The Single-Hearted

Single-hearted: marked by sincerity and unity of purpose

In August 1980, Dana, Ashley and I moved from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to become the Minister to Single Adults of Houston's First Baptist Church. From a suburb of Tulsa, with a population of 40,000 people, we relocated to the fourth largest city in America. The culture shock developed, by moving from Mayberry to Nairobi, would have not been any greater.

Houston, was home to the The Oilers, Coach Bum Phillips, and suffering from terminal " Luv Ya Blue" Fever. The Astos and Oilers shared the Astrodome. The Rockets ruled at The Summit, and challenged the fabled Celtics for The World Championship of the NBA. More importantly, Phi Slamma Jamma was holding court for the University of Houston, Cougars, and was the best game in town.

On a more personal note, Dr. John Bisagno was in the process of leading a declining downtown church to previously unheard of heights. Under his visionary leadership, it rose to the status of the fastest growing church in America, with 25,000 members.

The entire city was soaked to gills, and overflowing with the cash flow and extravagances that always accompanies the latest oil boom. The race was on, as single adults from every small town in Texas drove down I-45 to get to The City, and to make a buck before the government figured out how to stop it. "The Eagle has landed, indeed."

I had responded to an appeal from Dr. Bisagno. "I need you to come help me minister to 3,000 singles." I was hooked, by the man and the challenge. It helped that I sensed God taking me out of my comfort zone, and throwing me into something I had never done before. I have always loved a chance to be a part of the HIMpossible.

I have friends who call themselves "adrenalin Junkies." That means they do exotic things at high speed, at a high cost, with a minimal return. I have found the "Faith Walk" to provide all the adrenalin rush I have ever needed to jump start my heart. God never leads where He won't provide, but He rarely does it on a time schedule that I have given Him.

Oh, don't get me wrong. God is never late. He is right on time. I am just always in the wrong time zone. Over the years, my heart has raced, in more than one dark place, or at the threshold of another drop-dead date. I have often wondered, if there would be life after the latest deadline, and I have gasped out, "Lord, help me!"

I repeat. God is never late, but appreciating His sense of timing, often depends on whether I have stepped out of my Time Zone and into His "Thine Zone." My first take on God's arrival, in the middle of my crisis is often, "I know You aren't late, but by my count, You missed several opportunities to be early." I'm not bitter, about it. I know I'm better for it, but sometimes I just can't help looking through my rear-view mirror. Can I get a witness!

As Dana and I prayed our way through a ministry plan to the Single Adults of Houston's FBC, I searched for a brand that would help us identify the flock, we were called to shepherd. I admit, with 3,000 singles, I often felt more like a rancher than a shepherd. The group was huge, but each one of them had a unique, personal story to tell, and gifts to invest in the mission of the local church. Our eyes fell on a word, that gave us a vision to hold up to them. It was SINGLE-HEARTED: marked by sincerity and unity of purpose.

I found the greatest challenge to a Ministry to Single Adults was marriage. Our church conducted almost 400 weddings a year. We had four wedding coordinators, and The Chapel was booked, almost every weekend, with weddings on Saturday scheduled at 10 AM, 2 PM and 6 PM. I often did three a day. Marriage counseling packed my ministry calendar, as well as rehearsals, weddings and receptions.

We had ministry to Single Adults going on seven days, and every night of the week. Add that to the fact, that our home was 12 miles from the church, and it took me two hours to get to the church every morning, and at least the same each evening. Note: Houston had three times the population than the city of San Antonio, but the same number of freeway miles. It was a toxic cocktail and led to major road rage.

This resulted in Single Adults arriving at our weekly Friday night worship service, with a great deal of baggage to unload. Their week had been filled with huge doses of stress, and pressure. They needed to detox. STAT!

Looking out for number one is a natural response. Babies come into this world concerned only about having their own needs met. When a screaming baby is picked up, they have two major concerns. Change me! Feed me! They never say, "Oh, not me! Change him! Feed her!" Their world is all about them. Too often these babies grow into adults, but never change their view of life. What is cute on a baby, is sad on an adult. Diapers and Depends. Get the picture?

SINGLE-HEARTED expressed the brand of the early, New Testament church found in Acts.

"Those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them." Acts 4:32

Where did that come from? I believe this spirit of single-hearted devotion to one another came from The Spirit of God. The early church was filled with The Spirit. Acts describes this fulness, as the initial by-product of a movement of God, in the life of a believer. Simply put, this fullness describes a person who is filled with Jesus, not full of themselves. Big difference.

Paul called for The Church at Ephesus to "Be filled with The Spirit." (Ephesians 5: 18) This fulness led selfish people to become selfless people. These early believers were not marked by a demand for their own rights, but "mutual submission."

Fulness of The Spirit prepared individual believers to see beyond their own navel, and into the needs of others. How? They were able to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ." (Ephesians 5:21) The fulness is spiritual. The by-product is practical. Relationships may survive, but will never thrive without fulness of The Spirit.

As a young Minister to Single Adults, in the middle of a marriage explosion, I seized on this passage of Scripture as the text for Marriage Preparation 101. Mutual submission means people are more concerned about others than they are themselves. "You First!" replaces "Me First!"

In Single Adult worship services, marriage counseling and ceremonies, I began to challenge potential husbands and wives. "Mutual submission means looking out for each others rights. You look out for his rights. You look out for her rights. Everyone's rights are looked after. You demand your own rights, and you lose your perspective on mutual submission, and the one-flesh relationship that God gave as a picture of Christian marriage. Being married in a church doesn't make you one-flesh or single-hearted. Being filled with The Spirit does."

The fulness of The Spirit is the essential quality and characteristic that should be Numero Uno on The Wish List of anyone looking for a future mate. Those who are full of themselves make horrible marriage partners. Marriage has the unique ability to provide the perfect climate to expose a person for how selfish they really are.

Those who are full of themselves make terrible church members. The local church is still the best lab for discovering the fulness of The Spirit, in the life of another person. Rubbing shoulders with people who go to church does not always reveal angelic attitudes. It is always easy to be an angel, as long as no one ever ruffles your feathers.

Note to self: When you get three Baptists together, you often get five opinions. It is called a committee.

Yielding personal rights and private ownership are the cornerstone and plumb-line of "mutual submission." This submission is not a resolution, but a transformation. It is a change of heart, a turn around from the wrong way to the right way, a new set of eyes, with a fresh vision for the needs of others being met, before one's own are considered.

This kind of change can be initiated, in an instant, but can only be sustained over a life-time, by being under the influence of The Fulness of The Spirit and under the watchful eye of The Lord Jesus Christ. The early church was filled with people who were single-hearted. "Those who believed were of one heart and soul." (Acts 4:32)

The contemporary church is in need of members who have emptied themselves of their own rights, but filled themselves with The Spirit of Christ. The old Jesus Revolution song comes to my mind. "They will know we are Christians, by our love, by our love. They will know, we are Christians by our love." Sing it loud. Sing it proud.