Picture This

Who would have thought that Eastman Kodak, the company that invented the hand held camera and brought the world the first pictures from the moon could fail?  And yet back in January Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection.  For over a hundred years the name Kodak has been synonymous with photography, so what happened?  In an era where people are taking exponentially more photos than ever before,  how could a photography company possibly go bankrupt?  Because they were slow to embrace change. 

Kodak was convinced that their product was so superior to the new digital technology that they would always have a customer base.  And while they were busy patting themselves on their back and congratulating themselves for their faithfulness to that which was old, the new passed them by.  The core principle hadn’t changed. People still wanted to take pictures, but how they were taking pictures was changing. Digital cameras slowly overtook film technology and the sad part was that Kodak had invented the first digital camera but didn’t see a future for it.

I wonder what the church can learn from Kodak?  How long will we continue to offer film to a digital world?  There will always be those who prefer film, but eventually. . .
Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Puzzle of Singleness

Where have all the married couples gone?  At least on television.  Have you noticed that there are very few married folks on television anymore? 
These days you would be hard pressed to find a couple in a traditional marriage on prime time these days.  In Big Bang the only marriage couple you see are Raj’s mom and dad when he is skyping with them.  In “Last Man Standing” Mike and Vanessa are married, In “Raising Hope” Burt and Virginia are married and of course Marge and Homer are married, but for the most part folks are single, divorced or living together.
Which may be reflective of society, Statistic Canada tells us that for the first time since it started keeping track single adults outnumber those of us who are married.  In the last census we discovered that there are over 8 million people over eighteen in Canada who are not in a committed relationship, neither married or living common law, and that represents 25% of the population.  
Interesting.  And some of those folks are committed to their singleness but many of them talk about how someday they are going to get married and have kids.  And part of it is that society has changed, I attended a session a couple of years ago and the topic was “Emerging Adults” and the premise was that 30 is the new 19 and that where we were in our early twenties, as far as career and marriage goes,  that for the most part, today’s generation will be about 10 years behind us.  And that isn’t a criticism it is a reality, and part of that lies with how we brought our children up, which is very different than how we were brought up, which was very different from how our parents were brought up, which was probably very different from how their parents were brought up.  One of the consequences of that is that people are remaining single longer than they ever have in history. 
This is week five in our Family finding your place in the puzzle series and we’ve kind of hit on marriage and parenting and last week we looked at how we are to honour our parents at various stages in our lives so this week we are looking at “The Puzzle of Singleness”.  And we will be looking at some of the challenges that go along with being single.  Especially some of the challenges that specifically go along with being single and being a Christ Follower.  Let’s start with the proverbial elephant in the room. 
1) What About Sex  Often God is portrayed as “anti sex” but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  It all began in the beginning, which when you think about it is a really good place for it to begin.  Now I know that some people teach and have been taught that original sin was sex and that was why the first couple was expelled from the Garden of Eden.  The theological term for that teaching is “A crock.”  Here is the account of creation Genesis 1:27 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  So to start God made boys boys, and he made girls girls.  And the parts were all in place and they all worked.  This is before original sin and before the fall, Adam and Eve were fully functioning models.  And then God gives them directions as to what to do with all the fiddly bits.  We read in Genesis 1:28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.”  Now listen to what it says at the end of Genesis 1:30 . . . And that is what happened.  And the very next verse says Genesis 1:31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
And time and time again throughout the scriptures we are reminded that sex is God’s gift to us.   And sometimes that’s a shock because most of us are convinced that our generation created sex or at least discovered sex, especially if you are child of the sixties or seventies.  Got news for you, there was only one virgin birth and you weren’t it. 
And if we don’t think that our generation created sex then we think we are the first generation to enjoy it.  Wrong again. It has been the way it is since creation, sex didn’t evolve it hasn’t gotten better.  If anything as we have moved away from creation and that initial intimacy we have moved away the fullest enjoyment of sexual intimacy as well.
But this comes with a caveat and that is that God created sex as part of the marriage relationship and the word of God warns us both in the old Testament and the New Testament against sex outside of marriage.  Is it because God is an old Fuddy Duddy and he doesn’t want his children to have fun?  No, it’s because he is our loving father and he cares about us. 
A few years ago I preached an entire sermon that was entitled “Sex God’s Wedding Gift” and it identified the three reasons for sex and they were Procreation, that’s making babies, the Second Purpose is Pleasure.  Throughout the scriptures the act of sex is equated with pleasure in both the New Testament and Old Testament.  One entire book, The Song of Solomon or The Song of Songs, deals with the desire of two lovers for one another.  It is a beautiful love song that will make you blush. 
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
Did you catch that? There is to be a mutuality in meeting each others needs and desires. It’s not simply all about you singular it is all about you plural.   It wasn’t like God created us and then said “Oops that wasn’t supposed to feel that good, oh well.” 
And the Third Reason Was As A Partnership.  In the first definition of the marriage relationship shortly after creation we read this Genesis 2:24 This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  As a matter of fact that scripture was probably read at your wedding.  There is a spiritual aspect of love making that should never be ignored or downplayed. 
This is not just a physical act it is a giving of one self to another person and through that a bond is created that is unlike any other bond. 
If you are going to spend a lifetime living with the same person it will take more than simply liking one another and picking up your socks to keep things together.  Often when people begin to drift apart physically then they begin to drift apart emotionally and spiritually.  In 31 years of pastoral ministry I’ve never had a couple sit across from me for counselling who have said “you know the entire marriage is falling apart but our sex life is great.”
And the reasons that sex is designed specifically for marriage are those same three reasons. 
The first is A) Procreation Really doesn’t matter if it happens inside or outside of marriage sex still makes babies, and people are still surprised when it happens.  I don’t think we have to provide a lot of research to discover that in most cases life is better for all involved when a child is conceived in a loving and stable relationship.  And I say in most cases not all because I know that all generalizations are wrong.
Childrearing is tough when there are two I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it is for single moms.  Education and dreams are put on hold or cancelled.  And recent studies show that the probability of eventual marriage drops significantly for single moms.
And for the father, there is a responsibility financially and emotionally.  Even if you choose to not marry the mother because it was just a “fling” you will be tied to her through your child. 
And that doesn’t even get in to the challenges that your child will face.
B) Pleasure So what’s the problem here?  It becomes pleasure for pleasure sake.  When sex takes place outside of the marriage bed its main objective is pleasure.  Your pleasure. And so that becomes the quest.  Pleasure becomes your ultimate objective and your god.  It’s not about you plural it’s about you singular.  And it is for the moment, no thought for the future.  Sex is not a physical act alone. There is a spiritual and emotional dimension to sex. If you leave them out, then you lower it to the level of animals. And then you are guided by the same instincts that guide a tom cat when he heads out at night. Which is why the scripture warn Ephesians 4:19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
There is a Partnership  Let’s go back to the two become one.  I had a conversation with a young man awhile back and he told me “You have to be careful when you have sex because you give the other person a little bit of yourself.”  Not a believer mind you and he had it pegged.
2) What About Expectations.   As a single person you have to deal with people’s expectations for you.  There are times I’m sure that many of you think “God loves me and everybody else has a plan for the rest of my life.”
Have you ever felt like that? Felt that you were trying to satisfy everyone else’s desire for what they want you to be?  We often forget that Jesus was a single adult and there were probably the same expectations on him as there are on singles today. 

He was the oldest son so probably it was expected that he would become a carpenter like Joseph had been. It was probably expected that he would marry and have a family. Probably build house, have a lawn, a nice chariot. Take a couple of weeks’ vacation a year maybe go to the sea of Galilee.

What they didn’t expect was that he would go around the country side preaching and healing people and casting out demons. Everybody knew about his cousin John, you know the one who didn’t cut his hair or shave, ate honey and locust and wore a camel hair jacket, but the family only needed one eccentric. And they definitely thought that Jesus was eccentric listen to what the Bible says in Mark 3:21 When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.

And so Jesus had expectations from the most important people in his life, his mother, brothers and sisters to be concerned about. I wonder if he ever heard comments like, “What’s going to happen to the carpenter shop now that you are tramping around the country side preaching” I wonder if Mary ever did the Mother thing and made comments like, “so what would be wrong with meeting a nice girl and settling down” or “Now that you’re not around the house I get so lonely”
Maybe it’s not your family, perhaps as your friends are getting married you are feeling subtle pressure to follow suit or maybe it’s from society in general. 
So whose expectations are you trying to fulfill? Your parents? Are you still trying to please them? Your friends? Your Pastor? Your Boss? If you are trying to fill the expectations of the people who surround you then you are destined to be unhappy.

If you think you should be a part of a couple because everyone has those expectations for you then that is the wrong reason.  Listen up you will never, never, never make everyone happy, never. So forget it and play to an Audience of One. And that one is God.  

And if that makes other people happy then that’s a bonus, and if that makes other people unhappy, tough.

3) What About God’s Will? A question that I get asked over and over again as a pastor is: “How do I find God’s will for my life?” “How can I be sure this is what God wants me to do?”

There’s a story told about a traveler that got lost and the further he went the loster he got until finally he pulled into a little town put all of his male hormones on hold and stopped a farmer and said “Excuse me sir, but I think I’m lost” Now I know that doesn’t sound like a man, but bear with me for the sake of the story ok? The farmer responded by saying “Well, do you know where you is?” and the man said “Yes sir I saw the name of the town when I came in” “Well then” replied the farmer “Do you know where you want to go” “Of course I do” said the traveler” “Then you ain’t lost” said the farmer “You just need some direction.”

That’s the reality of our lives as Christians, we know where we are and we know where we want to be we just need some directions on how to get there.

Where do you get direction as a Christ Follower? You get it from prayer, you get it from the bible and you get it from other believers.
I don’t know what God’s entire will for your life is.  Does it involve marriage?  Or does he want you to remain single?  I don’t know, but I do know what he doesn’t want. 2 Peter 3:9 He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.  And he doesn’t want anything to come between you and him, not even a spouse.
4) What About Marriage? Now I don’t know if anyone tried to pressure Jesus into getting married, but I would suspect that during his adult years it was a subject that was brought up from time to time.
And based on the fact that even though he was God he came as a man I would suspect that there was probably at some point in his life someone who was special enough that the thought must have crossed his mind, “I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life with her” Maybe it was Mary or Martha or Mary Magdalene or perhaps the little girl with pig tails when he was in fourth grade.

Marriage is a concern of Singles, will I get married? And if so when, and will it work? This is the generation who will reap what all those divorces in the 80’s and 90’s sowed. And many of them are staying single longer so they don’t repeat the mistakes of our generation. But it’s not easy because there is an incredible pressure on them to marry, and sometimes the Christian community is exerting the lion’s share of that pressure, to the point that I’m sure that many singles feel like they’re back in Noah’s day, you know, “Pair up or perish.”

Two pieces of advice for singles when it comes to marriage, you may have heard me say this before; go slow and go fast.

The first part is advice for when you are looking. There are worse things then staying single forever and one of those is being married to the wrong person.  And if you don’t believe that, I can give you a list of people who could testify to the truth of that statement because they found out first hand.

You say “Denn, you are already married so it really doesn’t affect you does it?” No, but in 31 years of pastoral ministry I’ve seen the result of not thinking it through. You need to make sure that whoever it is, that you are willing to spend the rest of your life with.

And one of the biggies there is whether or not you share a common faith. And I know how 2 Corinthians 6:14 Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? Is trotted out for singles as the scriptural admonition to not marry a non Christian.

Listen to what it says in the Contemporary English Version. 2 Corinthians 6:14 Stay away from people who are not followers of the Lord! Can someone who is good get along with someone who is evil? Are light and darkness the same? It’s funny that Christians use this specific reference to marriage when that wasn’t what Paul was writing about. This text refers to all areas of our lives where there would be conflict if we were teamed up with non-Christians. If you are a Christian musician who plays in a band with non-believers what happens when the music you chose to play is at odds with your Christian beliefs?

If you go into business with a non- believer what happens when your business ethics come into conflict? And yes if you are a Christian and you choice to marry a non-Christian what happens when those areas come into conflict. And they will come into conflict because you will be operating from two very different bases.

It would be like building a home from two different sets of blueprints where one person started on the front of the building to build a two story salt box and the person on the back was building a sprawling bungalow. There will be conflicts spiritually, emotionally and socially, and you can take that to the bank. If you marry a person who does not have a relationship with Jesus Christ, here is the sad reality you need to take the view that they might never have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and so you lose all rights to complaining about their lack of commitment to the church, their life style and their moral conduct as a non-believer.

Make sure that the person you fall in love with and marry is the person God has for you. Let me regress and say that when I was in college I didn’t even date anyone who was not committed to being in full time ministry, because I did not want to have to make a choice if we “Fell in Love”

That’s the go slow part, add to that the second phase which is to go fast. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:36 But if a man thinks that he’s treating his fiancée improperly and will inevitably give in to his passion, let him marry her as he wishes. It is not a sin.

We live in a world where there is an immense amount of pressure for singles to be sexually active, which in direct contrast with the word of God where the ideal is to be sexually pure as a single. When Couples enter into a long term relationship where they are heading for marriage my personal feeling for Christians is that in most cases short engagements are better than long ones.

I’ve heard all the arguments for long engagements, including finishing college and being financially independent. But I’ve seen Christian couples who put off getting married but got carried away in the physical side of their relationship and their plans are derailed with an unplanned pregnancy. Sexual intimacy is a very special gift from God, a gift to be shared in a marriage.

For most people they are at a time in their lives where their bodies are saying yes, yes, yes, go, go, go. And it’s tough for their minds to interject and say, no, no, no, wait, wait, wait.

Paul was nobody’s fool listen again to what he says 1 Corinthians 7:36 But if a man thinks that he’s treating his fiancée improperly and will inevitably give in to his passion, let him marry her as he wishes. It is not a sin.  I like how it is put in an earlier edition of the New Living Translation 1 Corinthians 7:36 But if a man thinks he ought to marry his fiancée because he has trouble controlling his passions and time is passing, it is all right; it is not a sin. Let them marry.

In closing listen to the words of Paul to his friend 2 Timothy 2:22 Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

One Million Dollars

If you were buying a microwave and vacuum cleaner from Wal-Mart, would you try and pay for your $476.00 purchase using a million dollar bill?  Probably not, but police say Michael Anthony Fuller insisted he could pay for his vacuum cleaner and microwave oven with a $1-million bill.
Fuller insisted the bill was real but the problem is, that there is no such thing as a million dollar bill.  Police later arrested Fuller and charged him with attempting to obtain property by false pretence and uttering a forged instrument.  Apparently million dollar frauds aren’t as uncommon as you might think.  Just this this past summer, a Pennsylvania man was charged with trying to use a fake $1 million bill to purchase marijuana.  I wonder who complained?
We don’t know where Mr. Fuller obtained the bill, but he seemed to be quite convinced that his money was real and he was sincere in his belief, but that didn’t make the bill any more real. 
There are all kinds of folks out there who will try to use the spiritual equivalent of a million dollar bill to gain eternal life, and it doesn’t matter how sincere they are in their belief, it won’t make their beliefs anymore real. Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.