Tag Archives: Love

Death Redeemed And Reimagined

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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.

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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.

The Love(s) Of My Life

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Living the celibate life means facing claims that, because I’m not married or having sex, I haven’t truly experienced love. Sometimes those claims come from the culture, or worse, my own heart.

While it’s true I haven’t experienced an exclusive love — the sacred “one flesh” union so many people enjoy — that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it means to love and be loved. I have to remind myself of that pretty often. And in a marriage-oriented, sex-obsessed world, it takes more than a pithy remark about love coming in many forms. Sometimes I have to LITERALLY start listing the ways I experience love through the people God has placed in my life.

The friend who sends postcards from wherever she happens to be — quirky, handwritten reminders that our friendship matters.

The “mahernas” who for years have shared my burdens, rejoiced in my victories, and made me eat (nay, drink) my vegetables.

The friend who lives far away but says “good morning” every day and finds things we can do together: read books, watch Netflix, memorize Scripture.

The couple that invites me over for movie nights and homemade (slightly burnt) dinners, and stays up late with me after their kids have gone to sleep.

The “stupid” friend I tell everyone about, with her Twiggy lashes and fancy hair, who laughs with me till my guts hurt.

The woman who leaves me little love notes, prays with me, and sends invitations even if she knows I’ll be out of town, just so it’s clear I’m WANTED.

The bride who made me her “man of honor,” and whose house is gonna be REALLY close to mine on the new earth, right by her brother (and the dinosaur ranch).

The one who puts up with me 40 hours a week but still wants to spend time with me out of the office, and who’d rather call me “friend” than “coworker.”

The ladies I’ve known since junior high but even now, in their thirties, make time for “hangover” once a month — sometimes more when we really miss each other in between.

The family that lets me walk into their house without knocking, raid their fridge, play their piano, cuddle up on their couch, and even takes me on family vacations.

The neighbors who became brothers through years of churchgoing, Nintendo playing, Survivor watching, Bible studying — who know WAY too many embarrassing stories about me but aren’t ashamed to say I’m part of “the fam.”

The friends who found me via blog and “stalked” me until we became real-life friends — the kind that sing together, take strolls on the beach, all that California stuff.

Then there’s family — my own blood, that is — my parents, brother, adorable niece, aunts and uncles in strange, faraway lands (aka Kansas).

Of course, there are many more, but I’m already over my word count (and probably your attention span and/or capacity for mushy stuff). But in my heart, the list goes on.

So yeah, as a single man, I can’t dote on the “love of my life” (unless you count Jesus, and most people don’t). But I can tell you what I know: my heart belongs to these folks. I’m theirs and they’re mine. Maybe it’s not the “Honey, I’m home” kind of love, the wedded bliss, or the goodnight kiss, but these are the loves of my life. This is love, and it’s the real thing.

Review: True Friendship

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Drawing inspiration from the Book of Proverbs, Vaughan Roberts paints a picture of biblical friendship in his tiny book, True Friendship. Roberts said he designed the book to be read in roughly an hour (but encourages readers to meditate on it for much longer). I’ll stick with the brevity theme and write a review you can read in three minutes, with a quick breakdown of each chapter.

True friendship is crucial

We’re designed for friendship with God and each other. As God’s image-bearers, our capacity for relationships is rooted in the community of the Trinity. So friendship is essential to Christian living, not only because it makes us more like Jesus, but because true friends help us to live wisely. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Married or single, male or female, pastor or layman, we all need friends to walk beside us as we pursue God.

True friendship is close

Lots of us have hundreds of online friends, but still lack “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Roberts encourages us to pursue a range of friendships, but to keep especially close those friends who share our highest goal of glorifying God. Jesus made time for many people, but shared special moments with his disciples. We can build friendships in the same way, keeping in mind the risks and rewards that come with having close friends on this side of eternity.

True friendship is constant

King Solomon said, “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Roberts takes this wisdom to heart, urging us to be intentional about maintaining and strengthening our friendships. This could be as easy as weekly get-togethers with loved ones, but it also requires walking alongside them in their sorrow, or reconciling after a misunderstanding.

True friendship is candid

Our truest friends are those who speak the truth in love, showing us where we’ve failed, yet steering us toward Christ. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Likewise, we ought to be vulnerable with our friends, sharing our greatest weaknesses, temptations, and doubts. Only then can we encourage one another with the gospel, and grow together in God’s amazing grace.

True friendship is careful

Candidness, however, is no excuse for a careless tongue. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28). Roberts warns against gossip. He also reminds us that every person is unique — some need a stern rebuke, while others need a gentle word (and a true friend will know the difference). He also warns against jealousy in friendship, which is often rooted in unhealthy codependency and, ultimately, self-love.

True friendship is Christ-centered

Or “Christ-centred,” as Roberts says. (Those Brits…) The final chapter reminds us that no relationship with fallen humans can meet our deepest needs. Our friends are not messiahs; they can’t save us from our sins, they can’t reconcile us to God. But good friends point us to the one who can: Jesus. He demonstrated the greatest love, and proved to be the greatest friend, when he laid down his life for us (John 15:13).

For more on Vaughan Roberts, check out his story on Living Out.

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: Forbidden Friendships

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One of my dear friends is a divorced mom of two. When I was planning a trip to California last year, she invited me to stay with her family to save on hotel costs. I was super excited to spend time with them — catching up on life, staying up late, not being jolted awake by the evil knock of a housekeeper the next morning. Unfortunately, her pastor had other plans, because he worried what other people might think about a man staying with a woman. Despite having no doubts about our integrity, despite my being attracted to men, and despite the fact that I’d actually be staying with a FAMILY (not a woman), he asked me to stay at his house instead. Not because it really made sense, but because it met the rules and expectations Christians have invented to “protect” male-female friendships from sexual immorality, or in this case, the mere appearance of it.

In his book, Forbidden Friendships, Joshua D. Jones explores these issues, confronting the Church’s fear of opposite-sex friendships and showing us what the Bible actually says about them.

In the past century or so, Christians have been conditioned to avoid meaningful relationships with the opposite sex out of fear they could lead to lust, fornication, or adultery. Jones notes Freud’s influence in causing us to believe all male-female relationships are somehow sexual in nature. As a result, we’ve “tried to pursue sexual purity via gender segregation” and set outrageous extra-biblical boundaries between men and women. He notes one Christian college that prohibits physical contact between the sexes, and where men and women are required to use separate staircases! Jones says these boundaries have harmed rather than helped the Church in achieving sexual purity and obeying our call to love one another as the family of God.

What’s more, these rules are new to Church history. Jones says modern-day Christians are far more leery of opposite-sex friendships than our spiritual ancestors were. From missionaries to revolutionaries, history proves that mixed friendships flourished when rooted in mutual love for God. When it comes to the Bible, the Apostle Paul seems to have had many close female friends, mentioning Nympha by name in his letter to the Colossians. John’s second epistle, or letter, is written to a woman whom he loved dearly. Jesus himself kept company with women, often breaking social taboos regarding male-female relationships (ex. his encounter with the woman at the well). The Bible gives us freedom to pursue mixed friendships and be a witness to the world of how men and women can relate to each other as new creations in Christ.

Of course, we can’t be naive to the very real temptations and sins that can arise in relationships with both men and women. We are, after all, still sinners. Jones admits we need to guard our hearts, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture. But like everything else in this world, mixed friendships need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Rather than react in fear, we ought to obey in love — learning what it means to see friends as brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in Christ.

It’s easy to tell when I’ve enjoyed a book because the margins are filled with hearts and smiley faces, and Forbidden Friendships has my graffiti all over it. This is a message churches need to hear — although, I must admit, the flow of his arguments felt a bit sloppy to me. But you know what I love about Jones? He has a bright view of singleness and celibacy. This, of course, endears him to me. He understands it’s possible to be happy without sex, but that we can’t thrive without intimate relationships with both men and women. He believes the disappearance of mixed friendships is a result of a bigger problem: the devaluation of friendship in general. And he knows this has ramifications for single and same-sex attracted Christians, where friendship within the family of God is essential to living and loving fully.

So, should I have been able to stay with my lady friend and her family? Honestly, I’m thankful for the pastor who welcomed me into his home; he and his wife were kind and hospitable and I enjoyed getting to know them. But I don’t think it accomplished what he was aiming for. One day I ended up alone with the pastor’s wife for the entire morning. (And, of course, that was OK!) I think Jones would encourage us to let love and wisdom dictate these decisions, and that one’s personal boundaries don’t necessarily apply to everyone else in every situation. The bottom line is this: if we’re serious about being the family of God, then we’re free to pursue male-female friendships that center on Christ. As Jones says, the cross bridges the divide between the sexes.

For more, check out the author’s interview with my friends at The Rugged Marriage.

Review: Spiritual Friendship

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Talk about being behind the curve. Most Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted devoured this book and tweeted their reviews months ago. Luckily, Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship is pretty timeless; after all, its themes are rooted in the musings of a 12th-century monk and, as the author suggests, the Bible itself. So there was really no rush. (Not like the rush to binge-watch Fuller House on Netflix, which I did.)

As he makes known in the subtitle, Hill is a celibate gay Christian. His first book, Washed and Waiting, started the conversation that launched a thousand other conversations (and blogs) about how those who experience same-sex attraction can live faithfully as Christians. Spiritual Friendship is a sort of sequel, fleshing out some of those ideas, raising more questions, and presenting friendship as a way for gay people to find love in the Church.

Part one explores friendship’s role in culture and Church history. Hill notes that, until very recently, friendship held an honored place among Christians, most notably in the long-lost tradition of “vowed friendships” between people of the same sex — ceremonies that bound two friends together, making them accountable to each other in the sight of God and man. Hill believes we should recover this practice, although it’s unclear how that would look in modern churches.

The concept of vowed friendships is what’s getting lots of buzz — and some beef — especially in Protestant circles, where tradition takes a backseat to the Bible. (Sola scriptura, you know.) We simply don’t find such ceremonies in Scripture. What we do find, Hill suggests, is a robust theology of friendship. He gives several examples of profound friendships in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his disciples. Friendships that look a lot like family. Friendships that model the love and devotion we’d expect of God’s people, but that we don’t often see in the Church today. Even if he can’t persuade us to revive certain (some would say, obscure) traditions, Hill does convince us that Christ-centered friendship is something we MUST pursue and promote.

Part two explores practical concerns for celibate gay folks in the Church, including an entire chapter on suffering for the sake of friendship. Hill doesn’t gloss over the disappointments and struggles that celibate gay Christians face — especially the fear of losing friends due to marriage, relocation, or our own weaknesses (i.e. codependence). He also talks about the problem of falling in love with your friends — something many gay Christians have experienced (and some straight ones, too, I imagine). Although I relate to Hill’s realism and raw emotion, I did start to worry that Spiritual Friendship would be a repeat of Washed and Waiting — a book I loved but felt lacked a certain hope. Thankfully, the final chapter eased my fears. The last pages are filled with hope, along with stories of how Hill has found healing through the gift of friendship. He rounds out the book by giving us ways to redeem friendship in the Church — advice I’d encourage all churchgoers to heed.

This book is thoughtful, often beautiful, but not everything I dreamed it would be. I think that’s because this conversation is still so new. The Church has really only begun to talk out loud about the complexities of living faithfully with SSA. That’s where I hope this blog and others like it will be of some help, as we continue to explore everyday ways to find happiness in our pursuit of holiness. For anyone who wants to better understand the hopes and fears of celibate gay Christians, Spiritual Friendship is a good place to start. And, Lord willing, there will be many more conversations, books, and blogs to come.

How To Be Single In Public

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I don’t exactly blend in with the crowd. I have a huge bushy mustache, borderline albino skin, and hairy legs à la Bigfoot. So you can imagine how going to a restaurant by myself on Valentine’s Day might have felt for me, the only single guy in sight. Like a Sasquatch hunt, and I’m the furry creature in the corner. Strangers staring wide-eyed, wondering if it could really be true — and if they should shoot me.

OK, it wasn’t that bad.

I’ve actually been practicing for a couple years — being single in public. It’s part of my journey to loving the single life. Every week or two I take a one-man field trip to Salt Lake City, where I grab coffee, tour a museum, hike the foothills, or wander around the cemetery (not creepy at all). I’ve learned to love going out on my own and yet being part of something bigger — the bustle and beauty of the city. As much as I love being with people, going solo every once in a while has helped me not only embrace being single, but also being SEEN as single.

This is light years from where I used to be. Back when I was nervous to go anywhere in public (except maybe the grocery store) without at least one friend to mask my singleness. But over the years I’ve learned that most people are too busy wondering what you’re thinking about them to give much thought about you. Ain’t nobody got time to scrutinize your love life (except trolls on the internet, of course). Nobody’s judging you for being single in public — even if you’re a mustachioed yeti, like me.

Besides a surge of starry-eyed lovers, Valentine’s Day wasn’t much different from any other day when I venture out on my own. After a few minutes, I even put down my beloved iPhone — the single person’s safety blanket. Instead, I enjoyed my meal, made eye contact with people, and brushed croissant crumbs from my mustache. You know, the usual. I also took a moment to appreciate being single — to thank God that I’m loved, even when I’m by myself, when people SEE me by myself. There’s freedom in those moments, when you realize your worth isn’t tied to anybody but Jesus himself.

That’s the important part. Remembering who you are in Christ: whole, redeemed, significant. A single person in a big love story. Even in a sea of strangers, there’s Someone who calls you by name and loves you beyond measure. So, go ahead. Go public with your singleness. Tell the world “Table for one.” Buy a movie ticket (singular). Take a trip and don’t feel like you need to explain where your friends are. Being single in public isn’t as bad as you think — it just takes a little practice and a lot of perspective.

And an iPhone doesn’t hurt!

A Very Celibate Valentine’s Day

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Last year, a friend of mine sent me a picture of his “hot” date on Valentine’s Day. It was a brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream — and possibly human tears. (Cell phone camera, so it’s hard to say.) This is what Valentine’s Day can look like for single, celibate Christians.

But it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been single on Valentine’s Day for the past 32 years. (And every other day of the year, too, but that’s beside the point.) Yet somehow I’ve found things to love about it.

Remember in elementary school, when classmates passed out mandatory valentines and those horrible candy hearts? Sure, I got cards from people who’d never talk to me again after February 14, but it was fun getting “love notes” from the friends you cared about, and the kids who signed more than just their names.

When I was a teenager, sometimes my parents would leave me a gift on the kitchen counter. Maybe a stuffed animal or a coffee mug decked with hearts — just a little something to make Valentine’s Day special for the boy who never had a valentine. Meanwhile, hormonal girls at school huffed over not getting flowers from their insensitive boyfriends. Tragic…

In college, I’d often stay home on Valentine’s Day to spend time with my “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5). That’s about the time I fell in love with the Song of Solomon. I pored over Puritan commentaries, whose typological readings of the book celebrated the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. Coming to terms with faith and sexuality, learning what celibacy would look like for me, I took comfort in seeing God as the divine bridegroom — and I still do.

Today, at 32, I still love Valentine’s Day. I love reaching out to friends and family, or even someone who wouldn’t expect it, with a valentine via text. It’s also an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage — a chance to rejoice in marital bliss (even if it’s not my own). In the last few years, I’ve teamed up with friends to do outreach on Valentine’s Day, including helping a church host a dinner for homeless women, and rallying support for a fundraiser to aid victims of sex trafficking.

So yeah, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big cry-fest for me. It’s always been a day of love.

However, there are people in my life (and yours) for whom the holiday is unhappy. Maybe someone who is divorced or widowed. Maybe someone who really wants to be married and is wrestling with God’s timing and will. We ought to be gentle with their hearts, especially on a day when romance is shoved in our faces, as if that’s the only place to find love.

This year, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a perfect opportunity to reach out to single folks in your church. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Tell them God loves them, too. Remind them love is real and available to them outside of marriage. There’s love in friendship — those people who’ve mastered the art of loving at all times (Proverbs 17:17). There’s love in the church body — a spiritual family that transcends bloodlines. There’s love in service — putting other people’s needs before your own. There’s love in the pages of Scripture, where God reveals his devotion to us. It’s all over the place, if someone would just remind us.

A very celibate Valentine’s Day can be a very happy one indeed. Come to think of it, brownies and a scoop of ice cream would make it even happier.

Hold the tears.