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.

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

Singles Training #3: How to View Yourself

103943824I am a child of the King.

Say it again.

I am a child of the King.

Keep saying it.

I am a child of the King.

Look up Zephaniah 3:17 while you do it.

I am a child of the King.

And Romans 8:31-39.

I am a child of the King.

And all of Luke 15.

I am a child of the King.

Dear longing single, you’ll need this knowledge. You’re going to need your identity in Christ embedded deep in your soul. The favor, the privilege, the delight you hold in God’s eyes. The bewilderingly good fortune that God chose to rescue us from the filth and consequence of sin. Learn it, marinate in it.

And you’ll need it for more than just finding the right mate. 

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Singles Training #2: How to View The Kingdom

running-man-sunset-fullframeA gal I used to mentor in high school got married this past spring.

I had the privilege to attend her wedding, even drove through a May snowstorm to reach it (and not for the first time. Montana, y’all).

It was one of those affairs you never forget, the pastor interrupted by great splats of melting snow hitting the pavilion roof (and splats of happiness hitting our hearts). The couple danced to “You Are Mine” by Secret Nation and wrote their own vows, the kind bursting with yearning and breathless delight. No offense to sober liturgies, but this one actually made marriage sound exciting.

But what got me really excited about these two was hearing the pastor talk of shared purpose. Here are two people who want to share each other’s callings and are well-crafted for it. A union of two disciples who know their role, who have delved deep into God and are discovering the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). As if it were plotted all along.

Maybe I’m just being a guy, but this side-by-side image of marriage, rather than face-by-face, sounds way better than any rom-com.

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Singles’ Training #1: How to View A Spouse

sparringAs we singles wait for God to bring us someone, we’re told enthusiastically by those around us, “This is the time for you to be preparing for marriage!” We’re told to grow in holiness, learn the Word, and hone our character as part of our preparation.

(We also get a hint that God might be waiting until we’re “trained” to marry us off. Never mind that God marries off plenty of people who aren’t even remotely ready, that nobody is exempt from learning to love, and that we’re training for a lot more than just marriage…but pull me back from the rabbit trail…)

Training. I love it. Something about those training montages in movies gets me pumped. Rocky. The Matrix. Any superhero origin film. The entire Harry Potter series. The hero doesn’t get kid gloves; he must adapt and learn, or he’ll be hosed. It’s a calling out, a strengthening and preparation for a mythic role. And he is usually guided by an old sage who cares enough about his welfare to show him the way, equip him for survival.

Honestly, if we learned to see our lives’ trials more like Shifu’s rigor towards Po, or de la Vega’s harshness towards Alejandro, we might start seeing God differently.

Singleness has its own training. We, too, love just reading about it (right?); it makes us feel like we’re “on the way”. God is our sage, showing us the ropes.

But to what great arena, what great mission, is God calling us singles?

Love.

No, not the fun romantic version. Love. Giving up, sacrificing, letting go, often with no visible prospect of reward.

True love is brutal, and so its training must be. Love isn’t cushy. It’s going to cost everything you have. For Jesus, it was a cross.

So why wait until marriage to start becoming the awesome spouse you’ve envisioned becoming? What if we could start…right now?

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6 Spouse-Related Reasons You Need Jesus More Than a Spouse

ringI’ve never been married. But I have been very interested in marriage.

The divorce of my parents led me to one of the most fervent prayers I’ve ever made – “God, don’t let me end up there.” It’s the kind of prayer God is eager to answer. His first lesson? Much of the answer takes place before any vows do.

And the greatest answer of all is…Jesus.

I know. I can hear you sigh. You’ve heard for years that you need Jesus more than a spouse. But he just seems so boring compared to romance and white picket fences and sex and babies. He honestly seems unrelated, other than saying “no” to your longing.

But indulge me for a second. The fall of my family prompted me to keep my eyes and ears open for “what it takes” for a thriving marriage. It got me watching older couples, gleaning from them, reading every book anyone gave me. It got me learning from couples my own age as they’ve reached that stage. God used the whole thing to grab my attention; he gave me the chance to scout out, in a way, the territory ahead of us singles.

And not only am I more convinced than ever that Jesus is the answer, but he’s been kind enough to give me some idea as to why.

It’s awkward to speak beyond my experience, and it forces me to mix in some generalities. But this really isn’t my words. It’s those of married couples. Perhaps we’d be wise to switch Tinder off for a minute and listen to them.

Six reasons we need Jesus more than a spouse…that have to do with the spouse.

1. You need Jesus to find that person.

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