Tag Archives: Jesus

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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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.

God, What Are You Doing?

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Last year I was going through a particularly hard time — one of those days when everything seems to come crashing down at once. And yes, it had something to do with being gay and Christian and celibate and fighting the good fight. Not every day is peachy, even when you have a website called The Happy Alternative. That day, on the verge of tears, I asked out loud, “God, what are you doing?”

I’m amazed what answers came to mind. It’s like God was WAITING for me to ask that question — to cast my cares on him. The answers started flowing so quickly, in fact, that I grabbed a pencil and scribbled them on notebook paper:

Behold, I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:5)

Working all things together for good. (Romans 8:28)

I am coming soon. (Revelation 22:7)

I’m not claiming to have had any sort of special revelation here. No, this was ACTUAL revelation: God’s Word. Real answers to a question tossed up to heaven in a moment of frustration. Words that have encouraged and strengthened saints across the ages — once painted on papyrus, now scrawled on a steno pad. Words breathed out long ago by God’s Spirit, and brought to mind by that same Spirit working in me… in the year 2015.

God rarely gives us tailor-made answers to the question “Why?” Sometimes we get glimpses in hindsight, but in the moment, when we’re aching for something more immediate and personalized, we forget that we have something better: the big picture. We don’t have to wait for God to speak out loud. (He already has.) We just need someone to remind us — we need to remind ourselves — that we’re part of a big, wonderful, supernatural, epic love story with a very happy ending.

That’s what I got that day on a scrap of paper — a reminder. I’ve looked at that paper so many times since, I’m hardly tempted to ask the question that inspired it. I know what God is doing. He’s told me. I know that whatever I’m going through, he’s in it — active and present and WORKING. The Apostle John said there isn’t room enough in the world for the books it would take to describe the things Jesus did while here on earth, much less what he’s doing now.

Imagine the scraps of paper we’ll fill when we see him face to face!

Jesus Will Complicate Your Life

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I was just a boy when I became a Christian, still building forts, climbing trees, and using my superpowers to conquer the world. It was simple faith in the beginning. I wasn’t aware of the demands Jesus would make on my life, much less the sexual ethic I’d committed to before I’d ever thought about sex, or even knew what it was. All I knew is that I loved Jesus and wanted to be with him forever — and that’s still true today.

But now I know about sex. I know it’s reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, and what that means for me as someone who’s attracted to the same sex. I admit this complicates things. In the years since I came to know Christ, there’s also been a cultural shift in support for gay marriage, so I’ve had to weigh the teachings of Christianity against worldviews that would permit me — even encourage me — to marry a man and pursue the kind of happiness many people think I can’t achieve if I remain single and celibate.

So yeah, things aren’t so simple anymore.

For me, maturing in my faith means acknowledging the complications that come with loving Jesus. Most of the time I want to glorify God and pursue holiness through singleness, but sometimes I still want to marry a man. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage last year, it was a hard day for Christians like me, because part of us wants that “gay American dream” and part of us wants to joyfully submit to God’s will for marriage and sexuality. This is a conflict of desires that I wouldn’t have if Jesus weren’t in my life (something my atheist friends are happy to note) and a tough decision I wouldn’t have to make.

But that’s the reality of being in a relationship with Jesus on this side of eternity. We make decisions we wouldn’t have made without him. We see and feel and experience life differently. We mourn over things we didn’t used to care about — both our own sins and other people’s. We grieve for the unrepentant, especially our loved ones. We notice what’s wrong with the world and begin to feel a bit alien. I’m surprised how many people still think Jesus came to make life easier. I think that’s due in part to televangelists and the rise of the “prosperity gospel” which, of course, is no gospel at all. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the only reason Jesus came to earth was to fix your marriage, heal your cancer, and make you a millionaire. (Or in my case, make me straight.) But nobody should be surprised that a man who died and came back to life three days later would actually COMPLICATE things. Christianity is no cushy religion; it comes with built-in conflict.

Our sexuality is no exception. There’s a lingering “sexual tension” between our spirits and our flesh. We may feel a sting of pain when we say no to porn or hookups or even a committed relationship with someone outside of God’s will. (OK, more than a sting for that last one, more like a chronic pain.) I think it’s important to acknowledge these conflicting desires because they’re so uniquely Christian — a direct result of being given a new heart. We simply would not experience them if we didn’t love Christ. He’s certainly not the “crutch” many people believe him to be.

Yes, Jesus will complicate your life.

The God-man, who himself is profoundly and beautifully complicated, came not to make things simpler in this life, but to reconcile us to God, take away our sins, and bring us into eternal fellowship with him and other believers. Knowing him is the best thing that ever happened to me. He’s worth every bit of burden, every second of complexity, every twinge of tension between the “already” and “not yet.” He’s the one I fell in love with in my childhood, and the one I continue to fall in love with every day. He’s the kind of complication I want in my life.

Simple as that.

Through The Lens Of Celibacy

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I’m going on 33 years of singleness. It’s nothing to boast about and nothing to brood over — it’s just a fact. But when you’ve been doing the “eunuch” thing your whole life, you do start to notice how your perspective differs from other Christians, not to mention the world. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways celibacy has shaped me, and how I’ve come to view life through that particular lens.

I see family through the lens of celibacy.

Part of being a Christian is expanding the definition of “family” to include our brothers and sisters in Christ — our spiritual family. I imagine celibate people think about this more often than those who are married with children. We’ve learned — we’re constantly reminded — there’s more to family than genetics. As someone who’s not planning to procreate, “starting a family” means something very different to me; it means making every effort to embrace people as family who don’t share my genes, my last name, or my home. Loving them like flesh and blood, learning what it means to be adopted by God. Celibacy confirms what I already believed about the Church: whether or not I ever get married or have kids, I’ll never be without a family.

I see friendship through the lens of celibacy.

For many single people, friendship is a gateway to romance or marriage. But celibacy has taught me to value friendship for what it is, and not what it can become. I don’t feel burdened by the fear (or thrill) of friendship turning into “something more,” because I’m focused on celibacy as the end goal. I see friendship itself as something to pursue, enjoy, cultivate, and commit to. As a single person, I’m not previously engaged (no pun intended) with duties to spouse or children, so I have more time and energy to devote to friendship. Celibacy has shaped my theology of friendship, and I hope it’s also made me a better friend.

I see marriage through the lens of celibacy.

Having only observed marriage from the outside, I’ve managed to find ways that singleness is like marriage, which helps me identify with married people. But celibacy does remove me from some of the practical aspects of marriage — things that are hard to grasp as a mere spectator. This can be a problem. For example, if a married friend turns down my invitation to dinner because he wants to spend time with his wife and kids, I can have a hard time accepting that — not intellectually, but emotionally. I realize his family is a priority, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the idea of spiritual family in Christ. (I’m family, too!) This is one area where my head and my heart need to work it out, and I admit there’s still a lot of room to grow and mature.

I see singleness through the lens of celibacy.

Christian singleness looks and feels a lot different from its worldly counterpart. Outside church walls, singleness is often disassociated from celibacy and rarely considered GOOD. But I’m learning to uphold singleness as a gift from God. The Apostle Paul was single and hoped others would embrace that same “gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7). And, of course, Jesus led the single life, too — for about as long as I have! He encouraged those who were able to remain single to gladly “receive” it (Matthew 19:11-12). Because Paul and Jesus were pro-singleness, and because God himself is pro-happiness, I know it’s possible to be happy without also having sex. That’s why I’m so convinced that singleness is the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage!

Happiness And Joy: What’s The Difference?

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Christians have given happiness a bum rap. You’ve probably heard something like this from the pulpit: “Happiness is a temporary emotion based on circumstances, but joy is an ongoing contentment based on our relationship with God.”

Sounds nice, but is it true?

As someone with a master’s degree in English, I appreciate nuance, and I’d usually agree with making such thoughtful distinctions. I once heard a poet say “a stone is not a rock.” A stone is something the river glides over and makes smooth — something you hold in your hand, or skip across the water. But a rock is something that stands tall against crashing waves; it’s what you build on and break things against. I’ve always stood by these distinctions: a stone is a stone, and a rock is a rock.

But pitting happiness against joy? I’m not feeling it.

Only in church settings do we perpetuate the myth that happiness and joy are different. In his excellent book Happiness, which I review here, Randy Alcorn writes, “an ungrounded, dangerous separation of joy from happiness has infiltrated the Christian community.” Until very recently, he says, happiness had a place right alongside joy in the Christian faith. From Church Fathers to Puritans, Christian writers have used “happiness” and “joy” in the same way the dictionary does, and in the same way we do in everyday conversation: synonymously. Even the Bible itself makes no distinction. In a chapter devoted to this very topic, Alcorn gives a couple dozen examples of where Scripture uses forms of “happiness” and “joy” side by side — pairings that occur more than 100 times in various translations!

Even so, church folks continue to say happiness and joy are different emotions and experiences. I think there are two reasons for this “great divorce.”

1.  They want to make a clear distinction between worldly pleasures and godly pleasures. So they attach “happiness” to worldly pleasures, which are shallow and fleeting, and “joy” to godly pleasures. As a result, well-meaning Christians say things like, “We’re not supposed to be happy; we’re supposed to have joy!” Although the intentions behind it are good, this false dichotomy has consequences for both believers and unbelievers.

For believers, we begin to fear happiness. Instead, we search for joy — something we’ve been told isn’t an emotion and therefore (not surprisingly) doesn’t FEEL joyful. We start to believe God doesn’t want us to be happy, which simply isn’t the case. The Bible is filled with commands to be happy. Dare we tell Christians NOT to pursue the very thing God desires of us?

For unbelievers, the separation of happiness and joy can be a roadblock to believing the gospel. Imagine telling someone, “Jesus can’t give you happiness, but he can give you joy.” That makes no sense to me, much less to an unbeliever. (I imagine it makes no sense to God either!) Happiness is the ONE THING every person is searching for, and Jesus is the ONE PERSON who can offer it. Why on earth would it not be part of our message?

2.  They know God calls us to rejoice in suffering — to “consider it all joy” when we face various trials — and they try to describe this tension using terms that the Church has deemed appropriate. So, for example, when a loved one dies someone might say, “I’m grieving, but I still have joy in Christ.” That’s because they’ve been told joy isn’t an emotion, it’s something more like peace or hope. But we could just as easily say, “I’m grieving, but I still have happiness in Christ.” Does that change the meaning? For me, the paradox of Christians being called to rejoice in suffering isn’t a good enough reason to redefine happiness and joy — as though they’re not what the Bible says they are, and what we, deep down, know they are: one and the same.

If Christians continue to believe there’s a difference between happiness and joy, we’ll lose out on both. We need to reclaim happiness — not just the word, but also the experience — as a vital part of the Christian faith.

Home Is Where We’re Happy

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I’ve got a robust imagination when it comes to envisioning Heaven. Ask my friends: they’ve heard all my crazy theories about our future home — from how old we’ll look to what kind of dinosaurs we’ll ride. Looking forward to Heaven is one of my favorite pastimes, and a not-so-secret way to be happy in Christ.

Jesus told his disciples he was going to prepare a place for them. Maybe with his own hands! He was a carpenter, right? I’ve heard some people say he was a stonemason. Either way, he’s qualified. He made the universe, too, so I have no doubts about this house:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and I will take you to myself, that where I am there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

How could we not wonder about this house? Did he design it room by room? Did he consider our tastes? That’s what a good designer does, after all, and Jesus is the best. Did he build the frame, hang the molding, lay the carpet? Does he keep the light on in the hallway?

I love to imagine!

Rooms with beds as real as the one I’m sitting on right now, as I type. Rooms where we feast, hold hands around the table. Rooms where we meet at the piano, sing, and try to write music that hasn’t already been written. Rooms where we gather by the fireplace and talk into the early morning hours, maybe about some of the stupid things we did. The foolish things we believed.

This is the stuff of happiness.

Where does your imagination take you? Will you live close to me? To Jonah? To Nicodemus? Are pets allowed? And if so, will my room be big enough for a stegosaurus? Maybe the walls will be made of paper, like in Japan. Or maybe they’re stucco, coated with bright colors, like in Mexico. Some might be lined with logs, like a cabin in the Rockies. I think there will be hints of every culture throughout the house to reflect the diversity in which God delights. Especially if it’s going to be a house for those “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

This house isn’t a symbol. It exists in time and space — made from matter. It’s where we’ll live with the saints and God himself, when Heaven and Earth become one — the thrill of the new, fused with the familiarity of the old. Even better than Eden. I can’t imagine, and yet I still try.

But no matter what it looks like, no matter how he designs and decorates it, and even if I don’t know for sure whether we’ll be able to teleport, or fly, or walk through walls, I know the most important thing: Jesus will be there. “That where I am there you may be also.” For that reason, the house will feel like home — and home is where we’re happy.

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.