Ask me for what am I living and what gives me strength that I'm willing to die for...
- Switchfoot

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What Marriage is Not

When I was younger, my perception of marriage was shaped mainly by chick flicks and fairy tales.  Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy.  They fall in love. And they get married and live happily ever after.  Or they ride off into the sunset as the credits scroll up the screen.

What's not to want about that?  Riding off across a bridge on the back of a motorcycle with Matthew McConaughey and our love fern while Chantal Kreviazuk plays in the background sounds much more enticing than my life of spreadsheets, PowerPoint, and spin classes.

Why are love and romance so enticing?  What is it within us that longs so deeply for a partner? I don't know about you, but I am well aware of the fact that I'm not entirely perfect. No part of me is perfect - not my personality, my appearance, my skill set... in all of these areas, I am lacking.  And when I long for love, what I really long for is for someone to come along and say "to me, you are amazing."  I want all these flaws to become irrelevant. Tim Keller suggests that "we maintain the fantasy that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us will be healed." Ernest Becker, in The Denial of Death, drives this point further home as he writes that "we want redemption - nothing less."

There is a problem with looking for some other human to come along and give us redemption.  No man can give this to me.  Even if I have a husband who completely adores me (All the time? Flaws and all? #notgoingtohappen), I still need to go into work and deal with areas of weakness.  I still need to deal with his mother, who may not find me quite so perfect.

There is one source that we can turn to for redemption.  There is only One who loved me so completely and totally, despite all my flaws, that he gave the ultimate sacrifice to make me holy.  Romans 5:8 says that "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Because of Christ's death on the cross, I stand before God with a perfect record.  So when I said earlier that no part of me is perfect, I was wrong.  I have been given a spotless record, and one day every part of me will be redeemed and without flaw.  And even more significantly, I have been given a relationship with Christ, who is there regardless of how my day has gone or how I've treated him.

Christ alone provides what we are looking for.  Marriage was never designed to "complete us", despite what we may believe from Tom Cruise's confession to Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire.  This is relevant whether we are single and still holding out hope for someone to complete us or married and wondering why we are still insecure.  If you are single and feeling unattractive or unlovable -- you are wrong.  The God of the universe came down and lived on this earth and died the death you should have died.  And if that doesn't rock your world, read it again.  Ponder it.  Mull over it.  Let that truth overwhelm you.  And then seek marriage to fulfill it's true purpose.

So what is the true purpose of marriage?  Stay tuned...

This post is part of a series of posts on singleness.  Read the first post here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Singleness

Background: Sunday afternoon I was sitting and chatting with the leader of our church's women's ministry.  The topic of conversation drifted to upcoming topics for our women's gatherings, and she mentioned that with relationships being of particular interest to many of the women in our group, it would likely be where we would start. She mentioned that she had a few married women lined up to speak, but wanted someone who was grounded in their singleness to speak as well.  I joked that I was an expert at being single, and ever since that conversation, I have been mulling over all that I have learned and pondered over the years.  The thoughts have overwhelmed me so much that I felt like I had to get them OUT and shared -- even if no one reads them!


How many times have you heard some variation of the patronizing phrase "if you would just stop looking, God would bring someone into your life"? The topic of singleness and marriage can be one of the most dangerous topics in the church.  We've developed all of these myths around God's plans and timing and where our hearts need to be that women these days just feel lost.  I recently came across a clip from a Matt Chandler sermon where he jokes about women are all "walking around like liar[s]" saying "I'm content... so where is he?"

Besides the obvious reasons for hating this false "theology", I also think it's patently incorrect.  God's goodness and blessing in our lives is not predicated on what we do or think. God gives us tangible blessings through his grace and through grace alone.  In Romans 8:28, we are promised that God "works for the good of those who are called according to his purpose."  So if you are in a relationship, that is because that is good for you.  If you are single, it is because God is good to you.

I recently had a friend say, in regards to a relationship, "I don't feel like I deserve this." Rather than giving the standard "oh, if anyone deserves this, it's you!", I said "you're right, you don't."  I went on to elaborate that what we deserve is death and judgment, but God gives us so much more in his infinite grace.  So the only conclusion that can come from that is that whatever situation God has for us in life (single vs. married, unemployed vs. working, rich vs. poor, etc.) is GOOD.

Marriage is a good, desirable thing.  God created marriage as the closest picture that we get on earth of what our relationship with Him looks like; the church is referred to throughout Scripture as the "bride of Christ".  There is nothing wrong with looking forward to being married and experiencing that relationship.  We can simultaneously look forward to marriage and be content trusting that God is working out things for our good.

So what does healthy, holy singleness look like?

Like a good sermon, I've got three points:

  1. Enjoy the gift that is the season of singleness: Life is easier and uncomplicated when you're single.  Since we will likely spend more than half our time married, let's not waste away the limited days we have in the luxury of singleness!
  2. Know what marriage IS and IS NOT: A God-honoring marriage is designed to make us holy. Marriage is not designed to cure our loneliness or validate our sense of self-worth.
  3. Be open

Stay tuned if you want to hear more of my thoughts on those points.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When the Music Fades...

Amid the tragedies and disappointments of life on earth, I believe God allows us tiny glimpses into heaven in order to stir our hope.  Last night I got one of those glimpses as I joined thousands of other believers in worship at the Hillsong Cornerstone tour stop in Boston.  There are no words to describe what it is like to be part of a huge group collectively declaring who God is and thanking Him for what He has done for us.  While I've never believed that ALL we will do in heaven is stand around and worship God through singing, after last night I think that even if that was all we did, it would be pretty amazing.  (But I guess my thoughts on heaven can be reserved for another post...)

One thought that kept running through my mind is "what if all these people in this stadium who are standing and singing 'I surrender... The riches of your will always be enough..." ACTUALLY meant it beyond this evening?  Could you imagine what God could do in the city of Boston if those declarations were true? As a "seasoned" believer, there have been so many times when I've stood in the emotional throes of a moment like last night pledging to God that I was going to change only to leave the emotionally charged situation and fall right back into my old patterns and "idolatries."  When the music fades away and the lights come back on, can we still worship God in the same way that we can with the guitars and drums blaring?

Obviously, I believe that we can, but it requires a shift in mindset.  Rick Warren was made famous when he suggested five purposes in his best-seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."  I would contend that we only have one purpose, and that is to worship.  Worship goes beyond standing in a crowded room and declaring who God is to an attitude of the heart that says "God, you are all I want in this life and the next."  I believe that all of our other "purposes" flow out of worship.  One of my favourite examples is evangelism.  We can hand out tracts and tell people Jesus died for them and whatnot, but what is more compelling than a life that is marked by contentment in what God has done for us?  John Piper said "God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him."

Last night I was overtaken with emotion and joy as I remembered again the significance of Jesus' sacrifice for me.  My challenge today is to remember that even as I go about my daily, sometimes mundane life, the truth that was so evident in that emotionally-charged moment is just as real and God deserves just as much praise.  And this praise shouldn't come through just words, it should come through my actions and the way I treat others and the things I concern myself with.  True worship shifts our focus and changes the desires of our hearts.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What's so Good about this Friday?

There's something the church has long been guilty of. Actually, I can't just blame the church, but all of society and even myself.

We all have a very skewed view of heaven and hell. Even if you didn't go to church as a kid, I'm sure you've heard the general spiel: we all sin; God can't stand sin, so we can't go to heaven; God sent Jesus to die to pay the price for our sin; if we believe in Jesus, we get to go to heaven (which is like an amusement park where we walk on streets of gold and sit in the clouds to play harps... "trust me, it's where you want to go").

Now, before you call me a heretic, I'm not saying that the above paragraph is completely false. I'm saying it misses the mark. God did not send Jesus to die so we could go to heaven. God sent Jesus to die so we could have a relationship with Him. NOW. And throughout eternity. The most amazing thing about what Jesus did for us is not an all-expense paid trip to heaven, it's the opportunity for a relationship with the God of the universe... A God who loves us unconditionally and abundantly.

Okay, so for most of you who have actually gotten this far in the post, the above information is probably old news. Maybe you've thought about it before, maybe not, but it's nothing remarkable. What I've been learning lately is what Jesus' sacrifice truly required. Here's the thing: God is all we need. We can go through health issues, financial woes, relationship trials, and God will sustain us through all of that. It may take a lifetime to truly understand this, but it's true. And the amazing part of this truth is that nothing can separate us from the love of God. (See Romans 8)

The humiliation and physical suffering of Christ were only a tiny fraction of what Christ endured when he paid the price for our sin. The one thing in life that we NEVER have to experience (separation from the love of God) was the price that was paid for us. Through his death, Jesus, who had been one with the Father since before time began, was forsaken by the Father for us.

I can't believe I've been a Christian for such a long time and never truly understood the sacrifice that was paid for me.

He was pierced for our transgressions... And with his stripes we are healed. Isaiah 53

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Ultimate Gift

There in the ground, his body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain.
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave he rose again.

And as he stands in victory,
Sin's curse has lost it's grip on me.
For I am his, and he is mine,
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

Singing in church this morning, I very nearly started bawling. I find it all too easy to get caught up in my own selfish life and forget about what a gift and what a miracle the Cross is. Sin is all too prevalent in my own life. It would be impossible for me to have a relationship with God by my own merit. But God loved me so much that he made a way. And when I pause to consider that this Easter Sunday, I'm overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude. Easter isn't about a fancy ham dinner or chocolate eggs... It's about something so much more profound, so much more valuable.

This year I feel it keenly: my overwhelming need for the Cross, the miracle of the Resurrection and the Promise of a relationship with God and eternity in heaven.

Thank you, Jesus, for doing what I could never do for myself.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tangible Expressions of Grace

Looking at this picture, you may not think it's anything particularly special. In fact, you've probably seen much better photographs or more beautiful orchids.

This orchid, however, is special.

About a year ago, I bought the orchid when I wanted some flowers to brighten my living room. As I anxiously waited for the buds to open, I was faithful in keeping up with the simple instructions for the orchid's care: three ice cubes a week. Over time, the buds flowered and I got to enjoy beautiful orchids.

The flowers lasted a while, but as time passed, they eventually fell off, and the plant was nothing more than two green shoots. As you can well imagine, there is little incentive to continue caring for a green shoot (the second one withered over time), and I stopped the weekly three ice cube regimen. Throughout the fall, my roommate and I had numerous discussions about throwing out the dead plant, but given our crazy schedules, it never quite made it into the garbage before we left on Christmas vacation.

Since you can see the picture above, you know the end of the story... I came back from vacation to be greeted by three tiny little orchid buds.

Tonight I was having a unique struggle with God. I can hardly complain about what I'm about to divulge: I've never known a time where I didn't know about God's love and grace. This is an absolutely incredible blessing, and the struggle that I face is that it doesn't always seem real and tangible to me. Jesus LOVES me... Yes, I know, I sang the song in Sunday School. Tonight, however, I wanted to know God's love. I wanted to experience it in a new way. As I read through Romans 5 ("while we were still sinners, Christ died for us"), it felt like words on a page that I've read a thousand times before. So I prayed that God would open up my understanding of His grace in a new way.

So he pointed my gaze to the orchid. That orchid was basically left for dead. It had no nourishment, no care, and had lost all of its flowers. I did nothing to help that orchid produce beautiful flowers.

But God took that orchid and created life out of it, beautiful new life. And that's what his grace means in my life. As much as I'd like to think I *try* to be a good, nice, "moral" person, I know deep down that my sinful nature runs deep. I have done nothing to deserve God's goodness in my life.

But that doesn't matter. He's going to create something beautiful in me anyway.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deserts and Learning to Want What Really Matters

Much of the inspiration for this post comes from a really amazing book I'm reading - A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E Miller

If I describe what I mean by "going through a desert", you've probably been there. Deserts are those dry, barren places in life where we feel we are facing the same constant struggles. There seems to be no relief from the struggle in terms of desires being fulfilled, nor does there seem to be respite in learning to tame or redirect our desires. And so we find ourselves in this place where we feel trapped: unable to move forward, unable to stop wanting to move forward.

I've been in a desert in one area of my life recently. And if I'm honest, I have to admit that I'm still there. I feel like I don't even want to talk about the struggle any more because I've hashed it out so many times that there's nothing new to add in regard to my struggling. I've begged God to just take it away... why? Because I feel weak.

In fact, I can remember avidly the most recent conversation I had with God: "God, I've got so many things in life that are exciting and going well. I hate this struggle because it makes me feel weak... and I shouldn't feel weak. I have no reason to feel weak."

And God said, "exactly."

He brings us through these deserts to teach us to lean on Him, to depend on Him and to surrender to Him.

For the last year of my life, I've viewed God through the Santa Claus lens: he works everything out for my good. I can even quote Bible verses that suggest that God's up there pulling the strings so that things will go my way. I can view setbacks as God working out a better plan for my life.

And I do believe that God is in control.

However, I don't think that God's ultimate plan for my life is focused around me becoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company or having a house in the suburbs with a golden retriever and 2.4 kids. In fact, I don't think God's ultimate plan for my life involves anything on this earth at all. God's desire for me is to draw me closer to Him - to have a relationship with Him. And when things start going our way, it's easy to forget about Him and start to think that things are going my way because I've worked hard and I deserve them.

God uses the deserts to remind us what really matters. He uses the deserts to remind us that the only thing that will ultimately fulfill us is Him.

And in that way, deserts are the ultimate blessing.