Get the Story Right

Some time ago I was speaking with a young couple on the verge of getting married and the subject of my marriage came up. The more I talked about the marriage I have experienced – and the wife I enjoy – the more grateful I became. My final assessment was, I’m so blessed it’s crazy.

As I walked away from the conversation I began to think about how rose-colored my glasses seemed to be in that moment. Was I really being honest? Was I setting this couple up for disillusionment when they don’t feel the reality I described? God knows how many difficult season these 20 years of marriage have endured. Some of that has been basic life tribulation. Much of it has been my sin. During many seasons of difficulty I have not been so positive.

So why was I walking away from that conversation with such hope and joy?

Was it because life is much easier now compared to other seasons of life? Not a chance. Was I so positive because I happened to get lucky enough to land the perfect marriage? Absolutely not. It has been a rude awakening to discover that there is no such thing as a perfectly compatible couple. Marriage is not about compatibility; it’s about commitment. And communication. And ultimately communion. You either connect with Jesus and become whole in Him, or you will be a black hole that sucks your spouse dry with expectations that only God Himself can fulfill. Marriage does not work because two people are compatible; it works because two people do the gospel on each other.

So why was I so hot on my marriage – and my life – as I left that conversation?

Because of the story I chose to tell myself.

The reality of my life (and yours) is that I have had some very high highs and some very low lows. There has been sin and grace, hardship and redemption. But God is the Author, and He does not write bad stories. When I start to tell my story with God, with grace, with redemption in mind – the whole thing sounds different. I get to choose the story I tell myself. And so do you.

Get the genre right. It’s not a horror flick; it’s not a tragedy. It’s a love story. With action and adventure. And drama. But this thing is absolutely not chaotic and pointless. He’s writing a masterpiece, so don’t give up on the plot. Don’t lose hope in the Director. You may be in the middle of a really difficult chapter, but it’s an amazing story. Read it all the way to the end.

Don’t underestimate the Author.

This is beyond positive thinking. You have to tell the right story, because your heart will follow the story you tell yourself. Your life moves with your meditation. Paul got it right: “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Go tell the right story.Blog - open books

Second-hand smoke

cigarette-300x224It is quite possible to know a lot about God and very little of God.

Sometimes I ask questions I should not ask. Especially with married couples. The mild version of the conversation usually starts with, “Do you still kiss?” I remember being at a conference where I met a cheerful and outgoing couple, when the question popped out of my mouth. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but on this occasion the raw approach blew up in my face. The couple squirmed, closed their mouths, looked at each other, then looked right back at me with a sadness you could cut with a knife. Their silence said it all. No. We do not kiss. We are not intimate. We are not happy.

Ever notice how the Bible describes the intimacy between and man and a woman? “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived…” (Genesis 4:1) Something deep within us longs to be known.

Intimacy.

Marriage is not just about marriage. The apostle Paul lifts the veil on the subject: “This mystery is profound, but I’m saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32) It’s not like God needed an object lesson to illustrate our relationship with him so he settled for marriage. Marriage was created as a sign of the gospel.

Which brings us back to the problem with so much Christianity. It’s like a travel agent selling time shares for a property she’s never seen. Or a vegan waiter pushing pork chops he’s never tasted. The pictures look good and the food smells great, but the experience is second-hand. Far too much of our Christianity is like second-hand smoke.

I spoke with a man last week who came away from a debate with a Christian group. He could not out-talk the Christians. He did not out-think the Christians. And yet, as I debriefed with him after his encounter, he ended with these words: “I just don’t want to be like them.” They did not smell like Jesus.

Ever notice you start to smell like the people you spend time with?

This is a call to reclaim intimacy. Look at what David wrote: “The intimate friendship of the Lord is reserved for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.” (Psalm 25:14) His response? “My eyes are ever towards the Lord.” (25:15)

Far too many believers are bored with their relationship with God. Like spiritual pornographers, they attend religious gatherings to watch other people encounter God, while they themselves are lifeless and dull. Wearied by the “duties” associated with “serving” God.

Maybe the accusation is true. Perhaps the faith of too many Christians is only inferential; it is the result of deductions. You can have right theology and to do right mission and to live a right life and tell your friends all the right facts about God, and yet know very little of God.

I can promise you this. There’s more.

Stop treating the Bible like a brochure to a land you’ll visit when you die.

And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God…” (John 17:3)

Maybe the gospel is better than an invitation to go to heaven when you die. Of course that’s true. But, if you have ears to hear, you can start going to heaven before you die. Don’t let this day end before you encounter the living God.

Sex is not about sex – part 2

Stafford_Queen_Bed

We really do have a sex problem.

Yesterday we said that sex is deeper than a right or an identity. Today I want to take a look at another harmful approach to sex: Appetite.

If we’re honest, our culture has trained us to view sex as an appetite:  If you’re hungry, you should eat.  If you’re thirsty, you should drinkAnd if you feel sexy …

This is a natural craving, we reason, and it would be wrong to impose some sort of frustrating restraint on such an ordinary part of our humanity. This has a ring of truth to it, but the question is this: Is it possible that the Executive Director of the universe knows more than we do about how we are wired?

C.S. Lewis points out that the sex craving has  been twisted well beyond the abuses of other natural cravings. Of course we need to eat. But imagine living in a culture where the most viewed websites on the internet involved people watching covered plates of food slowly being exposed to reveal juicy pieces of meat and potatoes. Or close-up shots of people slowly chewing their pork chop. Imagine going to jobs where safeguards had to be put in place to keep people from wasting time viewing these illicit food-fests during work hours. Surely you would conclude something had gone very wrong with the appetite for food. And yet that is precisely where we find ourselves with sex.

There is something unique about sex. We really have believed a set of lies, and it’s twisting us in ways we don’t realize.

Consider “solo sex”. Multitudes of unmarried people establish the habit of “meeting their own needs” whenever the craving arises. I’m not going to enter into what I consider a fruitless debate discussing the theological or philosophical acceptability of the practice. I’m very aware of the arguments of leaders on both sides of the issue. I try to stay as clear as the Bible is clear, and remain honest about where the Bible is not clear. And there is no clear prohibition. At the same time, I feel the need to ask the wisdom and life questions. What is wisdom? What will produce life?

The porn industry rightfully takes its share of the blame for the twisting of our sexual habits, but what if there are other roots at the bottom of this problem? Take away the porn, and solo sex can still ruin all sorts of lives and marriages. Long after the last image was viewed one can have a rolodex of images and fantasies in their heads. Porn sobriety is not just about quitting porn, it’s about choosing to express oneself sexually in the ways God intended.

What so many unmarried people do no seem to realize is this: if you have a sex-lust problem before marriage, you will have a sex-lust problem after marriage. Marriage is absolutely not the antidote to a sex-lust problem. There is research that finds that after long periods of solo sex, some men cannot perform in a relationship. That means there are actually young men who are destroying their future marriages now, by training their bodies and souls to approach sex with the functional purpose of “getting my needs met” whenever I feel the urge. And here’s the problem. How is a man or a woman who has spent years establishing the habit of looking out for #1 supposed to get married and know how to switch gears.

Real marriage is not about getting my needs met.

Which is why sex is not about sex.

It’s deeper.

We bear the incredible image of our God. Which means when we give ourselves away, we thrive. When we seek our happiness, we wither. Sex itself was created for so much more than we have realized. It is an intimate occasion where two people, who have lowered their guards, and dropped their defenses, and given up their rights, and ceased seeking their own, have mutually decided to serve and love and cherish one other. To give the other the desires of their hearts. The beauty of course, as any couple can attest, is that the greatest sex on earth is when this “mutualing” takes place.

We are wired for encounter, because our Father is an encountering God.

We are wired to serve, because our King washes feet.

We are wired to wait, because our Lord is waiting for a union with us that he calls a marriage supper.

We are wired to give ourselves away, because our redeemer went on a tree where he was broken so that we could be whole.

I assure you, the reason sex is so often twisted is because it is so uniquely loaded with the potential to reveal the nature of a radically surprising and delightful God. Will you let him be the Lord of your sexuality? You will not be sorry.

Sex is not about sex – part 1

Stafford_Queen_Bed

Sex.

Of course you’re still reading.

But it’s not just about sex.

In the culture we live in, you can’t really become a follower-lover-apprentice of Jesus without confronting the sex questions head-on. And Jesus wants to be the Lord of your sex life.

We have a real challenge because we tend to gravitate toward harmful approaches to the subject of sex.  I’ll hit a couple today and more later. 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 speaks straight to this subject if you want to check it out.

Some of us view sex as a rightNobody should tell me what to do with my body, we reason. You should know that these thoughts are nothing new. In the first century the apostle Paul wrote a letter to people at Corinth who argued, “All things are lawful for me.” (6:12)

But not everything is wise. At some point, the wise person starts asking better questions than is it wrong? Does it put you on the path of wisdom? Does it produce life? Not everything lines up with how God made you.

“The body is not meant for sexual immorality.” (6:13)

Hold this thought because here is where the subject gets uncomfortable. Here’s where my friends start to ask me, what about homosexuality? This brings up another approach to sex: sex as an identity. What about those of us who feel like we were born gay? What do I say to the many people who come to me and assure me that they did not choose this? I believe them. In a world where homosexuals have often suffered unspeakable pain, I do not believe that most people simply chose this orientation.

But then I cannot run from the clarity of Scripture: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, not idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality … will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

We really need to get a little more honest about the stumbling block of Christianity. It’s not just the gay issue; it’s the sex issue. Think about the command against adultery. One partner. In marriage. Period. Go find a good evolutionary biologist and open up that can of worms. He might laugh in your face. I have had people say, Mike, get real. From a purely biological standpoint, we are not wired to be with only one person. Christianity puts a requirement on us that we are destined to violate.

I know! And yet the Executive Director of the universe claims authority over our bodies the biologist does not have.

And that’s the point. It’s not worth arguing about what comes “natural” to me. Because regardless of how I was born, Jesus teaches that I must be “born again.” (John 3:3) I feel like I was born to be with thousands of women. Seriously. Yet God says that I am to be faithful to one wife. Regardless of how I was born, I must be born again and learn the way of Jesus.

So what do I say to those of us who are struggling with same-sex attraction? Or polygamy? How did this happen? I’m not sure. It’s probably the combination of many factors. Upbringing. Genetics. Decisions. Life circumstances. If you take it back far enough we end up in a Garden where everything got thrown off. Some of us are prone to anxiety. Some of us are prone to greed. And some people may be prone to various manifestations of sexual immorality. Yet the Bible teaches that we do not thrive when we live there. Following Jesus means we allow only one Person to assign our rights and define our identity, and that is God Himself.

Does that mean I  have to line up my sexuality to the will of God? Yes. Is it easy? No. Is it a quick fix? No. Do all kinds of people “try to change”, but then fall back into unbiblical lifestyles? Yes. It happens with homosexuality all the time. And anxiety. And anger. And greed. And heterosexual immorality. It’s not just a gay issue. But don’t miss the 1 Corinthians 6:11 hope: “And such were some of you.”

Mike, this is so unrealistic. I know. I’ll always look at sex as my right, until I look to the One who gave up his rights on a tree so I could have life itself. I’ll always live out of what comes natural, until I gaze upon the One who gave up his natural life so that I can experience eternal life in the deepest chambers of my soul. But it’s odd; when I look in his direction – when I really gaze with trust, I change.

And it’s the amazing promise of Jesus to help us become.

I dare you to become.

*

For more of my thoughts on homosexuality check out a previous blog here.

Rating your dating – pt3 – What about online dating?

datingMore questions from our faith family…

Is it okay to be single and NOT be sexually frustrated?

I would have paid money for this while I was single. However, it’s less likely for anybody who is highly stimulated by sight. Modesty is a forgotten virtue, so even if someone starts to break free from porn, there is so much flesh in plain sight that purity is the fight of a lifetime. And if you do believe in spiritual forces of wickedness (a la Ephesians 6) you’d have to bet there is an influence of sexual lust-sensuality-seduction upon the culture at large. It’s like breathing smog in Mexico City; when you live there long enough, you stop noticing the effects. But over a lifetime, it changes the way you breathe.

Is it okay to just be passionate about your God given purpose without the second guessing of “Did I miss my window of opportunity to be married?”

This would be wonderful. Adam was clear about his MASTER. Next he received clarity about his MISSION. Then he was ready for his MATE. It is dangerous to be cloudy about the first two while working on the third.

Online dating – ADDRESS THIS asap with all AUTHORITY LOL (I love you). Is online dating evil?

Let’s try to be as clear as the Bible is clear, and remain as unclear as it is unclear. There is no rule that applies to online dating, so it’s not a question of good versus evil but rather wisdom versus folly. Disciples move beyond the questions of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Is it right? Is it wrong?) and they ask better questions (Will this produce life? Is this the wise thing for me to do?) I’d say this will be a different answer for different people. Here’s what is clear to me.

Online dating services have the potential to help you meet a lot more people than you would otherwise meet. We do not live in the world of 100 years ago; we now live in a global village. The internet allows for business and relationships that would have otherwise never existed or deepened. Because you have to pay for these services, the people involved are actually interested in a serious relationship, which weeds out those who know they are not ready. More than a quarter of marriages are now coming from couples who met online. It would be silly to say that God could not use an online dating service.

Yet wisdom says, keep your eyes wide open. Remember that these companies exist to make money. No problem. But advertisers make their money by stirring in us a sense of discontentedness. That could be a problem.  You’re missing something. You’re not good enough. You’d be happy if only you had XYZ. They show us pictures of giddy couples who found their soul mates and lived happily ever after. Remember that (a) Only 1-2% of online relationships end up in marriage, and (b) even if you are in that 2%, here’s the truth: if you’re not at peace before marriage, you won’t be at peace in marriage. Only one Being in the universe can meet your needs, and if you’re rolling your eyes, you still don’t get it.

There is so much more that I could say, but I’ll just mention this for now: godly, discerning community is a bigger deal than we think. When you read the book of Ruth it’s interesting to note how Boaz got to know Ruth: he discerned her within the context of community. “All my townspeople know you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11). They watched her sacrifice for her mother-in-law. They watched her work when others were slacking off. They watched her stay true to his field instead of “playing the field” with other men. Boaz seemed wise enough to resist the urge of awakening love before Ruth passed the test of community. I have little confidence in the reliability of getting to know someone through an internet profile, and sitting alone in a car on a date. These kinds of dates are like a movie trailer: a highlight reel created to sell you on the product. You’re better off going to Fandango and reading the critic’s reviews. That’ll tell you the real story. If you do choose to go the online route, I strongly suggest: (1) you find a way to involve your community and the leaders in your life, (2) you guard your heart, and (3) you find a way to do a testing process. Pray!

Is it okay to think of our singleness as something else beyond “preparation for marriage” or “waiting room” for your spouse to come?

Dating is not just about dating. Sex is not just about sex. And marriage is not just about marriage. All of these realities are pointing to something deeper. Why do we even have marriage? It’s not like marriage had existed throughout all of eternity’s past, so God decided to use it as an object lesson. No, God invented marriage as a sign to point people to the nature of our relationship with him. We tend to defile a thing when we fail to recognize it’s purpose. If we see singleness as a necessary frustration we tolerate until we reach the promised land of marriage, we set ourselves up for unspeakable pain. Marriage is no promised land. Just ask all the people getting divorced, and the multitude of others who are living in a relationship that over-promised and under-delivered. Every time someone enters the marriage-as-promised-land paradigm they are set up for disillusionment because marriage is NOT about our happiness; it’s about our holiness. You don’t prepare for marriage by getting ready for your wedding day; you prepare for marriage by getting ready for His wedding day (Revelation 19:7-9). If that sounds like a cliche, you still don’t get it. Matthew 6:33.

Rating your dating – pt2 – What questions should I be asking?

dating

Disclaimer: these are responses to the questions from our faith family. I’ll hit a few questions each day.

1) Can you encourage godly men to be honest and clear when interested in a young woman?

Hey godly men, please be honest and clear when you are interested in a young woman. Unless – that would awaken love before its time (Song of Solomon). Unless – she is only 14 years old. Unless – being “interested” is just another one of your fleeting and fickle emotions that tend to come and go like the wind. Unless – you have not run this by the spiritual community around you. Unless – you are not in a stage of life where you can actually act on those intentions. Unless – you have not washed yourself and dealt with the issues that tend to defile a relationship down the road.

2) Can Christian communities resist the urge of trying to “set up” single folks on dates? Or is this unrealistic?

Probably not. Some of them are just trying to help. Some of them have been more discipled by chick-flicks than the Bible. Either way, you are going to have to learn to walk in wisdom. Blessed people find the way to NOT walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the path of sinners (Psalm 1).  I’m entertaining the option of arranged marriages. They seem to get longer lasting results.

3) Can you please FIND my husband as soon as yesterday? Thanks.

Sure.

4) Who conned us into thinking we ought to be anxious about marriage, spouse, sex, kids, etc.?

Disney Channel. BET. How I Met Your Mother reruns.

5) Is it okay to not have marriage at the top of your personal prayer list?

I hope so.

6) Is it okay to be single and yet not be “available”?

Yes. Isn’t that what a Christian fish on a car represents?

7) What questions should I be asking about a potential date? Or mate? If you were my dad, what questions would you be asking?

Okay, here’s the running list. I’d love you to add yours in the comments below.

  • Is he a disciple of Jesus?
  • Does he have a theology?
  • Does he have a healthy self-image?
  • Is he a man under authority?
  • Is he financially free? Can he support you?
  • Is he sexually free? Does he have a porn problem? How severe?
  • Does he know God’s will for his life?
  • What is his prayer life like?
  • Has he been filled with the Holy Spirit? Does he live a Spirit-filled life?
  • What is his reputation? Within the community? Within the church? With other girls/ladies?
  • What is his relationship like with his parents?
  • Is he willing to wait for you?
  • Does he have self-control in talking about his feelings for you?
  • How did his past relationships end?
  • Has he been tested?

Post more questions in the comments section. We’ll hit online dating tomorrow.

Rating your dating while waiting for mating – part 1

dating

Wow.

Studying the book of Ruth certainly stirs the pot on the subject of romance. Living in a town and being in a church with more singles than marrieds has forced me to think much more deeply about the subject.

My favorite string of questions so far have come from one of my favorite people on planet earth (listed below). Feel free to comment as I prepare for this weekend.

Because I have a Masters degree in Singleness and my invisible book title is “Waiting for mating, while engaging in Dating.” the inner mantra of every single female alive… (except five) in Christian circles at large…here are some Qs and comments:

1.) Obvious question — What does Ruth going to Boaz signify for single men and women in simple terms? 2.) Can Christian communities resist the urge of trying to “set up” single folks on dates or is that a non-existent, unnatural goal? 3). How would you encourage young adult professionals to date if they do not live in the ideal Gainesville Christian City of Angels bubble? 4). Can you encourage godly men to be honest and clear when interested in a young girl? 5). Online dating – ADDRESS THIS asap with all AUTHORITY LOL (I love you). 6). Can you please FIND my husband as soon as YESTERDAY. Thanks. 7). Please send more male missionaries to South Florida. Love you more. 8 ). Who conned us into thinking we ought to be anxious about marriage, spouse, sex, kids, etc.? 9). Is it okay to not have marriage at the top of your personal prayer list? 10). Is it okay to be single and yet not be “available” ? 11). Is it okay to be single and not be sexually frustrated? 12). Is it okay to just be passionate about your God given purpose without the second guessing of “Did I miss my window of opportunity to be married?” 13). Is it okay to think of our singleness as something else beyond “preparation for marriage” or “waiting room” for your spouse to come? I write these questions with JOY!! I prophesy a release of BOAZ’s in Jesus name….

The one thought I’ll throw down right now is this: our culture has trained us to squander our single years. Yet scripture says to steward your singleness and serve God “without distraction”, because once you get married it’s a whole new ballgame. (1 Corinthians 7) Most people I meet started the life of distraction at age 13 and never let up. More thoughts to come…

Post yours below.