His Peace Must Be Chosen

jordanEver heard psalmists and David Crowder sing unabashedly of God being “everything they need” and wondered, What on earth are they talking about?

Me, too.

One of the chief comforts of Scripture when we are disappointed, discouraged, or heartbroken, is that the Christian’s highest goal is not that dream or achievement or milepost you’ve fallen short of, but knowing God. Making him your peace, your joy, your contentment, your soul’s richest food and water. He, the Bible tells us repeatedly, is the only thing that will truly ever satisfy.

But you might have noticed it doesn’t just drop in with the mail.

Where is it then, God? Where are you?

Or as a friend put it recently, “Why can’t I appropriate for myself what God has promised me?”

We know God is faithful. His side of the deal is inerrant and unfailing; there is no lie or failure with him.

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Find a Savior Who Looks at You Like He’d Die For You

5661613189_65be533432_bLife has a way of breaking down your categories. You leave home and discover that Christians aren’t always decent people, nor atheists villains. You get a job and find out that some of the people out there with the foulest mouths and quickest tempers also have the very biggest hearts. You go through an election cycle. I’ll say no more about that. Whatever the case, our black-and-white definitions of things and people are constantly being broken down by life. It’s really a huge favor, if you think about it.

Same thing with marriage.

I’ve longed to be married for quite a while. I have many friends who can say the same. The world around me, too, seems convinced that this is the answer. You can tell by what they say, what they post, what they pursue. They just don’t talk about anything else. “Find a man who looks at you like…” Continue reading

Was Your Mind Made Up?

stormWe were expecting life to be pretty simple.

High school graduation, maybe a college degree, maybe the family route instead, but all of it falling into place in our early twenties without all that many bumps.

And when heartache started calling instead, when our plans for life folded like a cheap suit and God was nowhere to be seen, some of us just shrugged and walked away.

“If God won’t be there for me, why should I be there for him?”

It wasn’t quite that blase. We still love him…kinda. We certainly believe. We know he exists. We get riled up on his behalf when some atheist or Democrat starts talking.

But we’re not really on fire for him otherwise.

I don’t mean this as a guilt trip. Please hear me out.

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How Do You Want Your Singleness Remembered?

victoryLong-term singleness can be heartbreaking.

For all the church’s teaching on how singleness is a valid season and state of being (and it is), they seem to miss the point sometimes. Or a lot, depending on who you ask.

Some of us don’t do well on our own. We just don’t. The idea of vacations by ourselves seems utterly pointless; every year sees more friends marry off and leave you with less in common; and no matter how much good stuff we hear about self-improvement, no one person will ever be good at everything. Or even remotely competent, as my attempt at steak last week could testify. Such success is rare in my apartment.

For those who never grew up in strong homes in the first place, the search for love, for a witness to our lives, takes on a far greater urgency. Their “love tank” is empty. As the grandchildren of the sixties continue growing, you will see more of that.

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The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 4: Dating

datesThis is Part 3 of a series of reflections on singleness, sparked by public comments that “intentional singleness without the “gift of celibacy” is “at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility”.

Such strong comments naturally strike hard. Matters of the heart are delicate. There are enough subclasses of singles, enough sensitivity around the issue, that I find such opinions – in this case, from Dr. Albert Mohler – falling short of the mark even with the right caveats.

For one, many wise, obedient street-level singles would say that their efforts to marry have been divinely thwarted (Part 1 of this series), a God-operation Scripture accommodates but Mohler does not. “You don’t have to tell me that marriage matters,” they’d sigh. “God’s told me no.”

For another, the “gift of celibacy” isn’t easily delineated. Some people have it who don’t yet think they do; some happily married people once swore up and down that they’re 21st-century Pauls. And some singles confuse the gift with irritation over being herded into a congregational marriage machine (Part 2 of this series) instead of being loved for who they are.

But my first thought upon reading Dr. Mohler’s comments? “If you want to know why marriage is fading, sir, you could look within your own circle.”

Now…I do not want to make this another Joshua Harris bashing session.

Please, Jesus, spare me from that. Poor man.

But…while the reasons for singleness’ increase are many – the “me first” or “boy culture” Mohler refers to, the rareification of good prospects – the muckraking of dating in some Christian spheres also bears examination. Many single Christians would love to marry. They simply feel the tools have been taken away from them. And it’s got them frustrated.

I know too many such singles to dismiss this as a factor. There’s enormous hesitation around even everyday interactions, and I’m not talking about the Graham Rule. I have single female friends who get theologically nervous about even walking up and talking to a guy they’ve noticed. I get leaving pursuit to men. I love that. But when they don’t even feel permitted to invite him to church or Bible study, of all things, I grow concerned. It’s possible to for our system to be so legalistic that it no longer serves either God or man. Especially if they’re actually mainly concerned about what people will say.

“How can you learn anything without practicing?” a friend asked one day at Panda Express. He was chasing the first gal God led him to pursue(!) and it was daunting – the flowers, the listening, the art of it all. And this was a righteous, mature guy. It’s a chronic problem today that humbly yet confidently (and righteously) pursuing a woman’s heart is lost knowledge. We want to pursue. Many women want to be pursued. But there’s a vague sense that it’s just…wrong somehow. So we abstain.

The result? We are…single. And wondering…single because that’s God’s perfect will for his 21s-century church (an idea for which I’ve never seen any Biblical support), or single in the same way that submitting no resumes tends to leave you jobless?

The confusion strikes right at the practical. Harris told the story of how his father was instructed by God not to pursue his mother when they met. God knew she was fed up with immature Christian guys and that traditional wooing wouldn’t work. God worked it all out. Somehow. Though the “somehow” was never really explained.

You can imagine how this unique story imprinted upon skittish young hearts and theologies in all the wrong ways.

To be fair, the common anti-dating sentiment in its present form is not necessarily what Harris intended. Messages get distorted. They jump gender and maturity lines. And Harris, to my admiration, has been starkly honest recently in refining his own teachings.

But we’re still left with two decades of echoing opinion that labels pursuit in all forms – from solo coffeeshop chats to dating websites – as “training for divorce”.

In the interim, dating has been replaced with…well, nothing. Sit back, serve somewhere, and hope to get noticed (that’s not why we serve, by the way). In other words, something awfully close to passivity is held up as 1) true surrender, 2) more romantic, and 3) a guarantee that God will preserve your marriage. Because spending time alone at a restaurant with someone just looks too much like the world.

The last thing Christian males need these days is more passivity.

I imagine Mohler would agree. I imagine we’d all agree.

Now, Christianity may not have died out on earth because fewer Christians are dating; indeed, for some people, total inaction has worked just fine (and some Christians just shrug and date anyway). But any leeway given to passivity among us young men is something I’ll never feel good about.

By the way, I’m not saying any of this to give myself permission to date. I don’t like to. Some of us are introverts. And dating is exhausting. The time and money, the repeating of the same information, the minefields of rules and expectations and toxic dates..eh. Maybe there’s a reason we all embraced Harris’ ideas with such relief.

I also acknowledge that this “wait on God” teaching is largely directed at believers who are too eager to marry – dating rabidly, making poor partner choices – in hopes of giving them holier alternatives. I totally sympathize. I also still think it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and y’all know how I feel about that). Or Nyquil, as a better metaphor – going after the symptoms and not the virus. Hearts are what need healing there, not removing social tools that work fine for adults.

In the end, there’s no explicit Scriptural guidance for either side of the debate. There are principles for not doing anything stupidly or selfishly. There are examples of God directly matchmaking. Or giving individual dispensations to avoid certain things, which are absolutely proper if confirmed through prayer and church support (I have friends in that group, too).

But a blanket command is just not there. Which puts the matter squarely in Romans 14 territory – those who date shouldn’t judge those who don’t (or parents who don’t permit it), nor should those who don’t judge those who do.

I believe God does lead some people to date people they won’t marry. That’s my testimony and that of several friends. I believe a properly constructed Christian’s life can include divinely-appointed relationships before marriage. Mine includes two so far. My friends are now happily hitched (or about to be). Our experiences were bummers, but not nasty or depressing. We survived. We learned. And, by God’s grace, we moved on.

 

I’m just some bozo let loose on a keyboard, but if you ask me, Christians should feel free to date. It should be done prudently, prayerfully, with good discernment of the other’s character and the readiness to move on if needed, and probably not every month. But it shouldn’t be condemned. Assuming responsibility for God’s purposes in our lives is not tantamount to “taking things out of God’s hands”. It’s just…life.

 

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 Many Shades of Singleness, Part 3: Hating Marriage

CALLEN_PHOTOS-21.jpgFor this particular shade of this series (here’s Part 1 and Part 2), I felt it best to turn to someone from the “never marry” side of the singles’ world, someone with a different story and perspective, who could speak credibly to those with a reluctant view of marriage and a, shall we say, greater enthusiasm for singleness.

To that end, I’m excited to introduce my blog’s very first guest poster, Sarah J. Callen. 

When Brandon first asked me to share about singleness, I began racking my brain for the best way to communicate about this topic. Then a simple solution hit me: share your story. I hope my story will leave you encouraged if you’ve been hurt in the past, give you compassion for those in a different stage of life than you, or just give courage to share your own, even if it’s messy.

Growing up, I never wanted to get married. The entire institution of marriage was wholly undesirable and having kids was completely out of the question. I met Christ when I was 16 and dove into church culture, but my hatred of marriage remained. I was certain I was just going to be like Paul and choose singleness so I could serve God, not realizing the depth of hurt I was trying to cover up using this Christian justification.

Some of my friends got married right out of high school and I had plenty of weddings to attend all through my college years and, while I was happy for them, I still didn’t understand their desire to marry. Why on earth would you want to put up with another human being for the rest of your life? Why would you sign up for something that had a high probability of leaving you in worse shape than when you entered it?

You see, at a young age I decided that marriage was a bad thing.

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The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 2: Unaffirmed

person(Part 1 and Part 3 of this series.)

Years ago, my college group attended a weekend retreat (at a hot springs!) without knowing the topic. The speaker hadn’t announced it beforehand. Later, we discovered that that was because the speaker himself didn’t know his subject until he got underway; God only revealed it to him then. That subject was marriage. And it didn’t take long to see why God in his wisdom had waited for the reveal: at the end of the retreat, numerous attendees, as they shook the speaker’s hand in gratitude for solid teachings, admitted that if they’d known the topic beforehand, they wouldn’t have come.

At a different young adults’ group I briefly attended, the pastor offered a choice of topics for the next series: one of Paul’s epistles, or relationships. Paul’s epistle won. By a landslide.

And a friend recently asked, “Can we quit making the first question we ask someone after we haven’t seen them for a long time, ‘Soooo, do you have a guy’?”

Why do so many millennials land anywhere from disinterested to fiercely opposed to marriage?

The answers, I suspect, reach double digits. I myself never numbered among the matrimonially disinterested, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate fellow millennials’ increasing desire for singleness. It stems from not a few understandable stalks. And as I said last week, blunt criticism of singleness, from even respectable evangelical figures, will never be as effective as understanding and encouragement.

One stalk, I think, could be described as a lack of affirmation.

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