Author Archives: Bryan

Why Choose To Be Single?

Posted by: 
FAQs

In the past month or so, several people have asked why I made the decision to remain single in response to my same-sex attraction and given the fact that marriage to someone of the opposite sex is still a real and God-honoring possibility for those who experience ongoing SSA.

The Calvinist in me would say I didn’t choose singleness; singleness chose me. And that’s partly true. As I’ve mentioned before, I think God designed me in such a way that I can thrive as a single man. My personality, my hobbies, and my schedule all lend themselves to singleness, which is incredibly providential. At the same time, I’m intentional about singleness and doing it well. I’ve become more and more proactive about building relationships, serving people, and striving for sexual purity. So yeah, in some ways, singleness chose me — in other ways, I chose singleness. I continue to choose it every day.

Singleness in my teens

Being single in high school was easy. I was too busy with music and writing and church to think about dating. (Notice I didn’t mention studying!) Shortly after graduation, friends were getting hitched left and right. (This is Utah, where people marry young.) The marryin’ age was no longer in the future; it was now. I had to consider whether marriage was realistic for me, someone who continued to experience same-sex attraction.

On the night I “came out” to my parents, I told them I still wanted a wife and kids, despite being attracted to men. They told me it was a good and godly desire, which I was free to pursue. (Such a beautiful response, by the way.) Looking back, I think my desire for marriage was actually a desire for things I believed would accompany marriage: 1) the “healing” or diminishing of my same-sex attractions, and 2) achieving the American dream, which included starting a family. I didn’t desire marriage for what it was designed to be — a living expression of God’s faithfulness to his people — I only wanted the perks (real or imagined). By God’s grace, my priority at that time was to get a degree, which put thoughts of marriage on the back burner. Phew!

Singleness in my twenties

College and the start of my career bought me enough time to realize I was pretty good at being single (while being “out” to my parents and a small group of friends eased the pressure to date or get married). I’d racked up years of experience learning how to love God, serve people, and foster community without the help of a spouse. Or, to put it another way, I’d settled nicely into singleness.

Not that I “settled” for singleness. I don’t believe it’s something we settle for. Jesus told his disciples the single life is a high calling (Matthew 19:12), and Paul said it’s BETTER to remain single, especially when it comes to ministry (1 Corinthians 7:8). So I started seeing singleness the way God does. I started to notice all the ways singleness was a blessing, as it offered more time, opportunities, and even relationships than many of my married friends. Of course, there’s a learning curve in using these gifts to bless others and serve God rather than self, but my twenties gave me lots of time — and God gave me lots of grace — to figure it out.

Singleness in my thirties

By my thirtieth birthday, lifelong singleness had become a viable, even attractive, option. I was “out” to family, friends, my church, and the blogosphere, and pretty vocal about my intent to remain single for the sake of Christ. That’s when it started to feel deliberate or “vocational,” as some call it. That’s when it felt most like a decision. I’d also started to notice other Christians, such as those at Living Out, who chose to remain celibate in response to their same-sex attraction, which made the possibility far more appealing than the bleak picture of singleness painted by secular culture.

Being more open about SSA and singleness in my thirties has also meant facing more challenges and temptations. Saying “no” to a sexual relationship with a man was no longer a hypothetical situation; it was a reality. That is, I’ve experienced the pain of obedience, of practicing what I preach. I’ve also faced more “fiery darts” in my spiritual life than ever before, perhaps because I’m so public with my story. But openness has also meant more accountability, more community, more hope. I’ve connected with people all over the world. Being in fellowship with other single Christians has proven in real life what I’ve always known in my head: singleness really is “the happy alternative” to marriage.

Singleness in the future

Having never been married, I can’t say for sure, but I think I’m better suited to pursue holiness through singleness. But my “decision” (if we’re still calling it that) to remain single has always come with a caveat: God is full of surprises. I’m open to the idea of marrying a godly woman, but since I’m not actually pursuing marriage, it certainly would come as a surprise!

There’s something I love about the phrase “single on purpose.” Better yet, single with purpose. I’ve spent the past few years striving to be single in the best possible way — with Christ-centered intentionality, commitment, even passion. I think singleness is something we have to keep seeing afresh, making adjustments as we go. After all, being a single teen is a lot different than being a single forty-something (or octogenarian). Like marriage, it’s not going to be easy, but I truly believe it can be happy. Especially if we use the gift to honor God and point people to Jesus. When I’m doing that, I know I’m making the right — here comes that word again — decision.

Review: Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel

Posted by: 
Book Reviews

I’m pro-marriage. Coming from someone who’s been single for 33 years, that might sound a bit weird, but it’s true! I’m passionate about marriage because I’ve learned, through the teaching of the Bible and the wise men who expound it, the real meaning of marriage: it’s a metaphor for Christ and his people. A living picture of the gospel. That’s something to get excited about! But sadly, it’s also something many people have forgotten — not only in the world, but also in the Church. We’ve dwindled marriage down to companionship, lovemaking, and childrearing. Of course, marriage is all of those things, but it MEANS so much more. God designed it and gave it to mankind as the most vivid way to proclaim the gospel and live out its principles.

Ray Ortlund wrote Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel in hopes of recovering “joyful confidence in marriage as God originally gave it to us.” Although this book can be read in one sitting, it’s not “theology lite.” Ortlund’s writing is serious and poetic, with tightly packed truths that demand our attention. The book is divided into four sections that paint a sweeping portrait of marriage from Genesis to Revelation.

Marriage in Genesis

The first book of the Bible reveals both “the glory of marriage and the brokenness of marriage.” Eden was the scene of the world’s first wedding, where the crown jewels of God’s creation became “one flesh.” Ortlund spends a good chunk of time talking about the beauty of complementarity, which is not only a major theme in the creation account, but also a necessity in marriage. Knowing our modern sensibilities when it comes to gender issues, Ortlund wants us to recognize and rediscover the “stroke of divine genius” in God’s design for husband as head and wife as helper — the framework for marriage that remains to this day. He also stresses how the fall in Genesis 3 wrecked the dynamics of this first marriage (and all marriages after it) with man seeking to dominate his wife, and woman seeking to subvert her husband. But Genesis 3 also comes with a promise of restoration, not only between sinners and God, but also between husbands and wives.

Marriage in the Law, Wisdom, and Prophets

Ortlund first discusses how the Mosaic Law sought to repair the damage done to marriage after the fall. Some of the laws that seem odd or downright unethical to modern readers (think levirate marriage) were actually quite civilized, especially compared to other Near Eastern cultures. He’s also quick to note that stories of polygamy and other deviations of marriage in the Bible are descriptive, not prescriptive; the original design of marriage still stood, even when God’s people got it wrong. But despite the struggles that come with marriage post-fall, the biblical writers want us to remember its original glory. Proverbs and the Song of Solomon celebrate marital love and sex, and offer warnings to protect marriage from sexual sin, which further proves how important the metaphor is to God. Ortlund then touches on the prophets, where the true meaning of marriage begins to unfold. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea “retell the whole of Israel’s history in a new way — as a tragic romance,” with God as loyal husband and Israel as unfaithful bride. Human marriage points us to a “super-reality,” as Ortlund says; that is, God’s faithfulness to his people, and his resolve to see this divine marriage through to eternity.

Marriage in the New Testament

Enter Jesus, our bridegroom. Seeing as he’s the ultimate reality to which all marriages point, what did he think about marriage? When asked about divorce, Jesus went retro, reaching back to Eden to affirm the original design of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Although Jesus fulfilled the law, eliminating civil and ceremonial customs, one thing that remained unchanged is marriage: one man, one woman, for life. The apostle Paul, too, used Genesis 2:24 as the standard for marriage: once in 1 Corinthians 6:16, and more famously in Ephesians 5 (a passage often recited at weddings), where he explains how marriage reflects Christ and the Church. Paul reiterates the “dance of complementarity,” as Ortlund calls it, between husband as head and wife as helper that was first established in Genesis. Finally, Ortlund takes us to Revelation, where the institute of human marriage comes to an end and the better reality to which it pointed all along begins: the marriage supper of the Lamb, where Christ and his people are united forever. Ortlund notes that God made the heavens and earth for the marriage of Adam and Eve, but he will soon make a new heaven and new earth for the ultimate marriage of Jesus and his bride, the Church.

Marriage in the World Today

Ortlund ends with a sober reminder from Scripture: “Let marriage be held in honor among all” (Hebrews 13:4). Especially now, in a culture where people “don’t believe in marriage” or seek to redefine it, we need to “build a pro-marriage counterculture, where faithfulness and beauty and lasting love point the way not only to a better human society but also, and far more, to the eternal love of Christ.” Because the one-flesh union of man and woman is such a vital and vivid representation of the gospel, Christians have every reason to protect marriage, both their own and in general. Every departure from God’s design for marriage is a departure from the gospel; thus, Ortlund encourages Christians to defend God’s vision for marriage and sexuality with confidence and humility.

If I may have the final word: Marriage is not the gospel, but it is God’s chosen metaphor for the gospel, a motif that runs through the veins of Scripture from the very heart of God, giving us insight to his fierce love and devotion toward his people. That’s why I love marriage! And that’s why I recommend this book. I hope it will encourage married couples to take seriously their role in displaying God’s love to the world, and inspire single people to cherish marriage, knowing it holds the mystery of the gospel for them as well.

Advent: Treasure and Ponder

Posted by: 
Uncategorized

It’s been quiet at The Happy Alternative, and I feel like I owe my humble crew of readers and handful of new followers an explanation for the “deafening silence,” as one friend called it. Slightly dramatic, I know. I don’t think anyone is checking every day for updates, but here are my thoughts… just in case.

Some people have asked whether I’m going through a hard time, which is understandable given my post in October regarding storms. I’ve had a few stormy days since then, but these dark winter days actually feel much sunnier. I’m starting to feel like my old self — that is, the new self. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I attribute these brighter days entirely to being more immersed in God’s Word, which causes me to talk to God more, which causes me to love him more, which causes me to worship more. So, no, the trickle of blog posts here isn’t due to storms. I’ll write my way through those any day!

Laziness and lack of creativity are partly to blame, but I think the silence is mostly due to what I’ll call The Mary Factor.

This Advent, you’re likely to come across one of my favorite verses during your readings. In Luke 2, when the shepherds come to see Jesus, they tell Mary and Joseph what they saw in the field: an army of angels shouting, “Glory to God in the highest!” Everyone is amazed, undoubtedly talking to one another about what happened in the hills of Bethlehem. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” There’s the verse! When faced with the weight and wonder of these things, Mary didn’t blog about her thoughts and feelings; she treasured and pondered.

That’s something I do a lot. Which is why launching a website has always felt like a weird move for me. I’m pretty private. I don’t feel specially qualified to write about theology, sexuality, or anything else. I don’t like the pressure of deadlines, however self-imposed. And if I didn’t feel called by God to speak up about singleness and same-sex attraction, I probably wouldn’t. (I’m sort of the Jonah of blogging.) But I do feel called, so I write. Draft after blasted draft, I write. And when I’m not — in those long stretches of silence — I’m usually treasuring. Pondering things in my heart.

Advent only increases my desire to take in rather than spew forth. But because I have a guilty conscience about being the blogger who doesn’t blog, and because the internal nagging is actually intruding on my Christmas bliss, I want to make an exception, pull back the curtain, and tell you what I’m pondering this holiday season.

Namely, Jesus.

Every day I’m reading several chapters of Isaiah, which anticipates his first coming (or advent). I’m also reading the gospel of Luke, which boasts the longest account of his birth. Finally, I’m reading Hebrews, which explains and expands on his coming, with a plea to persevere in faith until he comes again. Taking in such truth and beauty in preparation for Christmas has truly rekindled my love, adoration, and affection for Jesus. And I do want to talk about him! We’re supposed to. But there are times when, like Mary, I need to first let things settle in my heart awhile. I think that’s what Advent is for. But we’re so busy buying, wrapping, cleaning, cooking, performing, and DOING, that we forget to treasure and ponder.

So that’s what’s happening here. Maybe in the New Year I’ll be a little less like Mary and a bit more like Paul, at least in terms of output. But for now, I’ve got a lot to treasure in my heart. I hope this Christmas season you’ll find lots to treasure, too.

Death Redeemed And Reimagined

Posted by: 
Uncategorized

Today I spent a couple hours walking through the wreckage that is autumn. In the spring, my afternoon walks are ripe with resurrection imagery — buds, blossoms, butterflies. Everything whispers “new life” and I’m emboldened to hope in the risen Christ. It’s like a sermon: “Behold, I make all things new.” But today, smack in the middle of October, nature clearly pointed to death: bare branches, bone-dry plants (with a few clinging to dear life), tiny animals scrounging for scraps. (I imagined them prepping for the winter apocalypse.) As much as I love spring and the signs of life that come with it, the fall imagery was beautiful, too — just in a different way.

Which got me thinking, how can death be beautiful?

death2In Scripture, death is ugly — the costly wages of sin (Romans 6:23). But the death of Jesus gave death new meaning — even hope. Jesus, the best man to ever live — the only man who TRULY lived in the way we ought to, fiercely devoted to God and neighbor — this man who really lived, REALLY died. Like the beautiful, blood-red leaf that floats and spirals and plummets to the ground, severed from its source, the Son of God was slain. His corpse entombed for three days — a short season, but enough for the reality to set in. The tomb was sealed. The disciples mourned. The women blended burial spices together and knew where to find the grave. This was the real deal.

And yet Christians believe, somehow, this death is beautiful. Because this wasn’t ordinary — not like all other deaths that came before it. This particular death marked “the death of death” for all who believe. On the cross, every last drop of God’s wrath was poured out on the Son, who died in our place, and every bit of Christ’s righteousness was given to us, in what theologians call “the great exchange.” This death secured eternal LIFE for those who love Jesus — the one person whom death could never touch, because he was without sin, yet he submitted to it willingly. Yes, this death proved something: not only Christ’s love for the Father, but also his love for us.

death3

My second thought, as I crunched my way along the trail, was of dying to self — something all Christians are called to do. A few verses came to mind. Like when Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Another time, he said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25). Then there’s Paul, who said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). To die is gain. 

In all these passages, death for the Christian is redeemed, reimagined. I think that’s why today, despite my affinity for spring, I was able to see something beyond death — something more like beauty — in the images that pervaded the landscape. At the end of the trail (right after my phone died), I spotted a caterpillar on the pavement. I picked him up with a twig and watched another sermon crawl before my very eyes:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Regarding Storms

Posted by: 
Uncategorized

Tonight I sat on the porch and watched the storm roll through. The lightning was beautiful, the way it struck in silence, for a nanosecond brightening the drenched landscape, then disappearing again into the black. I did the thing where you count the seconds between the lightning and thunder to see how many miles away it is — how long before I get struck in my rocking chair, sipping a cup of tea. 

I needed something beautiful tonight. Life has been a bit of a storm lately. Cliché, I know, but a storm just makes sense right now. I’m OK saying this on a blog called The Happy Alternative — a blog about happiness — because I give myself permission to be sad, to FEEL my way through a valley. And lately I’ve been fighting for happiness, the same way I fight for holiness. Scripture calls it a “good fight,” and that’s what I believe. That’s why I exhaust myself trying to punch and kick and head-butt my way to happiness. I know we’re made for it. We’re headed for it. 

So I watched the lightning and listened to the thunder. It sounded less like thunder and more like a waterfall — three of which I’ve seen and touched in the past month, so it sounded familiar — mixed with aircraft zooming over. It lasted longer than the typical bolt, and seemed more like the “rolling thunder” we sing about on those rare occasions when we crack open our hymnals and belt out “How Great Thou Art.” His power throughout the universe displayed.  And in that moment I really did think of how great he is. 

I’m teaching Sunday school tomorrow, on the topic of Heaven and Hell. Tonight, in the storm, I sensed the God of both Heaven and Hell making something known. His power? His wrath? His stunning creativity? I’m too tired to figure it out, but it’s nice to feel something other than 1) nothing, because I’m always too busy THINKING, or 2) guilt and shame — two things I’ve been wrestling with lately and two things, until recently, I’ve rarely ever faced in my Christian walk.

This is just a season, I’m sure — a storm that blows over, clears the air, makes everything feel new. Tomorrow is Sunday — a new day, a new week — and, as always, I look forward to the new mercies that come with it. That’s a promise I’ve always held on to: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Such a ray of hope… in a book called Lamentations. God is full of surprises.

Hope and lamentation. That about sums it up, I think. Especially tonight, as I “word vomit” this stream of consciousness onto the computer screen (and the perfectionist in me pleas for me not to press “publish” because it’s not pretty and polished). I’m thankful to serve a sovereign God who not only allows the storms to roll through, but sometimes calms them too. Either way, I know he’s with me. For me.

Now my tea is cold. But I think the storm has blown over. 

7 Happy Songs (Part 4)

Posted by: 
Uncategorized

1.  “Mmlj” by the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers. (I love saying the title out loud!) An acronym for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, this song reminds me that DAILY NOURISHMENT comes from the gospels. The lyrics are so joyful, and the singers have voices to match!

2.  “I Will Never Let You Down” by Rita Ora. *GIRLY POP WARNING* Yes, it’s a throwaway pop song — nothing deep — but it’s got one of those melodies (with pristine production) that chemically alters my brain and makes me HAPPY! There’s a science to it, I’m sure.

3.  “In the Dark I See” by Lights. Oh man, LIGHTS. Everything she sings is magic in my ears. This song made me fall in love. Just her and a guitar. I’m not sure what this song means to her, but I know what it means to me. (I tend to sing it vertically, to God.)

4.  “Brighten My Heart” by Sixpence None the Richer. This song does what the title suggests: it brightens! I love the poetry and simplicity of the lyrics, paired with a humble melody and Leigh Nash’s childlike vocals. It’s a prayer I’ve sung on many occasions. Keep it handy for a pick-me-up!

5.  “Grace’s Amazing Hands” (and pretty much everything else) by Dave Barnes. That voice… Yummy. But this song in particular stands out because it personifies grace so beautifully: her hands are “ugly” and “bruised” because of the hard work they’ve accomplished, but they’re “soft as a feather bed” to those who’ve felt their loving touch.

6.  “Extraordinary” by Liz Phair. I admit this isn’t the HAPPIEST song on the planet… But I’d put it in the “angsty happy” category — a sort of liberating breakup song. Maybe it’s the happy memories that accompany the track, but it definitely belongs on my list. Maybe it’ll make the cut for you, too!

7.  “Every Time I Close My Eyes” by Mariah Carey… Err, I mean, Babyface. But really, this song is all about Mariah’s “background” vocals. This diva can’t just shrink into the background. Nuh uh. Poor Babyface takes a backseat when MC brings her signature vocal runs on the bridge. It’s PURE GOLD! *Pressing replay now*

Oh, and you can find more happy songs here and here and here.

Interview: SSA, Singleness And The Church

Posted by: 
Uncategorized

Last week, I had the pleasure of joining two great guys at The Rugged Marriage for a conversation about same-sex attraction, singleness, and the Church. We talked about other stuff, too — music and tea and something called “Florida Man.” Let me tell you, I’d much rather type my thoughts from the safety of my laptop than speak out loud, on the spot. But Alex and Chris made me feel right at home. Check out the interview here. And show the boys some love by subscribing to their podcast and following them on Twitter

Why Can’t You Just Be Gay?

Posted by: 
FAQs

If anyone has a reason to search Scripture for an “out,” a way to be in a gay relationship and yet remain within the bounds of God’s will for sexuality, it’s me — the Christian who experiences ongoing same-sex attraction. Trust me, I’ve heard arguments from Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, and others who try to make a case for gay marriage in the Church. I’ve read books, watched debates, and had long talks with friends who urge me to pursue a sexual relationship with a man. I’ve listened to and reasoned through every attempt to justify gay marriage, but nothing has convinced me — the guy who, in theory, should be the easiest person to convince.

Why?

The simple answer is “Because God said so.” It’s true, only six verses in the Bible explicitly mention homosexual practice. All of them, of course, forbid it. The most quoted are Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1, which, admittedly, come with a fair share of controversy regarding civil and ceremonial laws, cultural context, and so forth. (Although it’s not as if theologians throughout time haven’t already explained why the ban on homosexual practice is different from the ban on shellfish or mixed fabrics.) These verses, complicated though they seem to some, are enough to prove to me that pursuing a gay romance would dishonor God. But let’s say I didn’t have those six verses. I still couldn’t “just be gay,” because there’s still the big picture of marriage in Scripture to consider. Which is good, because I’m a big picture kind of guy.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a symbol for God and his people. God is always the bridegroom; his people are the bride. Jeremiah compares Israel to a bride devoted to her husband, the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2). Ezekiel portrays Israel as an unfaithful wife, while God remains the faithful husband (Ezekiel 16). Hosea’s marriage to his adulterous wife parallels the relationship between God and Israel throughout the Book of Hosea. In the New Testament, John the Baptist calls Jesus the bridegroom, whose bride, his followers, delights to hear his voice (John 3:29). Jesus calls himself the bridegroom, while the disciples represent his bride (Matthew 9:15). Clearest of all is Paul, who says the act of man and woman becoming one flesh “refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). God designed marriage between husband and wife, sexual complements, for a very specific purpose: to be a living picture of the gospel. This metaphor matters to God. And it matters to me, too.

If there’d been a huge paradigm shift on marriage and sex, it would’ve happened in early Church history, not the early 21st century. With something as important as sexual purity, Jesus and the New Testament writers would’ve made it 100 percent clear that the ban on homosexual practice had been repealed, the way God did for Peter regarding dietary restrictions, with a vision of formerly unclean animals and a voice from heaven saying “eat” (Acts 10:9-16). We don’t have that with marriage; we only have reconfirmation from Christ that marriage remains as he established it in the garden: a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:4-6). A beautiful picture of the truth of the gospel.

People might ask, “Why can’t two men or two women reflect that same truth?” Well, gender and biological sex are realities created by God, and he uses them in creation and within marriage for his purposes — both for the flourishing of mankind and to tell a story. If you’re looking for a why beyond the why, I can’t help you. To me, that’s like a child asking “Why?” after the parent has already explained— as if additional answers will ever satisfy. (If you’ve spent time with a toddler, you know what I mean.) But there is a WHO beyond the why, and I can tell you he’s good, wise, loving, and he withholds no good thing from those who walk in his ways (Psalm 84:11). This is the God I love, trust, and seek to obey. And I’m OK with the reason he’s given. That’s enough.

At the heart of this question is a plea for me to be happy, which I appreciate. It’s nice to know I have family and friends who desire my happiness. But what I need people to understand is that following Jesus REALLY DOES make me happy! It’s not the kind of happiness a sex-obsessed world expects; it’s the happiness that comes with being given a new heart and new desires. That includes obeying God’s commands for marriage and sexuality — those boundaries set for my joy and sanctification. Violating God’s Word (and my own conscience) actually works AGAINST my ultimate happiness. I have no doubt that a sexual relationship with a man would bring some temporary pleasures, but that’s not the kind of pleasure I’m looking for. I want the kind that lasts forever, which only comes through a relationship with my God (Psalm 16:11).

Yes, I’m still attracted to the same sex, and I imagine I always will be. But I choose to remain celibate and pursue a life of joyful singleness because I believe God and his purpose for marriage. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). I really do love that man, and I want to keep his commandments without people telling me I’d be happier if I didn’t.