Why You Shouldn’t Accept the Life You Have

“Stop envying others and accept the life you have” is not the worst advice in the world. In the context of money and possessions, it’s quite a vital piece.

But there is also a sense in which it’s terrible guidance.

Hear me out. I submit that discontentment has two separate components: a groaning and a proposed solution (the part where we usually go wrong). My proof is this: is it possible to desire no unholy solutions, to be completely given over to God for our daily life, and still find oneself groaning on this earth?

Scripture seems to think so. It speaks of a longing, one depicted not as a product of sin but simply of standing on this side of the mirror dimly. “…we groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is dismantled, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2).

These verses speak not as if we’re home, but as if we’re still very much journeying. We understand from a Scriptural framework that there is a part of our forming that will not be complete in this life, even if we are surrendered to God. That’s just not where we are in the story yet.

What is the source of your groaning this morning? Is it that you don’t have enough things? Or is it that our constant toil, the fragility of our bodies, the screams of nature and human nature are all shouting a soul sense that we’re living in a tent? If it’s the latter, you are discontent in the most wonderful way. Of course you aren’t happy. You’re not home yet.

Truth be told, I’m more worried about those who don’t groan. They think this life is all there is, and they’re given over to making it work for themselves. It is the spirit of the age: “we can make life work now”. Perhaps it’s been the spirit of every age.

In that sense, God never tells us to accept the life we have. That would be awful. He tells us to yearn for the next one, to “set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth” (Colossians 3:2), to “store up treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). He implores us to treat our possessions with an earthly disdain as if we will someday grow beyond them, in one fell swoop, with a trumpet sound and an atmospheric leap.

Some of our longings are actually cries for that life. We long for the ending of tears. We long for reward. We long for the restoration of our loved ones. Those of us who long for marriage are really, at the soul level, seeking the relationship of the Trinity, which will be completed there. And those promises will be realized.

Christianity has nothing to say to those who have accepted this life. Instead, it teaches a holy dissatisfaction with it, a groaning for the next. There will be no role for money and possessions there; thus, we shed those desires now. But many other longings are wonderful, for they reveal our awareness of a coming paradise and all that God has wrought for us there. Perhaps longing is not always a bad thing after all?

 

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No Single Christian Left Behind

I have the privilege of doing youth workership with a couple of guys I graduated high school with. They’re married with kids (though they didn’t get there at the same time).

I saw an old (now married) girlfriend in the store the other day. She looked…I’m bad at this…six or seven months pregnant? I was certainly happy for her.

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Several of the students I’ve mentored in my twelve years in youth ministry have gotten hitched. One’s even had a couple daughters.

It’s certainly enough to make a bachelor feel left behind.

In years gone by, I would often reassure myself with something like Don’t worry, they’re a lot older than you. You’ve got time. Then one day I woke up and was their age. So much for that arrow in the quiver. In fact, they’re younger than me. The pastor at one of our offshoot churches has a salt-and-pepper beard, a seminary degree, and a small tribe running around his wife’s ankles. My jaw dropped when I found out he’s two years younger than me.

Ever felt left behind?

Don’t. You’re not.

Though we could turn to comforts such as there are still plenty of people who marry late and only a minority of my old students are hitched and you’ve accomplished plenty that they haven’t, and each would be true, the best response to times of loneliness is knowing that the Father’s love knows no boundaries.

Nobody at my church has ever openly made me feel outmoded or outside God’s will for being single – my spiritual family is too Scripturally literate for that. They know that although the Old Testament certainly seemed to hand all the stature and security to those within families, Jesus changed things. He stresses singles’ place in his family. Both through his words (Matthew 19) and those inspired into Paul (1 Corinthians 7), Jesus pointed out that singles actually have an easier time navigating the evangelistic demands of his kingdom. Sometimes married people fall behind the singles!

But more importantly, Scripture breaks down barriers to his love. Rich or poor, slave or free, sick or healthy, Jew or Gentile, popular or otherwise, educated or a lowly fisherman casting about on Galilee’s shores, Christ takes pains to embrace people on every part of every spectrum as candidates for his grace. The pain of the cross opened the way; they need only follow him.

Singles are no exception. If marriage doesn’t even exist as a state in heaven (Matthew 22), why would singles be an exception?

No. Every single Christian is a pool into which Christ’s waterfall of love tumbles perennially. He did not come to earth, suffer the cross, empty the tomb, and ascend to heaven so that his love would be thwarted by the lack of a ring.

It hurts that there are churches who do not share this view. Singles across the world are too often ignored, sidelined, or flat-out rebuked for not marrying, as if they’re only “playing at life” until they do. But then again, not every church is Scripturally literate, as ridiculous as that sounds. We can only pray and continue to teach them.

The emotional burden is real, and God will hear our honesty in the meantime. It’s not fun to have less and less in common with your friends as they grow deeper into their marriage, having to work harder and harder to keep up your friendships. That’s not what Hebrews meant by “running the race”.

But no single Christian has been left behind with God, for no Christian gets left behind. Single, you are secure in his love. Your present potential and value to God are undimmable; it need only be prayed for and sought. And God’s eternal future for you is sealed; Jesus will one day give each of us a new name (Rev. 2:17), whether we ever changed it here on earth or not.

Therefore, I can celebrate where I am today. For on the spectrum that matters most – God’s love – I am on equal standing with all who are his.

 

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Delight Amidst Mordor: the Hard Part of Psalm 37:4

Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires. (Psalm 37:4)

Hoo, boy. Few Bible verses carry as much potential to turn us into mercenaries.

“Love God and he’ll give you things” – yeah, that’s just begging to go down the wrong alleys. How do we handle such a verse? How do we treasure God and his opinions on things in light of such an offer? It’s Scripture. It can’t be wrong. So there must be a solution to this conundrum.

Don’t obey God to get things, obey God to get God. – Tim Keller

For me, it is the sheer intensity of “delight”.

1378807888_1c49b58b1b_z“Delight” doesn’t just mean a vague affection, certainly not a conditional one. It means delight. An intense love that crowds out other considerations. I don’t just like my mom – I delight in her, such that I’d make her a priority over a great many things. Same with my friends. (That’s why they’re friends.)

Delight can’t be faked. God sees right through it, and we’d never trust our own motives without it. When we delight in God, the first half of Psalm 37:4 outshines the second half, which sidles up to us out of nowhere while we’re absorbed with God.

I know – tall order.

How do we delight in God so freely when we have so many beefs with all he has allowed? It’s the question instantly begged upon the word “delight”.Some of our lives resemble Mordor – ashes and geysers everywhere you look.

That was the fork at which I stood.

All I can say is, I chose delight. It wasn’t some saintly nobility – I just knew the way back was cut off.

Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who will we go to? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68)

And I found that things really do operate the way God describes.

The Christian who desires more money must release it, trusting so fully in God’s creative provision that charity becomes the greater joy.

The Christian who desires upward mobility must instead wash feet.

The Christian who desires more friendship must offer it, gushing like a spring upon those around him (as Christ did) rather than incessantly drawing inwards.

The Christian who desires a spouse must be filled with Christ now, so that they will not grasp like an empty one.

The Christian who desires justice must not seek it by his own hand, but depend on God’s watchfulness and convicting power. (You might be interested to know that justice is actually the strict context of Psalm 37).

At each point, our desire is tested to determine its worth. Some would survive the fire, others would not (Psalm 37:4’s applicability to Lamborghini’s is doubtful), but all must be sublimated to Christ.

And no matter what the cherished object, we must delight in his timing.

God has a funny way of keeping dreams alive. It’s one of the great paradoxes. He brings our dreams around. But they happen in his way, according to his calculations and machinations, and often with a more eternal reach (like the artist whose future work might raise souls instead of curtains).

It is difficult to delight amidst the Mordor of this world. But if we choose it anyway, we will be rescued, pulled out of the cataclysm and awakened in a new home.

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

The Joshua Harris Fallout: The War Everyone’s Forgetting (Or Never Saw)

Few days of history compare to the last day of the World Wars. Millions danced in streets across the globe.

But those scenes seem far removed from today.

“Why continue torturing myself? Why not just forget God and get on with life, like most of the rest of the world? Instantly I felt a sense of relief and freedom, like I had just passed a final exam … I picked up my Bible and a couple other Christian books and walked downstairs and out the back door. I shut the door softly behind me, so as not to wake anyone. In the backyard was a brick barbecue grill, and I piled the books on it, sprayed them with lighter fluid, and struck a match. … at last I had peace. A great weight had lifted. I had been honest with myself. Any pretense was gone, and I no longer felt the pressure to believe what I could never be sure of.”

Sunrise Sky Battlefield

These aren’t the words of Joshua Harris, nor those of Hillsong worship leader Marty Sampson, who this week declared his own critical struggle with his faith.

The words are from Richard, a young man whose conversations with author Philip Yancey served as the backbone of Yancey’s book Disappointment with God.

They’re becoming familiar. Within the battle reports offered by these leaders, there’s a pattern:

“I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.” – Sampson

Though Sampson goes on to cite intellectual conundrums, I sense an undercurrent of feeling in his words. It was similar with Harris – in his case, internal conflict over a doctrine that’s particularly costly for certain Christ followers. He couldn’t reconcile, so he took the path of least emotional resistance and found himself outside.

And I get it.

I know the weight they’re talking about, the Gordian knot deep in the chest year in and year out. It’s the “oh, come on” knot, that just won’t accept paradox and longings deferred and the constant tension of cultivating a relationship with the unseen. People hit their forties and start realizing that “that thing” won’t just evaporate by itself, isn’t responding to simple prayer or maturity, and might never resolve in this life. A final straw.

That’s why I’ll decline the usual “let Scripture matter more than your feelings” line that John Cooper offered.

Not that he’s wrong. Our generation has forgotten to trust Scripture. Or never really heard it.

But remember that we are refugees in war-torn lands. Not all of us found trouble as adults; some were born into it. Into families that didn’t get us, that fell apart while we were still in high chairs, that carry unspeakable secrets. Right from the opening credits, we were beleaguered. Those feelings do not simply go away. They matter.

So the part of Scripture we might most need is the part where faith is a war.

Many Christians seem to have assumed that proper belief is one long, unbroken catharsis and inner resolution (and anything else is failure). There is partial relief to be had. I’ve found much.

But Scripture tells us that complete relief is not our present (Romans 8:23), and misdiagnosing reality is always dangerous. John Eldredge said, “It’s the equivalent of arriving on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with a lawn chair and a book to read. It is a drastic misunderstanding of your situation.”

Read the Biblical accounts of the faithful. Does any of it look easy? Yes, Jesus is a God of victory, but victory implies war. Paul often uses military analogies. Ephesians 6 outlines spiritual weapons. Your life is a war.

It would explain some things, wouldn’t it? Look around you. See it as a war, with sides and weapons and tolls, and it makes an ugly sort of sense.

So the dragon was furious with the woman and left to wage war against the rest of her offspring–those who keep God’s commands and have the testimony about Jesus (Revelation 12:17).

It also explains the weird way life suddenly gets better when faith is jettisoned. Of course things got better – you abandoned your post. You stepped off the front lines and experienced the flooding relief of not being shot at. Of course you’re surrounded by “positive and affirming” thoughts now. Of course you have a fiancee now. Of course you no longer have theological quandaries to wrestle. You aren’t in the line of fire anymore. Already Satan has retasked his resources towards the next guy on the line. Why would he bother with you now? You’re right where he wants you.

My friends, there is relief to be found in this life. I fully believe it. Though weapons must be shuffled through and strategies shifted (and God allows the process), I believe it can be found.

But I suggest the theory that if you find yourself struggling to love Jesus through your disappointment today, it means you haven’t surrendered. The Christian life is unnatural to the fallen soul. Always was. And the war that results is brutal.

Satan is furious that Jesus has a death grip on you that cannot be dislodged. This Jesus never will let go, as long as you don’t. And remember the mighty thrust of his truthful words: that reward is not found fully in this life, but the next.

Morning is coming. Hold on!

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

The Joshua Harris Fallout: Purity’s Real Destination

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Why does all the wild stuff happen while I’m away at youth camp?

I’ve written before on navigating the fall of our Christian heroes. Frankly, it leaves us feeling a little adrift. It’s a sign of just how tangled our relationship with God can become with human intermediaries, and how threatened it all feels when the tent of cards comes down. (I remember some missionary friends moving Stateside after years abroad, hearing how the church they’d left behind started losing members immediately. They’d loved the leaders rather than God.)

Well, it’s happened again. This time it’s Joshua Harris, of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame/notoriety. He renounced Christ publicly on Friday.

On top of that, he announced separation from his wife. Joshua Harris. Of all people.

Harris was one of the seminal generators of what we call “purity culture”. Boiled down (heavily), it theorizes that undertaking the journey of sexual purity and brotherly love that God commands, largely by avoiding dating, will lead to the destination of an amazing, God-ordained marriage.

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Yeah, I know.

I’ve never been one to pile on. Though I disagree with much of what he wrote, I also have the objectivity to spot that many of his teachings were distorted and amplified beyond their purview by others. I’ve also seen my own criticisms echoed by Harris himself the last few years. Frankly, I think a guy deserves credit for being able to so humbly and accurately renounce his central life’s work. (Have you ever been in that position?)

But I’ve also stayed moderate because I think much criticism of purity culture actually misses the point.

Much criticism of purity culture quibbles with the journey. It tells us that we’ve selected the wrong highway, that its rules on physical boundaries and dating are stifling, counterproductive, inductive of shame, and don’t guarantee good marriage anyway.

There’s definitely some truth there. Shame is no good. And as Harris said, prohibition of dating simply isn’t in the Bible.

On the other hand, I value boundaries. My first girlfriend and I barely touched, relatively speaking. I have to imagine it made the breakup easier. And if my next one wants to save her first kiss until the altar, she’ll gets what she wants, ‘cuz I’ll want to honor her. I‘d much rather our relationship be founded on words, food, Bible reading, shared experiences, food…that sort of thing. The moment you start making out, all that stuff takes a backseat to thinking about the next time you’ll get her in the backseat. Food.

My objection is with the supposed destination.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Eph. 5:3)

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)

Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterers. (Heb. 13:4)

Notice something: in all three of these pivotal purity passages, do you see any direct mention of the future spouse? There’s none.

Yet vast swaths of evangelicalism motivate singles to purity using our future spouse – how disappointed and damaged they’ll be when you have “the talk” and find out you didn’t wait, how purity guarantees wonderful marriages and stratospheric sex, etc.

That motivator is consistently absent. Purity culture gets the destination wrong.

Instead, Scripture teaches that the destination of purity is the glory of God. It’s about pleasing him, preserving his reputation, honoring his ownership of you.

And honestly, ironically, I see very little of that in most criticisms of purity culture.

Yeah, yeah, it’s easier to get students to care about their future spouse than about God’s glory. But truth is still truth. I want our youth group’s students to have the highest aim; I want singles to have motivation for purity when marriage proves elusive.

Yes, I want to protect my future wife through my purity, and plan to do so. But God’s glory needs to be my primary goal, because God needs to be primary in my marriage. The moment either she or I become the center, its prospects drop. He is where the power lies; he is the point.

Motivations matter. Eventually, life sweeps over us all like a tide and tests our foundations. I suspect it will get to our purity motivations sooner or later. When that day comes, I’d rather be anchored by the Highest.

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

NOTE: I’m out this week, but will respond to your comments when I return.

Resting Killface and the Hard Glory of Yet Another Task

desertResting killface is a condition in which the mouth’s corners do not naturally turn upward, even when you’re eight tics happier than you look. The result is a face like mine, perpetually frozen somewhere between “quietly petrified”, “incurably grave”, and “Deep South serial killer”.

Your parents during your childhood: “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” you’d reply over your book.

“You sure?”

“Yep.”

“You look annoyed.”

“I’m not. Now I’m annoyed because you keep asking.”

Years ago, I arrived at a party to announce I’d nabbed a new teaching position, only for a friend to go, “so why do you look like someone just shot your dog?”

If any of this is familiar, you might have resting killface. We’re good, we swear! We only look like we’ll strangle the next person who approaches us.

But eventually I had to face how my killface was impacting my social life. When I stood around in neutral, my downer look would repel folks. When I made a joke, my lack of smile would conflict with my tone, leaving others unsure of my intentions. It was subtle, but influential.

Following on this revelation’s heels was the fact that the onus was on me to change.

oasis-67549_1280.jpgThat was frustrating. I’ve never been socially gifted; friendmaking has been slow. To hear that I had a hand in getting where I was, and had more work to do, felt honestly like insult added to injury.

But the world wouldn’t change for me. Social dynamics were social dynamics. No matter how many Disney movies sang “be yourself”, no matter how many memes of people snapping their fingers in a “Z” motion and celebrating rejection of all advice, the score was the same. I needed to accept either this new “growth opportunity”…or the status quo.

Have you waged a years-long campaign only to be confronted with yet another battle?

Your student with special needs uncovers another learning disability.

Your illness breaks remission.

The new boss appears and turns out worse than your last three.

God exposes another soul weakness that needs work before he ends your singleness (I do believe he does this with some, my last post notwithstanding).

Another retreat fails to fix your marriage.

Your church keeps on bickering and back-biting, and now its foremost tither announces he’s moving.

Ugh.

I think of Shasta in The Horse and His Boy. He has just raced thousands of miles across country, first in a desperate flight from slavery, then carrying word of a coming invasion of the free and noble Archenland. He’s evaded city police, endured days of desert heat, and been chased by lions. Gasping, ready to collapse, he finally reaches Archenland’s citizens with news of the impending attack – only to learn that he’s the only one who can reach the king in time. He must keep going.

…”he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand. He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed, your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.”

I don’t know where C.S. Lewis got this sage stuff (well, yes I do), but it’s the kind that alters a young man’s trajectory.

Perhaps it is not cruelty but honor and reward, wearying though our journey be. Perhaps we should throw ourselves in without hesitation, as Shasta did the first river he found after his desert crossing. Or into the next leg of his journey.

For Shasta’s mission succeeded. In fact, not only did Archenland receive his warning in time to fortify its defenses until Narnian reinforcements could arrive, but Shasta discovered who he really was: the long-lost son of the very king he’d warned, heir to the very kingdom he helped save.

Be refreshed by God today. It is only through these travails that we will discover Whose sons and daughters we’ve been all along.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

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When You Dislike Being Needy for God

mistLong ago, I listened to a remarkably holy man, a cancer patient, sharing a conversation with God.

It was a naked, piercing, and heavy testimony of the “when you’ve finally just had it” variety. During a morning quiet time in his big easy chair, he is praying and listening for God and suddenly (for are not these things rather sudden?) just explodes into venting about the story God is writing for him. It’s not just the disease. It’s the ongoing changes and the endless appointments and the constant vigilance and the social misunderstandings and the lack of closure and the shame and fear that attend. All his anger and helplessness and isolation explodes before the throne in frustration. He lets God know.

And the man described hearing God reply, “I understand you don’t like the story. How do you feel about the Author?”

Ugh.

It cut me to the quick – one of two things he said that did so. Not a pleasant reveal, but an unmistakably holy one. A divine refocusing.

For though I dared not compare my life’s difficulties to cancer, the question was stil one that I had not wanted to face. For I could tell you exactly how my journey (e.g. my family history, my weird and glitchy personality) has made me feel about God.

The other thing he said was:

“I could just hear the clarity coming to myself, and I finally said it: ‘What I really don’t like is, I’m now living a life where I need you, God, on a day-to-day basis, just to get through it. And I don’t like being desperately needy for you, God.'”

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