What the World Needs Now

We tend to think that things are worse than they have ever been. Looking around, it is easy to get discouraged by the reality of families, marriage, and love. Some examples, which I shared in a recent message:

  • in the U.S., there are now more adults who are single then there are adults who are married;
  • in part because we have the highest divorce rate in the Western World;
  • and younger people are delaying marriage; the average age is 27 for women, and 29 for men;
  • which ties in directly to the rate of cohabitation, which has increased 1000% since the 1970s;
  • and so it’s no surprise that 40% of children born in the U.S. today are born to unmarried women
  • all of this at the same time as marriage has been redefined in our culture.

As Jonathan Grant points out, humanity has gone through five stages of separation of sex from its foundations: separation from procreation (birth control), marriage (cohabitation), partnership (sex as temporary and recreational), another person (porn), our own bodies (questioning the very essence of male and female).

The cumulative effect of all this can be summed up, I think, by Dorothy’s famous words: Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.

But while it’s true that we have gone through seismic changes in the past 50 years, it’s not as if the 21st century is the first to live through such morally ambiguous times.

One Anglican missionary, who worked among the Scots-Irish who migrated to Appalachia in early frontier America, calculated that of the marriages he performed in 1767, 94% of the brides were already pregnant.

And it’s not just in America where we’ve found ways to chart our own moral path. America, in any age, has nothing on the Greeks or the Romans. As Preston Sprinkle notes, “What we call porn, the Romans simply called life. …It wasn’t uncommon to have pictures of men having sex with boys painted on water pitchers served at the dinner table. …What I’ve seen portrayed in the Roman world makes Lady Gaga look like a nun (or a priest).”

The point: those of us who seek to live by a biblical ethic have often been in the minority. It certainly was that way when the New Testament was written, and it certainly is today. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, or angered, or defeated. Instead, our job is to live as signposts for another kingdom. Our calling is to demonstrate, through self- and sexual-restraint, that there is another way to live: a way that is transformed, and is being transformed, by the power of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

The truth is: it’s not very sexy (literally) to live as a counter-culture. But it’s probably the only hope we have to be who we are called to be; and it just might be the way those who are tired of the world’s Moral Merry-Go-Round, find that there is a way off. Not by our moral grandstanding, but by our humble demonstration of a love that is surely not of this world.

 

The 36 Questions of Love (and other interesting things about love)

Psychologist Arthur Aron has come up with 36 questions that will help any two people get closer to each other. If two people will sit down and go over these questions (whether they be married, or dating, or friends, or even siblings), Aron says that the conversation and openness that develops around these questions will draw those two people deeper into their relationship.

Some of the questions skim the surface (“When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?”); some go deeper (“For what in your life do you feel most grateful?); some are thoughtful (“What do you value most in a friendship?”); and some are personal (“What is your most terrible memory?”). But all of them, we’re told, help form a bond with the person you share these with. Interested? Check out the questions here, or listen to a story about them here.

Aron’s work was just one fascinating conversation around love, relationships, and friendship that I’ve been chewing on recently, as I’ve begun a three-week series on this topic. Here’s some other material on the web that has gotten my attention (some Christian, some secular, all insightful).

On Sunday, I mentioned that, when given a choice, millennials preferred the “Beta” model of marriage: two-year trial period, followed by the opportunity to formalize or dissolve the partnership. Their second choice? The “Real Estate” model. Huh? Read the article; it’ll explain it. (On the encouraging side: nearly 1/3 of millennials still believe in the “til-death-do-us-part” idea.)

Did you know that married folks who regular participate in church life are 46% less likely to get divorced than the average, while those who attend church only “sometimes,” have a 10% higher rate of divorce? That, and other stats about divorce (including the interesting correlation between the cost of the wedding and the likelihood of divorce) can be found here.

How about a blog post with 7 ways to land a Mennonite husband? Sound irrelevant? Sound anything-but-funny? Read it; I guarantee you will laugh, or I’ll refund your cost to read this blog post. And I also guarantee that if you’re married to a man, or are dating a man, or simply know a man, you’ll find plenty of places where you’re nodding your head in agreement — and laughing at the same time. And if you are a man, read it and see how, even though you had no idea, you aren’t that far from being a Mennonite man.

And then finally, on a more serious note: what is love? This blog does a pretty good job of listing 23 things that love is — and does.

Happy reading, and thinking, and laughing — and loving.

 

Getting in the Game

From the video that showed us how NOT to get in the game to the ordination of four new ministry leaders to the challenge of Hebrews 11 & 12 to the many people who stepped up and said, “Put me in the game” — Sunday was a very good day. Fourteen folks joined with our church family, and many more came forward to take their next step of faith.

For some, this involves ministry outside our building. For others, it’s about learning to lead another person to faith. And for many more of us, it was the simple commitment to pray everyday this month for someone we know who needs to know the love of Jesus. In short, at Fern Creek Christian, we said that we want to be in the game, not on the bench.

Like my friend Walt. He played high school football growing up in the 1940s in western Massachusetts. In the final game of his senior year, the QB on Walt’s team went back and heaved the ball as far as he could. Walt ran as fast as he could to get under it – and going full speed, he caught the ball, turned around, and there were the goalposts.

WHAM! Walt hit the goalposts head-on, and he was knocked out cold. Even so, he held onto the ball for the touchdown. They got Walt off the field, but it wasn’t very long before the coach put him back in. (Too soon, Walt remembers, even 70 years later.)

No doubt, he was right. We’re just now learning that lesson, so certainly in the 1940s they weren’t as aware of the effects of head injuries in football. And in Walt’s day, the helmets were only made of leather. And even though the helmets didn’t change, by the next season the goalposts did. Walt said a reporter wrote a story about his collision, and based on that, the uprights were padded in time for the next season.

Although Walt’s game day clearly should have ended when he was knocked out, there’s a lesson from Walt that still resonates with us 70 years later. YOU need to be in the game. You were not made for the bench. You were not made to watch, to observe, or even just to cheer. You were made for the action.

(By the way, this got even truer for Walt, when, three months after that mind-numbing collision with the uprights, he was on an aircraft carrier. In other words, he really stepped up his game.)

I am grateful to be a part of a church family where so many have said: I’m in the game — where we listen to the Spirit, we respond to the Spirit, and we GO in the Spirit.

I’m in the game. Are you?

WHO is your burden?

I have a friend whose kids were having a disagreement (read: fight). The brother told his sister, I hate you. To which his sister, Sarah, replied, “God put me in this family & you have to love me or He’ll put you on a cross.”

That would take care of the whole sibling rivalry thing, I guess. But Sarah was right about one thing: she and her brother are family, and they need to love each other.

You see, love — the kind of love that is all over the pages of the New Testament, isn’t simply the opposite of hate. Nor is it even liking someone, and it’s definitely not about how you feel about someone else. For the truth is, brothers and sisters often don’t LIKE each other, do they? Much of the time, they don’t feel good about each other.

But real love is a choice, and chooses to act based on what you know about God, and about that person — that God IS love, and longs for that love to be made real to everyone. As Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche Community, has said: “Love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.” Love is the choice we make to seek the best for another person.

Often, that is very practical, where I choose to do what’s right — where I choose what builds another up, or meets their need, or challenges them or encourages them. Love has as its goal the other’s best, where we take on the responsibility of choosing that best — even when it inconveniences or even harms us.

I just finished reading a book on Christian friendship, where the author, Wesley Hill, gives practical ways to live out friendship. One way you do that is by letting someone be a burden to you.

That might strike you as odd; it does me, too. And obviously that statement can be taken too far. But I like the idea behind it; that love is where we are deep enough in relationship with others that we know their burdens, and help carry them – because isn’t that what love looks like?

So, pause for a moment, and think: is there someone who may be facing challenges that you need to let be a burden to you? Where you come alongside them, or continue walking with them, and help them face something difficult, messy, something not-easily-fixed?

Because the best, most-lasting love, isn’t quick, or easy, or casual. The best love isn’t when you give five bucks to a guy on the street, or participate in a one-time service project, or even sponsor a hungry child overseas. Those may all be good things, but they don’t go very deep into the depths of love. For that, I believe, we have to love up close, personal, and faithfully.

So, who needs to be a burden to you?