Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Encouragement for single parents

-- and a challenge for the church.

By Elizabeth Kendal
Religious Liberty Monitoring
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- I am not writing to dispute the claim proliferating in the wake of the English riots, that fatherless children feature high in statistics pertaining to rage, delinquency, crime, teenage pregnancy etc. The claim is not rash or ill-founded; on the contrary, it is proven by research.

However, I would like to offer a word of encouragement to single parents everywhere and a challenge to the church.

No person -- the single parent included -- has to be a slave to circumstances or stereotypes. For the message at the heart of the Gospel is: "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36 ESV). And, "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

Some parents are single because of really bad choices made in promiscuity, selfishness, sin or just plain naivety or immaturity. Others have been made single through death or abandonment. Yet Jesus Christ forgives and heals; he libera tes and transforms. Most importantly, he cares and he loves -- including, and particularly, those who are vulnerable: the fatherless, the widows, the abandoned, the poor and the oppressed (too many references to list!).

Regardless of how the parent came to be single, the good news is they can, through Christ, rise above it all. Not only can they survive, but they can thrive. Their children can grow to be not merely acceptable, but godly model citizens. The answer lies not in finding a spouse or being a super-parent. The answer lies in the liberating and empowering participation of Jesus Christ. For Jesus Christ is a "Wonderful Counsellor" (Isaiah 9:6) who has overcome the world (John 16:33). He "sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24) and has promised to never leave or forsake us (Matthew 28:20 & Romans 8:28-39). He proved his great love on the cross of Calvary (Isaiah 53; John 18-19) and now lives (John 20) to empower us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-23). By means of HIS power at work within us, immeasurably more t han anything we could ask or even imagine may be achieved -- to the glory of God (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Ideally the Church should assist in this process; indeed the scriptures command it (again, too many references to list!). Unfortunately, while widows and widowers generally receive compassion on account of their loss, the divorced and never-married generally receive suspicion, even derision, on account of their failure. Yet what the fatherless youths of London, Yorkshire, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and all the other Cities of Man need, primarily, is the one who smashes stereotypes, defies circumstances and liberates totally: Immanuel, God with us, the LORD Jesus Christ.

The Church has a lot of work to do; a lot of catching up. This is not a time for laziness or self-indulgence. The days of being selective in mission -- witnessing only to and caring only for the "safe" and "clean" who come into our midst -- must be decisively deemed over. Most importantly, the days of being ashamed of the liberating and transformative Gospel and ashamed of our LORD Jesus Christ -- the only one with the power to actually change the very nature of a man or woman -- must end.

While the church can witness in obedience, salvation belongs to our God (Rev 7:10), and it is HE who gives faith as a free gift of his grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). And so all witness and ministry must commence and progress in a spirit of humble dependence, saturated in prayer, desiring above all that God be glorified. "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain" (Psalm 127:1a ESV). ". . . apart from me [Je sus] you can do nothing" (John 15:5c ESV).

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. This article is an edited version of a posting written for her blog: Religious Liberty Monitoring .

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