Tag Archives: Holiness

Life As A Doorkeeper

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We’ve all felt it. When we stare up at the stars or survey the outstretched sea. When we study those grand historical narratives or read some great theologian’s biography. I’m talking about feeling small.

Sure, we could all use a hearty slice of humble pie. We all need that Isaiah moment when we recognize how unclean and undone we are before a holy God. But those feelings should be balanced with (or shortly followed by) the beauty, mercy, and grace of God. They should be felt in the wider context of the Christian worldview — humility without despair. That is, humility with happiness.

Years ago, a friend, a housewife, taught me how to do this (unknowingly, as is often the case). That day we sat on the sofa in her living room and swapped summer reading lists. She flipped to the first chapter of Melville’s Moby-Dick and shared a passage that stood out to her. In it, the narrator, Ishmael, discusses his intent to go whaling:

And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:

Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.

WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.

BLOODY BATTLE IN AFGHANISTAN.

Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces…

“Sometimes I feel like Ishmael,” she said. “Just a passing note — wife and mother of three.”

She said this with a smile, some otherworldly contentment, as she closed the book. Of course, being a wife and mom is a beautiful role, and something my friend does very well. But she understood that life has bigger headlines than hers, and somehow she’d made peace with her “shabby part.” If you asked her, she’d probably say something like this: Our life on earth is a foreword, a preface to a much longer, far greater story. A story that’s not our own. We play our part, however big or small, with God’s glory always our goal.

Paul put it this way: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whether you’re called to be a whaler or a wife and mother of three, “do all to the glory of God.” Doing so offers the kind of humility that’s accompanied by great joy in knowing that God would give us even the smallest role in the saga of salvation.

The psalmist said it like this: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Just a doorkeeper — that’s all he asked, if it meant being part of God’s kingdom. And if that’s my part, if that’s my tiny role, I pray that God will give me the grace to be the best doorkeeper I can be.

12 Questions on Love, Singleness and Marriage

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Two years ago I sent twelve questions to myself via email, intending to answer them in the morning. They were sort of diagnostic questions for my soul, as I’d been struggling with singleness and what that would look like for me in the long haul. Well… Last night I found the unanswered questions buried deep in my inbox. (Talk about procrastination.) Since I’m still single — and because there are still nights when I ask myself these questions — I thought I’d answer them here.

1.  Do you believe it’s better to be married than to be single?

I believe it’s better for SOME people to be married, but I don’t believe marriage itself is better than singleness. That is, neither marriage nor singleness is INTRISICALLY better than the other. Both are God-approved paths, and both present opportunities to thrive in holiness and happiness.

2.  Do you believe married people are more important to God, ministry, or the Church?

No, but the Church has sometimes made it seem that way. We tend to focus on the nuclear family with sermons, bible studies, and activities aimed at that demographic. But I’d like to think that’s because most churchgoers are married or pursuing marriage — not because we believe single people are less important to God. There’s no doubt God loves single people. He offers us eternal rewards that rival the blessings of married people (Isaiah 56:3-5), and singleness help us serve him with undivided interests (1 Corinthians 7:32-34).

3.  Do you believe single people are missing out on love?  

I know I’m loved beyond measure; but I also realize there’s a certain KIND of love I don’t experience as a celibate man. It’s the Eros that C.S. Lewis talks about in his book, The Four Loves. The other three loves are great — family, friendship, and divine love — but they don’t “make up” for Eros. In a very real sense, that love is missing from my life, and it’s something that still stings at times. But when I stand before God, I don’t believe I’ll regret having not been married (assuming I remain single). And since I won’t feel slighted then, I try not to feel slighted now. It’s a learning process.

4.  Do you believe single people have more problems than married people?

I wouldn’t say we have more problems; we have different problems. But rather than compare burdens, I think it’s better to reflect on the many ways singleness is like marriage. When we universalize the Christian experience, focusing on what we have in common, we’re better able to encourage one another.

5.  Do you believe marriage will make you happy? 

Not any happier than I am already. There are moments, of course, when I think it will — when I’m watching romantic comedies, listening to love songs, or scrolling through Facebook. But I’ve been working hard in recent years to remind myself that lasting happiness is found in God alone — knowing, loving, and seeking him — and that both marriage and singleness come with bonus pleasures on top of that. It’s just a matter of looking for and appreciating them.

6.  Do you believe you can love God and love others as a single person?

Of course, dummy! (I’m talking to my past self here.) Your relationship status has nothing to do with your capacity to love God and neighbor, which is the calling of EVERY Christian (Matthew 22:37-40). For proof, look to the only person who’s ever kept the two greatest commandments perfectly — the single man, Jesus.

7.  Do you believe marriage is a temporary institution? 

Absolutely! Jesus makes clear there’s no marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Marriage foreshadows a greater reality to come. In heaven, earthly marriages will have served their purpose, and we’ll enjoy forever what they were pointing to all along: Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:32).

8.  Do you believe singleness can bring blessings to you and your ministry? 

Yes, it already has. Being single frees me to do things with my time that many married friends are unable to do because of their commitment to spouse and kids. I can’t say I’ve taken full advantage of my singleness (some of my married friends put me to shame in their work for the Lord), but I’m striving every day to be the best possible friend, worship leader, writer, and so forth — and I’m discovering ways to let my singleness serve to that end.

9.  Do you believe single people are less equipped to serve in God’s kingdom? 

I must’ve been feeling inadequate when I asked this, because it seems to be a repeat (or fusion) of previous questions. But the answer is no.

10.  Do you believe single people should be married? 

I believe SOME of them should be married. The Apostle Paul tackles this question best in 1 Corinthians 7, which gives principles for serving God in both marriage and singleness. He says it’s better to marry than to burn with passion, which is good motivation for some people to be married. But he also advocates for singleness, as does Jesus (Matthew 19:12). I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s ever asked this question, and I’m glad God answers it in his Word.

11.  Do you believe marriage will solve your problems? 

My greatest problem has been taken care of: my sins are forgiven through the blood of Christ. I’ve been adopted into God’s family and my salvation is secure. Most of my problems now have to do with still being fallen, not being single. Getting married would create different problems (which my married friends can tell you all about), along with different blessings. See the answer to question four.

12.  Do you believe you’re less human or incomplete without a spouse?

Less human? No! Jesus was single, but also the most perfect human to ever walk the earth. Incomplete? Kinda sorta, but not because I’m single. Like everyone else, I’m not yet fully conformed to the image of Christ, but I’m confident that God will complete the work he’s begun (Philippians 1:6). In the meantime, here’s what I know: I’m chosen by God — part of a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people called out of darkness and into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). God lavishes me with love and calls me his son (1 John 3:1). He rejoices over me (Zephaniah 3:17). None of these blessings is a result of marriage (or singleness), but rather our union with Christ.

Review: Same-Sex Attraction And The Church

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Book Reviews

One clue that I was gonna love Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church Both Wesley Hill and Rosaria Butterfield, two leading (but very different) voices on the topic, endorsed the book. Their praise is printed alongside blurbs from Russell Moore, Justin Taylor, and Michael Horton — familiar names among evangelicals. I’m also told this was given to 10,000 people who attended this year’s Together for the Gospel conference. So I wanted to see what the buzz was about.

Dude, Ed did not disappoint. [Insert a million heart emojis here.]

Shaw has written something beautifully honest, yet surprisingly optimistic. As someone who experiences same-sex attraction, Shaw balances the STRUGGLES of his sexuality with the OPPORTUNITIES it’s given him to serve the Church and become more like Jesus. But the book is more than a personal narrative; it’s a call for the Church to change how we view celibacy, to make it easier for same-sex attracted Christians who want to remain faithful to God’s design for marriage and sexuality.

To do this, Shaw takes us through nine “missteps” the Church has taken that make it HARDER for people to remain open to celibacy. I think it’s helpful to list all of them here:

•   Your identity is your sexuality
•   A family is Mom, Dad, and 2.4 children
•   If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
•   If it makes you happy, it must be right
•   Sex is where true intimacy is found
•   Men and women are equal and interchangeable
•   Godliness is heterosexuality
•   Celibacy is bad for you
•   Suffering is to be avoided

Shaw tackles each topic with biblical aplomb, showing us where we’ve adopted a worldly perspective and how to realign our beliefs with God’s Word. I found myself cheering for him as he urges the Church to redefine family the way Jesus does — not by blood but by adoption into God’s family. I smiled at the passages that see friendship (not just sex) as a means to true intimacy and fulfillment. I applauded his courage in challenging us to change how we measure holiness — to recognize that same-sex attracted Christians need not become heterosexual to experience real sanctification, and to understand that when God causes ALL THINGS to work together for good, that includes same-sex attraction. With every misconception Shaw obliterated, I became evermore joyful in my singleness. It’s crazy that a book can do that.

I felt especially convicted by the first and last chapters. With regard to the first misstep (see above), I realize how sexuality has become a bigger part of my identity than I’d like to think. That’s due in part to the culture’s influence on my worldview, but it also has something to do with writing so much about sexuality; I talk and think about it more than ever before. But ultimately I want to be known as a Christian, not a gay or celibate or [choose your adjective] Christian. With regard to the last misstep, Shaw reminded me that suffering plays an important role in becoming more like Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19) — something I can easily gloss over in my attempt to look at the bright side of life. Honestly, the struggle of same-sex attraction has lessened the more I’ve come to see singleness as the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage, but that doesn’t mean there’s no suffering in the Christian walk. I hope to never give that impression, because the Bible certainly doesn’t.

OK, personal stuff aside. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church is for all of us — to remind us WHY we believe marriage is reserved for a man and woman, and HOW we can serve those in our churches who, because of their sexuality, have chosen to remain celibate. Or, as Shaw says, “to rebuild the plausibility structure so that we can live in light of the Bible’s clear teaching.” He reminds us that the gospel is, indeed, GOOD NEWS! This book deserves more than a sales pitch, but seriously, BUY IT NOW! I walked away totally encouraged and convinced that, yes, the Church can make celibacy a good thing. I even read the appendices!

For more on Ed Shaw, check out his story at Living Out.

Tell Me Jesus Is Worth It

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About a year ago, a friend took me out for coffee and asked what he could do to help me when I’m struggling with faith, sexuality, or singleness. It was one of those moments you hope for — a friend who not only prays for you but also asks, “What more can I do?”

I fumbled over a few words (between gulps of white mocha) but couldn’t quite articulate what it is I really need during times of struggle. I’m not sure anyone had ever asked so directly, so genuinely. Whatever the reason, I was a bumbling mess in that moment, so I reached out to him a couple days later with a follow-up text:

“You asked how you can be a better support to me. Of course you already are, but I’ve been thinking about it more. Because I didn’t answer very well the first time. I think the best thing people can do is to remind me that Jesus is worth it. Tell me out loud, ‘Jesus is worth it.’ Because we so often forget — at least, I do. But the catch is, people have to really believe that themselves for it to be any real encouragement to me. Does that make sense? We don’t persevere in the faith because we like Christian values, or because we want to please our family, or even because we want to go to heaven. But because, in the end, we get to know and love and BE WITH Jesus! If he’s not worth it (or, more accurately, if we don’t remember that he’s worth it), then we have every reason to give up. So… That’s one way. Hugs and coffee dates and [your wife’s] amazing lasagna are a few of the other ways.”

My friend took his question — and my answer — seriously. I know because, since then, he often texts me with that precious reminder: Jesus is worth it. The phrase has even inspired its own hashtag. He’s always quick to respond with encouragement when I tell him, “It’s a #JIWI kind of night.”

As a single person committed to celibacy, but living in a world where sex reigns supreme, there are days when my mission to be happy in Christ comes to a screeching halt. I have fears about the future. Setbacks when I’m striving for holiness. Doubts about how long I can put up a good fight when the odds feel stacked against me.

During those times, I need someone to sit beside me — maybe even hold my hand — and tell me the old redemption story. Tell me about the God who became a man, walked among us, and built his kingdom. Tell me the truth about his death and resurrection, which I reenacted through baptism when I was a boy. Tell me he loves me, forgives me, walks with me, and is working all things for my good. Tell me you’re my brother or sister and you’re persevering with me, because that’s what saints do. Tell me Jesus is coming back and he’s making all things new — even now, as we sit here hand in hand.

On those nights when I lose focus and can’t seem to find joy in Christ, tell me what I already know: tell me Jesus is worth it.

Can You Be Gay And Christian?

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FAQs

I don’t think there’s any debate about whether or not a Christian can experience same-sex attraction and yet remain faithful to God, living in obedience to his will for sex and marriage — either by pursuing marriage with someone of the opposite sex, or choosing to remain celibate. The answer is yes: you can be gay and Christian. But let’s explore the question that often follows: “Should Christians call themselves gay?”

About a year ago, someone emailed me and asked, “Are you heterosexual?” Despite being trained by Christian culture to avoid calling myself gay, and despite my impulse to write back with a full-blown essay on labels and Christian identity, this question had a pretty clear answer: No, I’m gay.

Of course, “gay” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For most, it simply means being attracted to the same sex; for others, it means you’ve chosen to embrace or identify with homosexual behavior. That’s why when I came out on the blogosphere several years ago I chose to say, “I’m (kinda sorta yeah not really) gay.” Although I’m still careful with my terminology in mixed company, today I’m more comfortable using the term “gay,” especially among friends and family who know what I mean. Namely, that I’m attracted to men but committed to God’s design for human sexuality, which excludes homosexual behavior (i.e. gay sex).

Confusion over the term “gay Christian” is understandable, as it can mean one of two things: 1) a Christian who experiences SSA but believes homosexual behavior is sinful, or 2) a Christian who experiences SSA and believes homosexual behavior is acceptable and blessed by God, but only within the confines of a loving, monogamous relationship. Simply put, the first position is orthodox and the second is not. The disparity between the two has sparked an ongoing conversation about whether or not Christians should call themselves gay at all.

I don’t typically call myself a gay Christian, but I’m not opposed to those who do. The Church often spends more time talking about what Christians who experience SSA ought to call themselves (or not call themselves), rather than talking about how the gospel has shaped their lives. Rather than encouraging and equipping them to face a world that tells them to submit to their sexual desires. Rather than ensuring they have a church community that supports them as they pursue the countercultural path of holiness, whether that’s celibacy or a godly marriage.

My advice is to let people say “gay Christian” and explain what they mean. It’s possible they’re doing more for the kingdom by using that term than those who spend time debating whether or not they should. The label itself is a peripheral issue.