The Joshua Harris Fallout: Does God Write Sad Love Stories?

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One of the chief challenges of the Christian life is that we’re often blind to God’s plans.

We pray for healing, but don’t know whether it’s God’s will to heal. We pray in the storm without knowing what God wants to stop, the storm or our fragility. We pray for friends’ salvation; we don’t know all that goes on behind that stage.

Let’s not mince words: we face the reality that not only is God’s agenda different from ours, but his feelings, his definitions of “good”, might be alien to us as well.

Then there are times like Joshua Harris’ divorce.

Like a hurricane, this storm could reach well beyond its center. Though many Christians are glad over Harris’ fall (a sentiment that does not share God’s heart toward the lost (Ezek. 18:23, 33:11)), others are doubtlessly experiencing deep unease over questions about God’s involvement in divorce. Many single Christians have hung their hat on the idea that God is writing their love stories and have never heard wedding vows containing the phrase “until God do us part”. After Harris’ limited involvement in that teaching, their confusion now is understandable. Does God write sad love stories?

I’m bumping up against ancient theological conundrums here, of course, on the nature of God’s control of the universe, of events, and of hearts.

One group would say, “Why should I marry when I don’t know whether God will preserve my marriage?”

Another group would say, “It’s horrible to conceive a world where man’s evil is the primary wind. Is it not better to be in God’s hands than man’s?”

So how about it. Was this divorce God’s doing?

My answer is…I don’t know. We won’t be resolving these millennia-old stumpers here today. (Nor do I wish to mediate any angry debates in the comment section, please, gang.)

And perhaps…there doesn’t need to be an answer.

Instead, a back-to-basics approach is good in times like these. Three things occur to me.

1. God is sorrowful.

I have a personal connection to the question of God’s role in divorce: my own parents split when I was seventeen. Never in my life have I felt more keenly that God had let me down.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

What I got from my pastors is reassurances that when God says he hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), he means it. Did he do it? At some point, that no longer mattered. That year, I learned from Scripture that God shared my outrage, that he fully identifies with us in how we feel about the world’s brokenness. This saved my faith. (You can’t swing a dead cat through the Bible without finding God displeased about something or other.)

John Piper has said, “God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend.” There might be no greater understatement. I take comfort in knowing that God enters into our pain, without needing to resolve the greater questions.

2. Fight fear.

Some single Christians feel a shaking of what they believe concerning their futures. Entire formulas feel disproven.

Satan would use this to create widespread fear among us. Don’t be part of it. “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Timothy 3:7). Whatever else, be wise to Satan’s schemes.

3. Wisdom is still wisdom.

Many of us never got on board with the idea that total passivity is the only way to receive God’s future spouse, and towards the end of his walk, neither did Harris.

But neither does his apostasy negate other Scripture, or permit us to get stupid. Regardless of questions over God’s matchmaking protocols, prayer is still smarter than no prayer, wise counselors are still better than otherwise, and singleness still beats unequally yoked marriage.

If you put a gun to this non-guru’s head, I’d say the intensity you commit to seeking marriage is between you and God (assuming it doesn’t involve sin or desperation – remember “sound judgment”). Some people he does tell not to move. I’ve witnessed it. Others seem free to look more proactively. Crackpot idea: it might depend on the person and what God is trying to address within each heart.

Never try to make your experience a principle for others, but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you. – Oswald Chambers

Assess your readiness with sober judgment (Romans 12:3). Know what qualities matter in another. Be driven alone by the confidence that God’s advice is best. If you believe he’s saying something – either to get a ring on a finger or return it – then obey. He hasn’t left his throne.

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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.

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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3 Reasons I Dislike “God’s Waiting on You” Theology for Singles

prayer2As long as I’ve been of marriageable age, one of the most common responses I’ve seen to struggling singles is some version of God’s waiting on you.

God’s waiting for you to be fully satisfied in him.

God’s honing your character.

God has work for you first.

The upshot being, move! Get in the Word! Go through your character with a fine-toothed comb! Hit the mission field! Be the best you! And for the love of God, learn to love God already!

“I love that stuff and I hate it,” a single friend of mine said.

That’s where I land. I’ll never object to doing all those things. But I’ve come to hold serious misgivings about God’s Waiting On You theology where it pertains to singleness.

For one, G.W.O.Y. has too many exceptions. God allows the worst people to marry. He pairs off believers to mature together(!) from age 19. And fortysomething singles like my friend spend years on international missions but still find nobody with their last name waiting when they get off the plane home.

You can get your neck twisted trying to reverse-engineer God’s ways from all this. Outside of express Scriptural teachings, God actually doesn’t exhibit a lot of patterns to how he shapes lives. Jesus never healed people the same way twice; Joshua’s battle strategies kept getting divinely switched up. Many saints have believed that God stays somewhat unpredictable so that we must seek his guidance firsthand. If all his ways could be guessed so easily, what need would there be to talk to him?

God could be waiting on you to clean something up. But get that from him directly, in prayer.

Never try to make your experience a principle for others, but allow God to be as creative and original with others as He is with you. – Oswald Chambers

For another, G.W.O.Y. can offer a false sense of control. Some singles actually kinda light up when they find a problem in themselves: Hey, maybe I’ve uncovered That One Thing that I can fix to finally open God’s hands! This can look like holiness, but it’s mixed with an attempt to control God. That makes it an idolatry – the same one lodged in any worldly philosophy of If you don’t like your life, change it!

We know better. At a wedding last weekend, as the maid of honor told the couple’s story, she reminded us, “We’re not in control of any of this.” Yes. That’s what we must remember. Mixed motives and a spirit of control? Avoid them.

But most of all, “God’s waiting on you” knows little of grace.

Singleness can already feel like a graceless state. You don’t get as much help with life; everything relies on you; you have not (yet) been chosen by another. To add insult to injury, countless singles are exhausted from running around like beheaded chickens, worrying subconsciously over any character flaw or unfinished work that might be The Thing over which God is holding your future hostage. I’m not sure worry meshes with the fruit of the Spirit.

Push towards holiness. Always. Relentlessly. But tying blessing to your works is how Islam and Hinduism operate. It’s how the pagan religions surrounding Israel operated (and how the Mosaic covenant operated until God replaced it). It’s not discouraging, and you’ll never arrive anyway.

Instead, we have grace – the grace of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, single or not. The very foundation of our faith is God giving when we’re not deserving. I would argue that this should be the foundation of our prayers for a mate as well. After all, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with his church (Eph 5:21, 32), and that’s all grace.

Consider the Canaanite woman with the possessed daughter (Matthew 15). She had nothing to plead before Jesus – no works, no cleanliness, no national identity. But she said, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!” She was appealing to Jesus’ character.

Marvel at his generosity, but also, don’t miss that we are not dogs! We are the children Jesus spoke of, the adopted heirs, the kingdom citizens. How much more shall we receive?

Switch things up. Next time you pray for a spouse, pray not out of your own merit, but out of God’s grace and fatherhood.

I make no promises about how God will respond. Remember, we’re not seeking formulas here. But we’ll be praying correctly, out of knowledge of God’s character and our true position before him.

Like any grace, this is actually a relief. It’s not all up to us. He gives freely without finding fault (James 1:6); he keeps no record of wrongs (1 Cor. 13:5). Dump your stingy views of him and pray out of that.

 

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!

When Singleness Gets Ugly

treeI’ve been getting a little mail from Christians struggling with singleness.

I have a heart for them. Long-term singleness is a delicate, heartfelt matter. If my journey has taught me anything, and if I may be honest, I’ve found the Kingdom’s singleness teachings…lacking. Not always deep enough. Frequently written by people who married at 21. Often rushing to deny that it’s even a struggle (for various reasons).

I may not be John Piper, but I am a single Christian, and you know the saying: write what you know.

Okay. For some believers, singleness is…a longing. They could use encouragement. But that’s as far as it goes. They’re okay. They wouldn’t call it their foremost trial.

For others of you…it’s something more.

You find yourself thinking about it often. It’s what you usually mean by phrases like “unspoken prayer request” or “I’m just struggling”. You used to take comfort in having plenty of time before you reached the age of the married people you admire. Then you look around and they’re all younger. Perhaps you’ve ground through three or four committed relationships (that wasn’t in the manual) and wonder what it will take for one to finally stick. Or you haven’t had a date in six years.

This stuff matters to you. You’ll not catch me looking down on you for it.

It’s not about just your “plans” (which is how the church often responds), thank ya kindly. We wanted this. Some people don’t want to vacation on their own. They just don’t. We want a witness to our lives, someone to share a ministry or thunderstorm, a Netflix series or an ominous newscast. We want someone waiting at home, to laugh and cry with us, to know our favorite words. Just getting to say “we” instead of “I” sounds amazing.

Instead, your faithfulness seems unrewarded. Singleness involves rejection. In what universe is that not supposed to sting? After a while, singleness feels less like a season and more like a statement. This is beyond campfire cliches. Anyone who’s carried a hope deferred for ten years qualifies for better spiritual aid. (Even college students can feel this ache pretty keenly.)

Singleness landscapes life. You’re walled out of ministries, less sought after by married friends who still love you but want to celebrate and grow with those in the same season. You realize families have a bigger footprint at church. Ever noticed how couples can make friends just by swapping stories of their kids? You don’t have that. Depending on the crowd you run with, it takes a greater effort each year just to keep up. I doubt that’s what Hebrews 12 meant by “run the race”.

Some judge you. They’re annoyed to see someone struggling with something so “minor” and “escapable”. They assume some dysfunction or immaturity that’s driving all your dates away. (We even assume this of each other.) Or they might just not know what to tell you anymore.

I know chaste singles who no longer wear their old purity ring. It’s long ceased to be a promise and become only a reminder.

At the end of the day, it is a profound test of faith. We don’t talk about it anymore because it never changes anything and others are tired of listening and we’re wondering whether it should be this big a deal, but honestly…nothing else seems as hard. Wisely or not, some of us staked large parts of our hearts – even the question of God’s goodness – on the dream of getting married. We feel blindsided by how bumpy and lonely and ordinary life has turned out instead.

There have been long nights, tears, clenched teeth, or abandoned purity. You’d be amazed at how often someone leaves their faith and some failed romance (or no romance at all) shows up on the autopsy. Depending on the person and their story, this season can be debilitating and scary.

You’re welcome on this blog. You’re not nuts. You’re not pathetic. You’re a child of God (or can be), target of his patient love, beneficiary of his endless strength.

Singleness is the journey I took (or was given), and know this – God has not run out of things to say. Even if the church has. We’ve only just begun to tap into the depths of his resources. When he offers to lift us through any trial – well, I have much to say about what that looks like.

For now, come back to this: he still loves us. He still pursues us. He is still for us. He has not left our side. Despite the disappointing weight of the years, he still knocks on the door of our hearts, hoping to share a meal. No new teaching is better than that.

 

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

A Single Christian, Not a Christian Single

walkI’ve noticed that practically everything, from our job to our citizenship to a thorn in the side, has an easier time sliding to the forefront of our minds than does our identity in Christ.

Take singleness. You’ll find no suggestion on this blog that singleness isn’t hard for some people. And you could ask ten singles why it’s hard and get ten different reasons. For some, it’s just the loneliness; for others, it’s marginalization by the church, missing out on invites, being seen only for your marital status and not for you. Though singleness is a productive season in God’s eyes, there’s no doubt it has its thorns.

Gradually, over the course of time, you might find that singleness is hanging over your soul. It’s become your identity. You honestly don’t think of much else.

No doubt singleness is influential. It filters into all the details of your life as surely as marriage does (it’s like sand – it gets everywhere), and that matters to God. But once it becomes a bigger deal than your identity in Christ, when the latter just doesn’t seem to matter as much, it is possible that we’ve left joy and truth behind? No season of our lives should usurp our identity in Christ.

It’s even better to be noticed by God than to be noticed by a human.

It’s even better to celebrate Christmas than to have people to spend it with.

It’s even better to be mature in the faith than to be doing the things church people consider “grown-up stuff.”

It’s even better to take God’s word to the nations alone than to raise a family without ever telling anyone about Jesus.

It’s even better to have your name in the Book of Life than in a wedding guestbook.

It’s even better to be given by God “a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one else knows” (Rev 2:17) than to change your last name.

It’s even better to get invites to the Lamb’s wedding feast than to get invites from other married couples because you have kids, too.

It’s even better to be made acceptable by Jesus’ blood than to be accepted by people – though rejection still hurts.

It’s even better to get God’s unbreakable promises than human vows that will be neglected weekly (such as “to honor and cherish”).

And when we sigh and struggle just to care about God’s delight in us, we find how long we’ve spent outside the influence of Christ’s identity for us.

I don’t mean to guilt. Let us find God’s grace. I believe he cares very much about our heart’s desires and, for many of us, is still turning the cranks on his plan to fulfill them.

But remember – it is only out of our identity in Christ that we can do our part to fulfill God’s plan anyway. It’s only out of our identity in Christ that we will catch the notice of a true disciple, become a good spouse and parent, or live out our other kingdom purposes in the meantime.

“Single” works better as an adjective. The cross and empty tomb are our nouns.

Take back your joy and your status as “more than a conqueror” in God’s love. While we wait for our human families of our own, let us celebrate being invited into God’s. For when we thank him for it, meditate upon it, and celebrate it, it will take a turn overshadowing all else.

 

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!

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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