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Singles and Loneliness

Jul 02, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

“Loneliness is my least favorite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me.” Anne Hathaway stated this in a recent interview, but it isn’t a rare statement. I have sat opposite a fair number of young women (and sometimes men), who have expressed this same sentiment. It could be a sign of our digital age as we are connected to more people, but in reality are less connected to everyone. It could be a sign of the selfishness and self-centeredness of our culture. It could even be a sign of the “godlessness” of our generation. I am not sure what all the contributing factors are, but I do know that this fear is a reality in the lives of many young women; and Christian young women are not immune to it.

It may even be more heightened in the lives of young Christian women. For many have been raised to desire, and have rightly embraced, the calling to be a godly wife and mother. As the college years pass and the mid-thirties are looming over the next horizon, discouragement, hopelessness, and even depression can set in as the fear of being single for a lifetime becomes a real possibility. It is no small thing. Every wedding invitation feels like salt to a wound. Friends are beginning to have their second and third child before you have your first. Vacations seem less appealing. Buying your first home isn’t quite as exciting. And church can be awkward as you are too old for the singles and not exactly comfortable among the “young marrieds.” I have great compassion for these women and have spent hours counseling them, grieving with them, praying with them, and praying for them.

And even as I want to see them comforted in Christ, so I also want to give them one very clear warning. It is a warning that many young Christians need to hear: Loneliness in a godless marriage can be even more severe than the loneliness one experiences in singleness.

Most singles cannot imagine this being true, but it is. Even as I have sat with multiple young single men and women in counsel regarding their loneliness, so I have sat with multiple individuals who are grieving over the loneliness they are now enduring in their godless marriage. In many cases, these Christians were warned to refrain from marrying the unbeliever they had “fallen in love with.” They were warned as to the dangers, trials, and struggles that they would endure in an unequal union. But they saw singleness as a greater danger, trial, and struggle. And yet, on this side of their marriage vows, they have experienced the reality that loneliness in marriage can even surpass that which they endured as a single.

As a single person, who desires to be married, this may seem like an impossibility to you. However, I want you to think about this: What are all the things that would be affected by being united with someone who does not have the most important thing in common with me? What would it be like to be united in one flesh with someone who does not value what you value, desire what you desire, define good by what you know is good, have the same view of marriage, recreation, eternity, money, church, children, serving, death, life, and the list could go on and on. They will not be united with you on the most important thing, which shapes everything else, and yet you will be united in one flesh. As I have sat with grieving Christians, struggling to know how to live in a godless marriage, I hear in their cries the reality that there are few things more lonely than knowing that the person you are the closest to in this life is far from you in almost every way. If you don’t have Christ in common, it is hard to have much in common.

Dear single Christian, there is a loneliness that can surpass the loneliness that even now you are experiencing and achingly want to end. Be patient. Continue to pray to the Bride-Groom you do have. Be wise in selecting the individual that you would willingly give your heart to, and only allow a Christian to place that ring upon your finger. You are not less of a child of God in your singleness. You are not less important in the Kingdom. Your service is not needed any less. No matter what others may say or you may think, you are not inferior, less holy, or less valuable. You are a child of the Heavenly Father and are united to THE Bride-Groom. And He cares for you. Therefore, you can be patient and content as you wait. You are not alone in your loneliness.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jul 01, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Here is to hoping that Kevin’s study leave is filled with quiet libraries:

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Pressing into the Kingdom

Jun 29, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Reading great sermons from the ranks of earlier generations of Christians is a good discipline. This pursuit helps to provide perspective in our own era, with the added benefit of sitting at the feet of some of the ablest teachers the church has enjoyed. One of my favorites is Jonathan Edwards. Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons. It addresses a subject of the Christian life that I seldom hear of in our day and age. Edwards is concerned that we truly press into the Kingdom of God. That by God’s grace, we throw off every encumbrance and lean into the Kingdom with all our energy and strength. Here is an excerpt, with the hope that it will lead you to read the whole sermon and onto reading other sermons for the good of your soul:

“He that is pressing into the kingdom of God, commonly finds many things in the way that are against the grain; but he is not stopped by the cross that lies before him, but takes it up, and carries it. Suppose there be something incumbent on him to do, that is cross to his natural temper, and irksome to him on that account; suppose something that he cannot do without suffering in his estate, or that he apprehends will look odd and strange in the eyes of others, and expose him to ridicule and reproach, or anything that will offend a neighbor, and his ill-will, or something that will be very cross to his own carnal appetite-he will press through such difficulties. Everything that is found to be a weight that hinders him in running the race he casts from him, though it be a weight of gold or pearls; yea, if it be a right hand or foot that offends him, he will cut them off, and will not stick at plucking out a right eye with his own hands. These things are insuperable difficulties to those who are not thoroughly engaged in seeking their salvation; they are stumbling-blocks that they never get over. But it is not so with him that presses into the kingdom of God. Those things (before he was thoroughly roused from his security) about which he was wont to have long parleyings and disputings with his own conscience-employing carnal reason to invent arguments and pleas of excuse-he now sticks at no longer; he had done with this endless disputing and reasoning, and presses violently through all difficulties. Let what will be in the way, heaven is what he must and will obtain, not if he can without difficulty, but if it be possible.”

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Pastors Need Your Care–Part II

Jun 28, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

As we said in yesterday’s post, pastors need your care. They are not above it or beyond it. Yesterday, I gave a few suggestions for members of the congregation in their care for pastors. Today I would like to offer some ideas for elders.

How Elders can care for their Pastors:

  • Don’t let him get comfortable, but do help him to feel safe
  • Have his back. Don’t make him stand alone in the midst of conflict–dare to be disliked.
  • Grant him regular encouragement and have the needed hard conversations
  • See yourself as laboring with him, instead of under or over him
  • Brainstorm, vision, and pray WITH him about the future of the church
  • Inquire into the finances of his family on a regular basis
  • Get to know his wife and children and ask about them
  • Hire additional staff before they are needed
  • Encourage him to write, go to conferences, and pursue further education
  • Never talk about him in a derogatory or negative way with other members of the congregation
  • Monitor his relationships with the rest of the staff
  • Appoint an elder and wife to meet regularly with the Pastor and his wife for encouragement and  accountability. They should also help them wrestle through his schedule, family issues, needs, and celebrate joys.
  • Make sure your pastor takes a day off. Hold him accountable
  • Give him at least one week of Study Leave a year. You may think this is yet another week your pastor is away from the congregation, but it can be one of the greatest blessings to your congregation. He will return having been stimulated, challenged, and encouraged. Besides it is an inexpensive way to bless him!
  • Grant him adequate vacation time and require that he take it
  • Assign an elder or staff person to help with administrative tasks. Administration can steal too much of a pastor’s time–time that could be spent in much more valuable ways. It is also an area that pastors can get lost in, discouraged by, and even seek to hide in.
  • Ensure that the congregation understands his main tasks are prayer, study, and preaching. Most individuals in the church will have different expectations. If that is the case–change them.
  • Regularly encourage him that you value the time he spends praying, studying, and preaching–ask for fewer policies, spreadsheets, and even visitations.
  • Ask what he is studying and praying about
  • Help him discern what his “pastoral duties” include and what they do not include in this local church–he can’t do everything.
  • Ask penetrating questions about his prayer life
  • Give him an adequate book budget
  • Lean towards saying “yes” to his ideas, vision, and dreams, but be willing and courageous enough to say “no.”

Again, please suggest further ways that you have found helpful in the comments. The list should be long.

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Pastors Need Your Care–Part I

Jun 27, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Pastors need your care. They aren’t above it, no matter what they may think. Even as pastors are to care for their congregations, so elders and members of the church should care for their pastors. Pastors need your care–no matter how old, seasoned, gifted, or confident. Today, we will suggest a few ways members of the congregation can care for their pastors. Tomorrow, we will look at a few suggestions for how elders can intentionally care for their pastors.

How members of the congregation can care for their Pastors:

  • Hunger to hear the Word of God preached
  • Invite your pastor and his family over for dinner (everyone assumes they receive a lot of invitations, but in many cases they don’t)
  • Pray for him regularly–that he would faithfully preach the Word, seek the Lord, delight more in the Lord, and have a love for the people he is blessed to minister to
  • Refrain from Monday morning emails, unless they are an encouragement. Mondays are hard days for many pastors.
  • Be willing to graciously challenge him if his teaching or preaching was in error
  • Respect his day off. Most pastors work long days and many evenings. They need a good day off.
  • Don’t expect him to come to everything. Your pastor still loves you even if he doesn’t make your child’s ballet performance, son’s honor society banquet, or even your mom’s funeral.
  • Send an encouragement card every once in a while
  • As tempting as it may be, don’t compare your pastor to “celebrity pastors”–Be thankful for him and his labor in your midst.
  • Babysit his kids for an evening, so he and his wife can go out on a date
  • Insist that the church provide a good salary and benefits for him–be generous.
  • If you have a new ministry idea, don’t propose it unless you are willing to do the hard work of setting it up and serving to see its vision realized
  • Refrain from telling him what you disliked about the sermon as you shake his hand on the way out of the sanctuary
  • Speak well of him to others in the congregation
  • Have no expectations regarding his wife and her service in the church beyond those you have for any other woman in the church
  • Be especially kind to his children
  • Understand that your pastor will not be gifted in every area of ministry and be content with that
  • Be teachable
  • Often remind yourself that he has a lot of different sheep under his care
  • Give him the benefit of the doubt regarding decisions, leadership, vision, etc.
  • Don’t ride your hobby horse too much and too often
  • The greatest care you can provide for your pastor is to pursue Christ with all that you are and serve the church with an uncommon zeal and humility

Please suggest in the comments further ways that you have found helpful in caring for pastors. The list should be long.

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Simon Prevette

Jun 26, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

You aren’t incredibly gifted? Well, welcome to the club of the “average.” Most of us dwell there. As an encouragement, let me introduce you to Simon Prevette. He is a man you have never heard of, but he is a man you should know.

The first church I had the honor of laboring at was a medium-size church in rural North Carolina. As has been my practice at every church I have attended or served, I spent the first six months seeking out the oldest members of the congregation. I have found that there are few things more important than knowing the history of the church to which you belong.

In my conversations with the older individuals (in their seventies and eighties) of the church, I kept hearing a particular name: Simon Prevette. Every older man in the congregation seemed to be unable to tell the history of the church without mentioning Simon. At first I thought Simon must have been one of the early pastors. However, that was far from the case. Everyone said the same things about Simon: he was small in stature, had a humble demeanor, was reticent to speak in public, often served behind the scenes, and was a very “ordinary” layman.

Though Simon was not the type of man people would point to as an incredibly gifted leader, he had a lasting impact upon the church that surpassed even the most gifted pastors this church had enjoyed over its history. How did Simon do this? In a very “average” way.  On Sundays, the young boys of the church were invited to Simon’s house for afternoon walks. And as they walked through the woods, he would talk to them about trees, plants, birds, and…Christ. He did so in an unassuming manner. There was no weekly agenda, no plotting, and no preaching; just an older man spending time with young boys and allowing the Lord to work in His seemingly simple ways for profound ends. These now seventy-year old men all pointed to Simon Prevette as one, if not the key, instrument used by the Lord to draw them to saving faith.

I am thankful for high-talent men—those nine and ten talent individuals. However let’s be honest, most of us are at best, gifted with average talents. Our prayers don’t move mountains, revivals haven’t erupted from our evangelism efforts, and crowds aren’t flocking to hear us teach or preach. And yet, some of the greatest fruit born for the sake of the Kingdom stems from the labors of seemingly average-talent men and women. The Lord often uses the humblest of men in the most significant ways.

On one Sunday before the morning service began and during the announcements, I decided to demonstrate this very thing to the congregation. I asked everyone in the room who could say Simon Prevette was instrumental in their coming to saving faith to stand. These eight to ten older men of the congregation stood. I then asked everyone to look at these men, who many had known as their elders when they were children and young adults, and asked those who could say one of these men had been instrumental in the Lord drawing them to saving faith to stand. At this point, one-third of the room was now on its feet. Then came the incredible picture that I will never forget. I asked everyone to look at these individuals and to stand if any of these individuals had been used by the Lord in drawing them to saving faith. In a congregation which numbered around four hundred on that Sunday morning, there were maybe forty people left sitting.

Simon Prevette was by all accounts an average talent man, but the Lord used him in a mighty way. You don’t have to have ten talents. You don’t have to have nine. You just have to be faithful with what the Lord has given you. He can do mighty things with weak vessels.

I never met Simon. He had entered glory far ahead of my coming to the church. Yet, he has sat on my shoulder for over ten years as a faithful example and encouragement to me. The church could use a lot more men and women like Simon—saints who are just faithful where they are at, faithful with what they have been given, and content that God receive the glory.

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Summer Study Leave 2013

Jun 25, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

I serve a gracious and supportive church. Each summer I get 4-5 weeks of study leave, with some vacation sprinkled in for good measure. It all begins right now. So as you are reading this we are probably packed into our Expedition driving out to Colorado to spend most of July with my wife’s family. Once we get there, here’s some of what I’ll be doing.

Speaking – I had the great honor yesterday of speaking at Crossway’s 75th anniversary banquet in St. Louis. This Thursday I will be flying out to California to speak at the Worship God conference. My two older boys will be flying with me—to attend the conference, and, not nearly as important I’m sure, to go to Legoland on Friday. After returning from California I turn around the next day to fly with my father-in-law to New Orleans where I’ll be speaking at the EFCA convention. My real break doesn’t start until I get back on July 2.

Reading – I have two boxes of books with me to keep me busy. I’ll be reading some Witherspoon related materials for my Ph.D., and for fun I have books with me on the Civil War, Abraham Kuyper, Darwinism, ethics, church polity, and maybe I’ll jump into Harry Potter if I get bored (haven’t read it before).

Writing – I have a handful of small writing projects to finish up, but the big project is to turn a series of sermons I did last spring into a book on the doctrine of Scripture. I’m really excited to be working on this project. I hope the end product will be a 225-250 page volume that is accessible, very lightly footnoted, winsome, free from jargon, and manifestly rooted in Scripture itself.

Blogging – I’ll be taking a break for the next week and having Jason Helopoulos fill in. Later in July I have Jackie Knapp, our former associate campus ministry director, taking a week for me. I’ll keep blogging the rest of the time, but hopefully less than usual.

Playing – I always enjoy spending time with my family and seeing my in-laws out in Colorado. I’m sure we will venture to the pool often and Chick-fil-A as much as possible. I enjoy running in the Springs too, and this year a couple friends are meeting me out there to climb a fourteener. Not my usual cup of tea, but better than camping.

That’s a little bit of my summer. I hope you all have a great next month. We plan to.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jun 24, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

A funny bit about two teams that both happen to be very bad this year.

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Teddy Roosevelt On Deliberately Not Having Children

Jun 22, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Teddy Roosevelt, speaking in 1905 to the National Congress of Mothers:

There are many good people who are denied the supreme blessing of children, and for these we have the respect and sympathy always due to those who, from no fault of their own, are denied any of the other great blessings of life.

But the man or woman who deliberately foregoes theses blessings, whether from viciousness, coldness, shallow-heartedness, self-indulgence, or mere failure to appreciate aright the difference between the all-important and the unimportant–why such a creature merits contempt as hearty as any visited upon the soldier who runs away in battle, or upon the man who refuses to work for the support of those dependent upon him, and who though able-bodied is yet content to eat in idleness the bread which others provide. (Quoted in What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, 174-75)

An American President would never talk like this today; I find it remarkable that one ever did.

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What to Expect When No One’s Expecting

Jun 21, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

This book will be on my top ten list at the end of the year. It’s witty. It’s readable. It’s learned. And it’s important.

In What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, Jonathan Last details the falling birthrate in America (and in the world) and explains why Very Bad Things inevitably follow population decline. Contrary to rumor, Last observes, overpopulation is not the black cloud on the horizon. In 1979, the world’s fertility rate was 6.0; today it’s 2.52 (p. 8). America’s fertility rate is just about the highest in the Western world, but at 1.93 it’s still well below that replacement rate of 2.1. And the only reason our rate is relatively high is because Hispanic women are doing most of the heavy lifting with a fertility rate of 2.35—a rate that is falling fast.

The fertility has fallen for a variety of reasons. The simplest explanation is that from big things like decline in church attendance and the increase of women in the workforce, to little things like mandatory car seats, our modern world discourages childbearing (16). Children are more expensive and less practically useful than they use to be. As Last observes, “pets have become fuzzy, low-maintenance replacements for children” (3). It’s no surprise that today only 3 percent of the world’s population lives in a country whose fertility rate is not declining (92). Countries like Italy, Japan, and Russia—whose populations are rapidly contracting—are in big trouble. America is in better shape, but heading in the same direction.

And This Matters Because…

So what’s so bad about falling fertility rates and decreasing populations? Doesn’t it mean more space, more food, and more time for everybody? Not exactly. When a society’s age structure gets older, entrepreneurship and inventiveness decrease, so does the supply of everything except for healthcare (28). Very practically, entitlement programs will consume ever-larger portions of the federal budget with fewer young workers to pay into the Ponzi scheme (27). With plenty of numbers and examples, Last makes his case that a declining population—which is what you eventually get with falling fertility rates—is one of the worst signs of national health. As Last puts it, quoting Mark Steyn, “there is no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital” (36).

I won’t take the time to summarize every chapter, though everyone merits discussion. From start to finish I found myself underlining remarkable statistics and fascinating observations. For example:

  • It used to be that the elites had more children, but now they noticeably have fewer children than people on the lower end of the social spectrum. In the culture’s eyes, children have gone from being a marker of success to an indicator of failure (72).
  • The percentage of women in America who have five or more children is 1.8 percent (79).
  • If current fertility rates remain constant in Europe, the population of the continent will shrink from 738 million to 482 million by the end of century (97).
  • In 1950, the median age in America was 30. In 2000, it was 35. By 2050 it will be 40, the median age in Florida today (100).
  • Fertility rates, especially among whites, is one of the best predictors of whether states vote Republican or Democratic.
  • Many Americans fear the rise of an expansionist China, but according to Last, with the legacy of China’s One Child Policy and a male-to-female ration of 123-100, China’s future is one of being a declining superpower with a rapidly contracting economic base and an unstable political structure (136).

More than once, Last tries to find a silver-lining in our cloudy demographic future. But his moments of hopefulness are short-lived. There are simply no examples of widespread success in reversing the trend of falling fertility. The best illustration Last can muster is how the birth rate in Georgia (the country) increased after Patriarch Ilia II promised to personally baptize any child born to parents who already had two or more children (159). Hardly a recipe for success in the United States.

Blessed to Be a Blessing (and Have Babies)

And yet, the Georgian illustration hits on a powerful truth: religious people have more children than the non-religious. Our ethics professor at seminary was well known for making the case in his class that in ordinary circumstances (allowing for illness, danger, extremely unique ministry callings, etc.), Christian couples, in keeping with the creation mandate, should try to have three or more children. He wasn’t calling for maximum fertility (he had five children). He wasn’t shaming those who had already made other choices. But he was offering a strong exhortation. A well placed one in my opinion.

The hope for a demographic reversal in America is in the church. More than that, one of the best strategies for cultural influence and societal change is for Christians to keep having babies. “Militant fecundity” is the phrase that comes to mind. As Last notes in his conclusion, quoting two well known demographers, “Conservative religious families are larger than theologically liberal families. Conservatives also are better at retaining their children within the fold than liberals” (173). These demographers go so far as to fear a short-run rise in secularism (in the present), giving way to a growing fundamentalism (in the future). I’m not convinced that’s the next chapter in America’s story, but it seems plausible that the only reasonable chance we have of turning around our falling fertility is an increase in religious commitment.

If there is hope for avoiding the Very Bad Things the book outlines it will be found in the children of religious families. Secular Americans have a fertility rate of just 1.66, compared with a rate of 2.3 and 2.2 for observant Catholics and Protestants (172). Surveys show that 21 percent of non-religious Americans want to have three or more children. This number goes up to 36 percent for Protestants and 34 percent for Catholics. And when you look at those who attend church every week, 41 percent say three or more children is ideal (86). In the not too distant future, the only couples replacing themselves in America will be religious couples. As Last puts it, although there are many good reasons to have a baby, at the end of the day, “there’s only one good reason to go through the trouble a second time: Because you believe, in some sense, that God wants you too” (170). The basic reason countries stop having children is because they’ve come to see offspring as a liability rather than a source of hope (175). As Christians, we know better.

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