Tag Archives: Hope

John 18: Joy In The End

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I’ve often identified with Peter, who denied the very man he said he would die for. I know the pain of being unfaithful to my dearest friend. I know the feeling of going from devotee to deserter, sometimes within minutes. It’s a strange sort of comfort, this solidarity with Peter. The failure itself doesn’t comfort me; it’s knowing the next part of the story. There’s joy in the end, because Christ doesn’t abandon Peter.

Of course, we have to skip ahead to know that, for Peter had no time to make peace with Jesus before his crucifixion. When Christ died, hope was lost for Peter, left alone with his guilt, not knowing the end, not knowing there would be a chance to reconcile with his truest friend.

Knowing the end is the only way to find joy in the story of Peter’s denial. Knowing that not even death — not even Christ’s death — could keep Peter from the love of God, who stands ready and willing to forgive.

Praise God, his heart is the same toward us today.

Regarding Storms

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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. 

Review: Spiritual Friendship

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Book Reviews

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.

7 Happy Books

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Besides Happiness, which I review here, I’ve got a handful of happy books for you! Anyone looking for lots of fiction will be disappointed. That stuff’s alright (and there are two on this list), but what REALLY makes me happy is Christian non-fiction. Here are just some of the books that make my happiness levels skyrocket.

1.  Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl by N.D. Wilson — This collection of creative essays reads like a poem, strung together with the theme of wonder. Wilson has a knack for seeing eternity in the ordinary, and a gift for awakening the spiritual senses of his readers, causing us to marvel right alongside him.

2.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith — I read it before it was cool and before it was a movie. (You might also consider My Favorite Fangs, a tale of the Von Trapp family vampires!)

3.  A Case for Amillennialism by Kim Riddlebarger — This one’s a bit scholarly, but it helped change my end-times perspective. This was the beginning of a long, slow process of becoming an optimist (which I’m still working on). Meditating more on Christ’s current rule and reign certainly helps!

4.  Heaven by Randy Alcorn — My friends know I’m a little obsessed with the new earth. Our future home is always on my mind. Heaven matters in evangelism and everyday life, and here we have 500 glorious pages that stir my imagination and help me keep an eternal perspective.

5.  Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright — Another book about Heaven and how the resurrection changes everything!

6.  The Search for God and Guinness by Stephen Mansfield — “A biography of the beer that changed the world.” I love how Arthur Guinness’ devotion to Christ influenced his entire life, family, and company. Cheers!

7.  The Reformers vs. The Prosperity Gospel by Sean O’Brien. Sean is a good friend of mine who makes me edit all his books. (And I make him pay me with food and hugs.) This is the story of what happens when a 3D printer mishap brings Calvin, Luther, and Zwingli to life just days before a televangelist comes to town. Lots of laughs for the “young, restless, reformed” crowd.

Happy reading!