Loneliness, Singleness and the Church Family

Some values evident in the original church family have been lost over the years in western culture


Rebecca McLaughlin, in her book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion, made an observation that inspires my article today. I make references to many people, often the same people over and over again, who inspire my thoughts. I am indebted to the many serious Christian thinkers who have plowed ground that make it easy for me to walk the paths after them.

About a third of the way into the ninth chapter (Isn’t Christianity Homophobic?), she talks about loneliness and singles in the church. She strikes some real gold – some nuggets lost in our modern culture. I’m afraid that we have developed traditions over the years in the west that have plowed under values that once informed the early church.

A tradition of rugged individualism and self determination that is, perhaps, unrivaled anywhere in the world, is inbred into our American culture. Our suburban lifestyle is uniquely American, with our manicured lawns separated from our neighbors by fences and hedges. These are, perhaps, the gentrified vestiges of the farmstead claims staked by American pioneers against world, enemies and neighbors alike.

We circle the wagons today around the family unit, which has increasingly come under “attack” from secular constructs of village-raised children and re-imagined, more inclusive family structures to fit changing societal mores. These things changes have caused conservatives and Christians to double down on the traditional, American family construct.

Traditional, though, is normative, and norms change. Not more than 150 years ago families looked different than they do today. In fact, they looked a little more like the modern family than the average person might realize.

From not long after the first generations of New World immigrants came ashore, families and communities of families began to migrate, drifting south, west and sometimes north, clearing areas for homesteads. The ever changing family compositions can be traced from one decennial census to the next. Not may households remained static from one census to another.

My father, who researches genealogies, shines some historical light on the norms of the frontier movement in writing books about those migrations. From census to census to census, the story is told.

Family units were ever changing in combination of husbands, wives, children (both minors and adults). Family often included a grandparent, niece or nephew, neighbor or border. Children were born; children died; children moved away and moved back. Spouses died. They we replaced by new spouses or neighbors who helped with the children and then became spouses… or not.

One of the main challenges of doing genealogical research through the 19th Century is in determining the relationships of all the people in those from one decennial census to another and tracing the changes from decade to decade.

The Industrial Revolution began to change the composition of family units into more static and defined structures that eventually became the “traditional” American family.

What we assume to be the traditional family unit today is of relatively recent vintage. The Little House on the Prairie is more of a sentimental, re-imagining of the way it was than history. Even then, we get a hint of the interdependence of community that was much more intimate than our anemic sense of community today. This is true even with greater distance separating homesteads than a thin veil of fences and hedges distinguishing suburban lots.

The distance that separates people in modern western life, however, might as well be miles. We live as if we don’t need our neighbors, and we largely don’t even know them. Those fences and hedges might as be walls.

In that sense, the observation that McLaughlin makes reveals the back-filled soil of modern western culture that covers an ancient value that has been plowed under in the process of all those years of western development.

Continue reading “Loneliness, Singleness and the Church Family”

Finding Humility and Civility in Loving the Truth and Loving Others

The shades of grey are difficult to navigate, no doubt, but it isn’t all black and white. Life isn’t that simple.

I am finding some solace today in the increasingly polarized world in which we live. I can always find some balm in humor! Over the last half decade or more, I have stepped outside the political fray psychologically, taking a seat in the audience and observing the circus. I vacillate from horror to sadness, but there is always humor to which I can turn for solace.

Today, someone posted on Facebook an article with the following clickbait headline: No one blamed Obama during the 2009 swine flu pandemic that killed over 12k! Killer headline, right? It didn’t take another poster to find this gem: Trump in 2014 said Obama was ‘a psycho’ not to immediately cancel flights into the US amid Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

I have not checked the facts, by the way. Does it matter anymore? Doubt everything. That’s just easier!

I have been meaning to “collect” a bunch of articles and memes in pairs that are the exact opposites of each other. For instance, one article might say, “Trump beats up little girls!” While, another article might say, “Hillary Clinton approves of beating up little girls!”

When I start looking for these supremely ironic pairings, I begin noticing them often, but I haven’t found the energy to do the collecting. Democrat says, “Scientists have proven the world is black”; Republican says, “Scientists have been debunked: the world is white.” Each posting is made with the certainty of inalienable truth.

Most people respond with hearty signals of knowing acknowledgment, replying according to the identities and protocols of their particular form of group think. Though one or two brave souls might dare to post rebuttal, this modern ritualistic dance on social media is practiced to perpetuate and strengthen what we already think, gaining the knowing approval of the people “who matter” in a series of empty triumphs over the time and energy it takes to be candid and introspective about truth.

The truth is that there is plenty of rebuttal to be found if one is simply looking for it. For every black, there is a white. It’s easy, of course, to get lost in the myriad shades of grey. And, perhaps, that’s the real problem of modern (postmodern) people. We fear getting lost and sucked down in the shades of grey. If we can “rise” above that gravitational force of contrary facts, virtually skimming the surface lest we get sucked under the waves, we can maintain our preferred position.

Might I dare suggest another course? The shades of grey are difficult to navigate, no doubt, but it isn’t all black and white. Life isn’t that simple.

That isn’t to say that truth doesn’t exist in a postmodern world. Truth is still truth. It just isn’t as simplistic as we prefer it to be.

Continue reading “Finding Humility and Civility in Loving the Truth and Loving Others”

On Being Salt (and Light) in the World


This blog post is inspired by today’s sermon where I go to church. The sermon was the last in a series about how followers of Christ are called to have an impact on the world. The text is out of Matthew, known as the Sermon on the Mount:

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:13-14 ESV

The themes here are salt and light. God calls His people to be salt and light in the world. These should be familiar concepts, but it always helps to dive a little deeper into the things we think we already know, and it doesn’t hurt to be reminded and encouraged to live them out.

I will preface my thoughts with a personal story I have told before. In high school and college, I found in myself a yearning to go off in the woods and retreat from society. That feeling might have been originally inspired by reading My Side of the Mountain when I was in grade school.

My Side of the Mountain was about a young boy who left his home for the woods of the Catskill Mountains where he took up residence in a hollow tree. He fended for himself in the quiet and solitude of nature, taming a peregrine falcon in the process, in a very idealistic depiction of life alone in the Eden of nature.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that I was very drawn to Henry David Thoreau. That kind of contemplative life lived alone in the peace and abundance of the outdoors was alluring to me. Even after I became a believer in college, my personal dream included peace, quiet, solitude and nature.

I am still drawn to that, but God took me through a college class in which I realized that God was calling me to the noise, bustle and busyness of society – despite my reluctance. It seemed like a personal paradigm shift to me, and it was; but it really wasn’t as profound a revelation (or shouldn’t have been) as it seemed at the time.

I won’t bore you will the details here, but I realized that I couldn’t (and shouldn’t) run from the encroachment of “civilized” society on that idyllic vision of personal utopia. I needed to turn and face it. I realized God was calling me to engage the world and not run from it.

Throughout history, religious believers of various kinds formed groups that cloistered themselves from the world. From monasteries to modern communes, the tendency to want to run from the grit and grime and dirt of humanity and human institutions is a strong idealist and religious theme, but not one, it seems, God wants most of us to pursue.

That is because He calls us to be salt and light.

As I listened to the sermon today, it dawned on me that salt is only effective when it comes in contact with food. It’s purpose in drawing out the flavor of food and in preserving it can only be realized when salt is in close contact with it. Salt can’t flavor or preserve food it doesn’t touch. Continue reading “On Being Salt (and Light) in the World”

The Eternal Significance of the Mundane

We are either moving toward God or moving away from Him. We are never standing still.


Tim Keller, in preaching on the First Temptation of Christ, observed that the first temptation of Jesus by Satan in the desert was a mundane one: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Luke 4:3) Everyone needs food. In our modern day, we would say that people not only need food, they deserve it as fundamental right.

Surely, the Son of God deserves bread, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t just make a little bread out of a stone. Right?

This is how Satan comes at us: “You need it. It’s just a small thing. C’mon, you deserve it!”

In the story, Jesus had just fasted for forty (40) days, and the forty (40) days were over. Jesus was hungry – more like starving! (Luke 4:2) He had done what he set out to do; he fulfilled the commitment he made, and he was free to eat.

This is how Satan works on us. He gets us thinking about ourselves, our needs, and (if he can push us far enough) our rights. “You have a right to that bread! Take it!” It wouldn’t have seemed “wrong” for Jesus to have turned a stone into bread.

And this is the struggle: will we live our lives serving ourselves, doing what we want, going with the flow of our natural inclinations, fulfilling every personal need and desire, the captain of our own souls? Or will we consciously live our lives for God and others, letting God direct us, yielding our selves to the One who made us?

We tend to think of the big temptations, not realizing that Satan is always there trying to get us to feed from his hand.  His hand is always out, offering morsels and tidbits. We often feed from his hand without realizing it. We may go about our days unaware of the momentum of the movement of our hearts, feeding little by little on things that are moving us away, not toward, God.

CS Lewis says we are either moving toward God or moving away from Him. This happens every day, day after day, in all the hundreds and thousands of choices we make, reactions to circumstances and thoughts that we entertain.

The momentum of our lives is something we don’t often stop to consider. It often isn’t obvious to our conscious minds. We may not even be aware of all the little things that add up and feed that momentum in the direction we are going. We are highly aware of the momentous times in our lives, but we are largely unaware of the mundane times where real direction and momentum are sustained.

I think about these things in light of two recent announcements by two prominent (at least highly visible) men who were once Christians and now have renounced their faith. Marty Sampson, the Australian songwriter for the global megachurch, Hillsong, announced this week, “I’m genuinely losing my faith….”[1]

Just days before that, well-known Christian author, Joshua Harris, who championed purity and advocated that Christians shouldn’t date before marriage in a widely popular book, announced (on the heels of his own divorce), “I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus…. I am not a Christian.”[2]

According to CS Lewis and Tim Keller, we are shifting – all the time. Our momentum is taking us toward God or away from God at any given moment and at every moment in our lives. We are never merely standing still.

Continue reading “The Eternal Significance of the Mundane”

Keeping First Things First

Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made


“’Every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made …. You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.’[1]

“The man who makes his ‘first thing’ getting everyone to like him becomes obnoxious because he is too preoccupied with himself to genuinely care about anyone else. The woman who puts her own happiness first ends up chronically dissatisfied with her life. The poor soul whose first priority is staving off another anxiety attack will be constantly on edge. The church that makes being relevant to culture its first mission, either by conscious design or by the slow descent of good intentions gone wrong, will become utterly irrelevant to culture. Why? Because likeability, happiness, peace of mind, and relevance are not first things. They are second things, byproducts, not goals. Make any second thing a first thing and you not only lose the real first thing; you lose the second thing too. Let us call this ‘Lewis’ First Things Principle.’

“If the obnoxious man genuinely cared about the people around him more than his own likeability, he would end up more liked. If the sad woman put loving God and loving people well ahead of her own happiness, she would likely end up exponentially more satisfied with life. If our poor soul exerted zero energy on not being anxious, pouring that energy instead into exercising hard at the gym, getting into and enjoying God’s creation, caring deeply about the people God has put in his life, preaching the gospel to himself often, then his anxiety spikes would be less frequent and less catastrophic. If that irrelevant church made revering God and faithfully preaching His Word its primary mission, then it would become exponentially more relevant than it ever could through pandering to the perceived felt-needs and consumer demands of the culture.”[2]

These paragraphs inspired from CS Lewis’s famous book of essays, God in the Dock, are an important reminder for me right now. Right now my life is over busy, and I need to give attention to my priorities. The momentum is strong to continue in the path I am on, but I don’t think it is sustainable. Some things will inevitably give way to other things. If I am not careful, I fear the second things will crowd out the first things.

It’s already happening. I am not writing much. I believe God prompted me years ago to begin writing. I am not sure exactly why, except that I sensed God in the prompting. These last couple of months I have hardly written at all.

But writing isn’t a first thing either. Even though I believe God prompted me to write, it isn’t a first thing. I believe we all have things that God has prepared for us to do. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Eph. 2:10 (NLT)) But, not even the things God purposed us to do are first things.

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33 (ESV)) God is the ultimate first thing. Seeking God is the ultimate first thing that should be prioritized above all other things.

I need to be reminded of that today. Maybe you do too.

Only when God is first in our lives will all the other things fall into place. The second things ultimately won’t fulfill us or satisfy us because we were meant for God first. And when God is first, those second things become an extension of the first thing.

When we love God is first, we do everything for God (1 Corinthians 10:23), and God works all things together for our good. (Romans 8:28)

I am feeling a bit off these days, a little out of whack, a little off-balance and unsettled. I think it is because I have gotten busy devoting myself to many things and have neglected the first thing. I started this piece days ago, and since then I have spent more time distracted and diverted. But I am reminded again today of the need to put God first.

I am thankful to God who doesn’t allow us to wander off without reminding us of Himself. I don’t always listen or respond, but He is ever faithful. Without God, I would be utterly lost to my own devices. I write these words with gratitude and hope that I will learn to keep first things first more often in the days to come.

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[1] C.S. LEWIS, First and Second Things, in GOD IN THE DOCK: ESSAYS ON THEOLOGY AND ETHICS 280

[2] THADDEUS J. WILLIAMS, Putting First Things First, JOURNAL OF CHRISTIAN LEGAL THOUGHT, Vol. 8, No. 2 (2018)