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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The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 1

road (2)(Part 2 and Part 3 of this series.)

Recently, I’ve become aware of past controversial comments made by Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on Christian singleness.

In previous years, Dr. Mohler has directed heavy criticism at kingdom singles. He has labeled as sinful the practice of delaying marriage by those who lack the “gift of celibacy”.

Singleness is not a sin, but deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility. The problem may be simple sloth, personal immaturity, a fear of commitment, or an unbalanced priority given to work and profession. On the part of men, it may also take the shape of a refusal to grow up and take the lead in courtship. There are countless Christian women who are prayerfully waiting for Christian men to grow up and take the lead. What are these guys waiting for? (Link)

Hailing from a Baptist paradigm that appreciates marriage’s Biblical shine (and having actually read the qualifiers in Mohler’s comments), I get what he was aiming for.

Nevertheless, if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), he’s left a lot out. Mohler’s comments are only a sliver of the much bigger message that Christian singles really need to be hearing. And that message is difficult, because not every single is created equal. God in his sovereignty is painting with a great many shades.

We singles are…complicated. A diverse bunch. Far more than is commonly recognized. We land somewhere on a spectrum best described so: I want someone, yet at the same time, I’m not sure I do. But I totally do! Yet…am I sure?

Some are tired of being judged entirely by, and being asked only about, their marital status. They feel unseen for themselves. That matters to millennials.

Others feel they lack the tools or a conducive personality (e.g. introverts) to move towards marriage.

And still others have tried to find a mate, spent countless nights bedside in tears praying for someone, and…nothing. They’ve put real effort into finding someone – and been resisted so serendipitously and relentlessly that they can only conclude God is the one keeping them single. Relationships buckle. Peace evaporates. Parties are called to move away. Or…nobody notices.

One friend, a passionate youth pastor who has served God far harder than some marrieds, lives in a formidably atheist country where kingdom singles are slightly more plentiful than unicorns (to say nothing of quality). Others live in rural areas, where they start wondering whether God has left them to the rules of probability.

This is the reality for singles at the street level. Needless to say, it might be a disservice to fall short of honoring these stories. Lack of pursuit is hardly the sole generator of singleness.

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Making Holiness Thrilling: What the Angels Longed to Look Into

peekOur youth group is currently in the midst of our annual “purity series”.

Our youth group sees fit to devote several weeks every February to the subject of purity with its many angles, and I can’t disagree with their choice. Given the escalating danger that sexual promiscuity poses to our young people in today’s bankrupt society, an emphatic approach seems right.

Last night’s message featured possibly the best possible angle on purity, the best reason to pursue purity.

It came, rather unexpectedly (for me), out of 1 Peter 1 – a passage that gives holiness the backdrop of a cosmic secret, withheld even from the angels.

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Being a Goody Two Shoes in a Wrong-Footed World

shoes“Hey, Brandon,” she said, bouncing up to the counter – not a coworker, but the girlfriend of one, whom I didn’t know from Adam – “Do you know the difference between a cheeseburger and a [sexual reference]?”

I groaned.

No. I don’t know the difference between those things, and I’ve as much desire to find out as to go dumpster-diving on Main Street during rush hour.

I looked at them with what I hoped was a world-weary half-grin.

“C’mon. Enough for one night,” I said.

They relented good-naturedly.

I’m trying to be gracious. I don’t want to be THAT Christian, the one who gets all debilitated because unbelievers act like unbelievers. You have to let this stuff slide off your back in environments like this.

Plus, I actually enjoy this particular coworker. He’s got solid character (albeit a one-track mind) and I consider him a friend. Burning bridges over this stuff doesn’t necessarily help when you’re trying to share Christ.

But this stuff does get tiring.

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The Real Triumph for the Christian Single

triumphAs Frodo and Sam clung to the burning flanks of Mount Doom in Return of the King, the One Ring destroyed and their quest complete, Sam thought of Rosie Cotton, a girl back home in the Shire. If there were anyone who caught his eye, Sam lamented as the lava crawled near, “it would’ve been ‘er.”

Yet even as he mourned, there’s no doubt that the two hobbits’ hearts were full and glad. All of Middle Earth was saved! The darkness had been vanquished, the armies of the West delivered, and a new age of peace was dawning thanks to their bravery and sacrifice – even of their lives, they suspected, as the volcano melted down around them amidst the Ring’s death throes.

Of course, we know that Sam got his girl, because a bunch of eagles appeared out of nowhere and pulled the pair off the mountainside before they crisped. (Seriously, where were those eagles and their convenient carrying ability five volumes ago when Frodo first faced thousands of miles to Mordor? Talk about your continent-sized plot holes…)

But I digress.

My point is, it would have been silly to think that Sam underewent those unbelievable travails just for Rosie. He didn’t reach Mount Doom to find Rosie chained there, waiting for rescue. Had Rosie never existed, Sam would have gone. Much, much more was at stake – both outside the two hobbits and within.

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“Locker Room Talk” Isn’t Okay, Young Men of God – It Is Your Enemy

wastelandIn light of the heart-rending revelations of sexual assault sweeping our nation this fall, it seemed an ideal time to trot this old post back out.

I’m no better.

I have, in the past, engaged in sexual sin. That I’ve never actually touched a woman or behaved like the celebrities currently under society’s microscope? That’s irrelevant. We cannot boast of “lesser sin”. We can only repent and strive.

Fortunately, God and I are winning. At this moment, lust is being held at bay in my life through his power. Praise be to him. And only him.

It is from this freedom that I write to you, young men of God, for you on my heart, and I want you warned.

I’m no stranger to locker room talk. I spent four years in the Air Force, where I spent time in dormitories, hangars, and launch trucks with rough, hard-living men.

Some things don’t necessarily stick. F-bombs roll off my back now; I barely notice.

But their degrading talk of women – the graphic descriptions of pornographic material, the exploits they carried out in college, their contempt for their wives – has been harder to forget. I remain a virgin, but my ears aren’t. I learned way more about the birds and the bees in that truck than I should have. Then it was three years teaching at a rural high school, where the kids had been raised rough and their tongues rougher. Even they knew more about sex than I (and they weren’t afraid to share, even if it cost them a detention). I’m sincerely glad that the blood of Christ and the passing of time are cleansing those memories.

Now, as a youth leader, I’ve been charged with helping to train young men of God, and part of that is instilling respect for your sisters in Christ.

Does respect sound boring?

It’s not. It is a campaign. 

You must be set against the world from an early age, for the world does not play nice. It all may start subtly, a quiet normalization of the sexually charged talk about women. The camaraderie of men in a “safe environment” can grab at you like a riptide, pulling on you before you realize it, especially in a new setting – a new sports team, a new college, a new job where you need to make inroads. Loneliness only intensifies the pull.

It’s harmless, you might hear, because of course those guys would “never” actually do anything to the women they know. Why make a big deal of talk, they may ask? Especially if it takes place outside the hearing of any women (insert joke about tree falling in the woods here)?

The Word shatters the apathy with its answer.

If Jesus tells us that even anger towards your brother is no less destructive than murder (Matthew 5:21-22)…

If Jesus tells us that even looking at a woman lustfully is the same in his eyes as adultery (Matthew 5:27-28)……

If Jesus tells us that what comes from within is what defiles a man (Matthew 15:18-20)…

…then our words have no place in God’s universe.

 

There is a vast operation underway in the spiritual realm. A coordinated effort by our Enemy to destroy the very image of God in the world.

“Now his heart for revenge is to assault beauty.  He destroys it in the natural world wherever he can. Strip mines, oil spills, fires, Chernobyl. He wreaks destruction on the glory of God in the earth like a psychopath committed to destroying great works of art.

But most of all, he hates Eve. Because she is captivating, uniquely glorious, and he cannot be. She is the incarnation of the Beauty of God. More than anything else in all creation, she embodies the glory of God. She allures the world of God. He hates it with a jealousy we can only imagine. (John and Stasi Eldredge, Captivating)

Shall we dirty and sully this reflection of God, young Christian men? Would we tarnish it, treat it as an object for our fulfillment, callously ignore the heart and soul of these precious sisters?

We shall not.

… Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Timothy 5:2)

Timothy was a young man, tender-hearted, possibly feeling out of his depth as pastor of the Ephesus church. Paul assigned him a dizzying standard: absolute purity. It was a standard that would cost him:

…they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:4-5)

Purity would cost him. But Paul knew immorality would cost him more. So he charged him, without apology, with a high but holy calling.

Was this standard unfair? No. It was an honor. We cannot be party to the activities of the enemy. The beauty of woman is under assault, and so is our righteousness as men. The days are short. Life and death are on the tongue.

My refusal to leap into the dissipation in that launch truck wrought a cost upon me. I was mocked, dismissed with a chuckle and a shake of the head. We all know virgins have a stigma in the world.

But I fought. As the jokes rolled on, I fought the corners of my mouth as they tried to raise themselves into an accommodating tweak. Every day. Sometimes I faltered, to the grief of God. But I kept fighting.

I do not say this to brag – merely to offer hope that victory is possible. God can master us, if we let him.

Locker room talk is Satanic. There’s just no other word for it. Look around you at the hearts of women, at the state of marriage in this world. It all looks like Mordor. Desolation everywhere. Did you think locker room talk plays no part in this? Whether it ever permutes into actual sexual assault or not, this talk is unjust, destructive, and sickening in God’s eyes.

I have known young men who brought courage, character, and conviction into their locker rooms. They became leaders there. Sure, they paid a price at first. But they also shone. Do the same. Quietly, grudgingly, but undoubtedly, the world will see you shine, and it will draw them towards Christ.

Let us instead be defenders of our sisters. Let us pay the price in their defense. You want to play the knight? Be prepared to bleed.

Single and Feeling Like God Doesn’t Care?

thinkingOne of WordPress’ analytics tools, labeled “Search Terms”, shows us the search words by which others are finding our posts (though it doesn’t specify which post).

Most of the time, for (I think) privacy reasons, Google hides the actual search words and just says “Unknown Search Terms”, but occasionally the actual words show. I’ve seen “losing friends” (which presumably led someone to this post), “being godly and sexy” (I’m guessing this), a surprising number containing the phrase “last minute” (which probably all led to this), and some hilarious non sequiturs that aren’t at all appropriate to share.

On Monday, this one popped up: “single and feel like god doesn’t care”

My heart broke.

Illl never know who, out of 7.5 billion people, was led to my site by that search. I can only hit my knees and pray that God helps them.

Because I know what that feeling is like.

Sometimes we must sweep aside the gilded smile on our faces and face what our hearts are really believing. And one of the deep trusts often festering in our hearts is this: when we undergo hard things, it can feel like God doesn’t care. Or at least doesn’t care enough to fix it.

That applies to singleness. No matter how many married people tell you that marriage won’t fix everything (and it won’t) or sweep aside your feelings with a big hearty “You shouldn’t be lonely, you have JESUS!!!”*, loneliness is real. There are those who’d give anything to have someone to share a dinner with, someone to help with the calendar or budget, someone to just touch them on the shoulder, or even just to get to use the word “we” instead of “I”. Only the lonely understand. And that only makes them lonelier.

It’s another level of suck entirely to bear the clenching idea that God doesn’t care. That he’s too concerned with The Plan** to notice how our hearts react to it.

To feel cut off and dismissed by the greatest hope we have? Awful.

I have wonderful news.

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