and that singleness whether a temporary season, or permanent- is an equal calling to that of being in a commited relationship. In addition, that you can date with intent whilst going at a pace that isn't super fast.
  • Want more interaction with adult couples so that I can see what a long term relationship (with God) can look like.
  • More church ministry opportunities you can get involved in that really only single people could do with their time, eg more short mission trips/ travelling in UK, so feel like their singleness is being celebrated?!
  • Quite often as a single person you are not invited round to people's house for dinner. But then as soon as you become a couple you're instantly worth having over for a meal. Would be good if more couples saw the value of getting to know single people as both parties have a lot to offer each other.
  • Less relationship speculation
  • I would love it if it was talked about more. I don't want people who are single to be veiwed as people who are waiting for marriage.
  • It feels like there are more support channels for married couples or people in relationships - with things like the marriage course. I'm not suggesting that a singles course is the solution to this.
  • Perhaps to find a Godly partner, one must break the walls of cliques between the young adults of RFC.
  • Not sure about that but Church would always do well to reinforce the message that marriage is not the happy ending fitting for all, it's not even an ending, it's the beginning of an oftentimes gruelling hike and then the wedding ring doesn't even cross the finishing line!
  • Mornings are so so hard. But I went to the evenings and I feel too old for those meetings. Would come back to the mornings but it doesn't seem as accessible to singles unless your a student. I don't know what the church can do if I'm honest but I know others who tried the morning and felt too single and left. The problem is it is a family church and there are less single and older people .
  • Singleness would be talked about more. Not just the pitfalls but the good stuff as well and an encouragement to be accountable, particularly if living on your own.
  • It would be great if perhaps events were organised each term with other churches nearby, giving single people the opportunity to meet new people in a subtle way.
  • The big focus on marraige, and feeling that being single is just an "in between" phase rather than also focussing on singleness.
  • More single orientated events. (not dating events!!) Lot of family events and events for males and females individually but not many events for singles, to just spend time together with others who love the same Father.
  • An aim to encourage friendship groups of students to mix more with different groups of students. It can be a bit exclusive.
  • More social events for 20s-30s.
  • More advice on purity and how we can become a person suitable for a Godly spouse.
  • Would be nice to be invited to dinner with couples, so I can see how's it's done
  • Greater opportunity to get to know family's. And a cheeky second, I have seen several older couples looking out for younger new couples. I would love to see couples taking single people under their wing too.
  • To make it easier for singles to naturally meet. This is incredibly difficult to do in a large church.
  • Not so much focus on being in a relationship but instead talking about what such a gift it can be - it's taken me a long time to get there!
  • The way marriage is pushed on you as soon as you date someone. It shouldn't be rushed, if the marriage is to last we have to have time to learn whether we are compatible and ready.
  • Discussions on Godly marriage,how to undertake Godly relationships,tips and advice.
  • Have more social events that are 'singles' friendly or have more seminar type events that will encourage those that are not comfortable with their singleness.
  • Occasionally, through sermons (especially Ruth!) there appears to be an unspoken attitude that it is God's best for us to marry, that singleness is a temporary pain to be endured. I see little example of singleness being upheld or of teaching as in Matthew 19!
  • The name! I nearly didn't even try RFC because the "Family" bit implied to me that the church was just about married couples with kids (as many churches truly seem to be!)
  • Not to keep bringing up expectations that "one day you'll get married" and to be radical and say that the singleness described in I Cor is precious and valuable, and not to idolise it (at the risk of closing yourself off to relationships) but to treasure it.
  • Maybe have 'prayer buddies' or something like that where two single people pray for each other- one of the hardest things about being single sometimes is that you feel there is no one to share your littlest problems with because you think no one else will care. Having someone to share even the little things with and to pray for you could be really encouraging.
  • More men (jokes) nothing that comes to mind.
  • Speed dating or talking more about how on earth does a christian female put herself 'out there'? Partially joking as per speed dating, partially not. The advice given, not at RFC, but in generic dating teaching, is you may meet people at work or at church. But what if you work with all females, and what if there is a lack of a dating pool at church,especially in the age range? Get more holy eligible bachelor christian blokes into the kingdom please, thanks :p that would be my request.
  • I actually think it's quite good. My home church is very "marriage focused" (not on purpose it's just the atmosphere that has developed) and i think Reading Family church does avoid this
  • The culture that everyone should be married in order to be happy/fulfilled
If you were to be single for the rest of your life, what legacy would you want to leave and be remembered for?
  • I would hope that it would be reasonably similar to if I got married.
  • Working with vulnerable children in mission work abroad in Africa or other countries. I want to do that anyway so am hoping if I do meet someone they'll want to do the same. Who knows!!
  • A woman that was made complete fully in God
  • I have not thought of that because I don't think I will stay single for the rest of my life.
  • That it didn't define me. That I used my singleness to serve others in ways that married couples cant. That I still lived to love and glorify God and was adventurous i.e. did what I felt called to, jobs/travel etc and didn't let being single stop me!!
  • That I was a valued member of the FAMILY of RFC and not just a single lady
  • Now that's a good question... I have no answers!
  • (I'm not sure why the first half of that question is necessary? What effect does being single/married have on one's dreams? Genuine question - perhaps I don't know because I've never been married!) In answer: I'd like to be remembered for living life to the full.
  • For using my singleness to glorify God- to take my singleness as a gift and to use it to serve the Church and those around me in the same way I would serve my wife and children. To commit myself to loving, caring and protecting those- in ways that I wouldn't/couldn't if I were married. To love and invest in those who also felt without family.
  • To be known as a joyful person who lived to glorify God and who didn't need to find fulfilment in marriage.
  • The time and work i put into discipling people, encouraging people and crazy adventures i went on for God because i was just always free to say yes to them with no ties
  • Someone who lived in the present and did not let joy get stolen in the hoping and 'waiting'. Someone who always hoped, but lived in relationship with God/Jesus first and foremost and continually aimed to live in HIS will and with immense FAITH. That GOD/JESUS was and will always be the core of their very being.
  • Being married shouldn't define me. That shouldn't be what my whole life is about. It can easily become the focus of my attention but if I am to live a Godly life then I want to be remembered for showing Jesus' love to everyone and keeping him at the centre of my life. Just because you don't get married doesn't mean you can't have a good legacy. Being a committed Chrisian isn't about ticking the I'm married box, it's about showing love and grace in a world where that can often be harsh and unforgiving. This question actually helps me Focus on what my mission should be and helps me remember once again that I don't have to be married to be fulfilled.
  • A legacy of loving God and others with all of me
  • If I am single it will be for god. It would need to be for his glory. Otherwise there's no point.
  • Dont know
  • Serve God for the rest of my days here on Earth. Commit my singleness and energy to his way for me. Let the world know or even be brave enough to bring changes in our local communities and country.
  • To be known for giving myself to the work that God had for me
  • That I served God and people could see the Holy Spirit through me.
  • being the Batman
  • Pursuing God whole-heartedly and confidently
  • The same legacy I would want to leave even if I wasn't single for the rest of my life: that I loved God and loved others, not just in word but in deed; that I was quick to apologise and willing to change; and that I didn't squander the gifts God gave me but did everything for His glory.
  • Being a good friend to others. The difference I have made in my work. Work has taken too big a place in my life because of my singleness but it fills a gap.
  • That I did all that God asked of me, preferably without too much grumbling, in particular loved people.
  • I would want to be remembered for being a friendly, positive and cheerful person.
  • Using the time i have to bless others.
  • Single or married, I would want my life legacy to be a person who fervently desired the Father heart of God and followed it passionately. Someone who loved as Christ loved us. Someone who stood steadfast in what I know and believe to be true. Someone who inspires. Someone who changes things rather than simply talks about changing them. At the end of the day, someone who forgave, actively did to see change and who loved; loved God, loved people and love them-self, not because I am worthy or good enough, but because He has made me worthy and good enough and perfect, all in His image.
  • Doing great things for God around the world, something like that which can often be easier when single and can show a strong sense of female power and independence.
  • Being the best father I could have been for my children.
  • someone who was not ashamed of being single and let God shine through it, and work with it :)
  • hat God used my singleness to do something extraordinary
  • A mark on history
  • Being someone who invested in people. But of all generations, not just my own.
  • Being a great friend, working hard, achieving memorable experiences, tackling challenges.
  • That I was hospitable to couples and singles and that I'd be able to encourage and bless couples with the spare time and money I have
  • That I was someone who reveled in it and used it to the best of my advantage, it was just the way I was and not something tht defined my life.
  • To look after other people's children
  • That I gave my life wholeheartedly to God,encouraging others and placing something good into the world.That I loved those around me as much as I would a husband.
  • If i was single I would want to leave a legacy that said, 'she didn't let her singleness get her down'
  • That I was a God fearing woman who did her best to do his will.
  • always having time for others, helping and being a good listener.
  • To have a positive attitude about being single and be an example to young women who may also be in the same position as me.
  • One of the sins which I think I am prone to is to want to have a legacy!! Especially if I remain single and so don't have children to remember me, I want to do something significant, pioneering or important and of lasting value. I want to work with the poor, especially with children who do not have parent figures in their life... but while this might sound self sacrificing I know that I am in part driven by pride that others might look at all the amazing things I have endured and achieved in my life!
  • EXACTLY THE SAME AS IF I GOT MARRIED!! That is, I would wan to be remembered as someone who reflected God's love to all those around me. That goal remains the same regardless of whether I marry and have a family or not.
  • Whole heartily trusting God!
  • Someone who served the community and served the church and loved God, and was supernaturally happy because the Spirit of God was living inside their body.
  • that I was compassionate about caring for those in need.
  • Being a person who exudes love for people
  • not sure
  • Equipping the next generation and generations to come, releasing the kingdom of heaven on earth, telling people about Jesus. Standard christian life stuff basically.
  • I think i would like to be remembered for being a good friend. Being single would make it a lot easier to be able to drop everything to help someone out and i wouldn't wanna waste that opportunity.
  • I don't think I would, once I'm dead my legacy and being remembered will be the last thing on my mind!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Family Matters 3: Singleness - Sermon Notes

Below is the presentation that went with the sermon, feel free to use if you wish. Sermon audio will be found here, later this week.

First of all, a big thank you to all of you who responded to the surveys I put out. Whilst they won't be directly referred to here, they have been invaluable in helping me frame the content. Results will be published here in the near future.

It seems that in our culture sexual self-expression is a god. Fifty years ago, creating a comedy film like "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" would have been unthinkable, but changes in society around how we think of sexuality means celibate singleness is now a common joke. Moreover, the huge breakdown in marriage since the 60s has rightly prompted many churches to do all they can to defend and strengthen marriages. But I wonder if a silent casualty in this culture war has been a high view of singleness and celibacy. Don't believe me? Well how many people do you know who really believe you can live a fulfilling life without any sexual expression? Any?

We need to recover a high and robust view of fulfilling celibate singleness not just as a transition phase to marriage (although we recognise most will marry) but as a lifetime choice because:
  • People are living as singles for much longer due to extended education, career choices and the soaring cost of leaving home.
  • Too much of the talk around singleness (in the media, at least) is around failed celibacy e.g. scandals involving priests and young boys
  • There is a small, but significant, group of people in our church family, who struggle with same sex attraction and want to be faithful in affirming the Biblical picture of marriage as a lifelong exclusive union between one man and one woman.
In seeking to defend marriage, some half-truths have sprung up in the church which make singles feel like second class citizens, cliches like "Marriage makes you a more godly person" or "When we reach contentment in singleness, then God will give us marriage." These half-truths can make for helpful discussion starters, but they must never be the final or defining word spoken over a single person's life. The final word, must always come from the hope of the gospel e.g. 2 Peter 1:3-4 "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires."

Of course, every lifestyle has its challenges and opportunities. For singles, the two greatest challenges are loneliness and lack of accountability for life choices:
  • Loneliness because we were made for community and that whilst they may be very loved, they do not feel "irreplaceable" in the same way that mummies and daddies or husbands and wives do.
  • Lack of accountability because no one sees their life up close enough to lovingly challenge them. At its worst singleness can be an extended childhood of wasted time and money fuelled by the false dreams of our consumer society which tell us all to put ourselves first.
The greatest benefits however are that singles:
  • Have a relatively large amount of free time and money and can direct it for great good
  • Enjoy a broad range of deep friendships
  • Have greater freedom to take godly risks and respond to needs as they arise
In the New Testament, both Jesus and Paul see the celibate single lifestyle as equal in value to marriage, Matt.19:12, 1 Cor.7:7, 32-34.

Sean mentioned last week that in marriage there is a picture of what God is like (as Trinity). If you go to a wedding you will hear the pastor say that marriage also reflects how Christ interacts with his people - the church. But what about singles? Can their lifestyles, like marrieds, also powerfully illustrate the gospel or are they doomed to a place where the only way they can express the gospel and validate themselves in the church and society is by becoming super-productive machines in church ministry and the workplace?

In Genesis, God blessed Adam and Eve and told them to scatter across the face of the earth and fill it with families that reflect the image of God through the life giving sexual union of marriage. But when Jesus came, he introduced a new order. He came not to scatter, but to gather one family from across the whole earth, one in which eventually, no one would be paired off in marriage, but all would be brothers and sisters in community together (Ecclesiastes 3:5, Luke 20:32-36).

Therefore, we live between two worlds. Earthly marriages and families are a wonderful prophetic echo of the one eternal family and they should be encouraged and defended by all (Heb.13:4), but they will one day pass away. A time is coming when Christians who have been married in this life will, in the New Creation, look back to their married life, I guess, in the same way that we all look back now to great friendships from our school days, that's to say, relationships we are grateful for, but no longer hanker after because a greater reality has superseded it and we have moved on into a new chapter of existence - eternal life.

So, both marriage and singleness, when done for Jesus' sake are powerful complimentary reminders of gospel truth.

Marriage reflects the corporate relationship Christ has with his church: how Christ sacrifices himself for the whole Church and how the Church submits herself to Christ. Ephesians 5:24-25

Celibate singles living in community reflect the “day to day” reality of our personal relationship to Christ and each other as it will be in the world to come. Christ calls us his dear friends because he shares his heart with us and one day we will reign with him as his adopted brothers and sisters in the new world John 15:15, 2Tim.2:12.

So to the singles we say:
  • Jesus defines you more than your relational status - don't make your hunt for a spouse into an idol that consumes you.
  • Prioritise the Kingdom of God in the use of your time (bible reading, prayer and ministry) and money.
  • Commit yourself to others even when it hurts.
  • Consider doing ministries families can’t easily do esp with the broken and needy.
  • Lead the way in modelling what the new creation community will look like.
To the marrieds we say:
  • Jesus defines you more than your relational status - don't make your spouse an idol or an excuse.
  • Love the singles – listen to their hearts, don't turn them into projects
  • Don’t assume marriage is the final destination for every single
  • Encourage and praise them – who else will?
  • Extend your family – Share your life with singles, not just because they can learn from you and prepare for marriage, but because we all need warm human relationships
  • Don’t wait until they are marrying to give them things - As a bachelor, I got given a car by some dear friends.
Whatever our season of life and however long it goes on for, Jesus promises to be enough for us (Mark 10:29-30): “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

Possible questions for discussion:

To the marrieds:
  • How can you support singles in RFC to live for Jesus embracing the benefits and limiting the damage of the pitfalls in the single life?
  • What encouraging stories / painful lessons do you have from your season as a single person that would be helpful for others to hear?
  • How will the truth that in the New Creation none of us will be married any more help to healthily shape the way you do marriage and family life now?
To the singles:
  • Do you see your singleness as a gift from God to be embraced or a curse from God to be escaped as soon as possible? Why?
  • Are you sufficiently accountable to others for your life choices e.g. the way you spend your time and money? If not, what changes do you need to make?
  • How are you fostering real community in your life and modelling what community in the new creation will be like for those watching you? What help do you need to do that?

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Singleness Sermon Teaser

As a teaser for the upcoming sermon on singleness, here are two sets of results from the two surveys I wrote.

The first is from the singles saying how they view their singleness:

The second is the range of answers from the marrieds talking about what they felt the best thing about their singleness season was.
  • Man speaking: Fun and freedom and enjoying the company of many girls.
  • Free time was my time!
  • Decision making flexibility in scheduling and activities
  • Having more 'free' time to spend how I liked and with a range of people. I think I had a lot more time for friends because once you're married a lot of that time is spent with your partner. Being more flexible.
  • Having good times with friends. Having more time to have to yourself for chilling or quiet times with God.
  • You can do what you want when you want with no one else to take into consideration. You can spend your money how you'd like to and treat yourself without feeling guilty. You can spend more time with your friends. You spend a lot less time doing housework and boring "running a family" chores.
  • Not having to worry about how selfish you were
  • One of the best things was living with other guys of a similar age.
  • Wasting away the hours playing computer games ... hang on ... maybe that wasn't so great after all
  • Not answerable for how I spent money and more male attention.
  • Being able to change my plans after stating them, without being held to them.
  • Not being accountable in actions or decisions
  • Spontaneity
  • You can be as selfish with your time as you see fit- be social and polite or just not enter communal living.
  • I have some awesome friends from uni, when I was single, who really are friends for life, and there when I need them. I was able to cultivate deep friendships with people.
And finally - an amusing, but poignant clip (Embedding disallowed). Found myself in that situation not a few times - although I didn't mention the divorce rate...