Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Take Your Tears to Church

If you’ve experienced grief you know it can be deceiving. You may have months of such severe heart-pain you are convinced it will last forever. Then, one day, you realize you aren’t in that place anymore. Your limbs don’t feel weighted with sand. You laugh more easily. You think, maybe this is finally over. Maybe you’ve finally healed. Without warning, the heaviness returns. You notice that you are stuck just behind the finish line, like landing on the Molasses Swamp square in Candyland.

That was me last night. Pushed back a few spaces. Stuck in grief. New hurts emerged that I thought I’d wept my way past. Hot tears. The last thing I wanted to do was set my alarm clock for church.

I read Psalm 56. When I got to verse 5, which asks: What can flesh do to me? I couldn’t help but respond: a lot. Flesh humiliates. It speaks the right lie at the right time. It leaves children orphans. It beheads Christians. It defiles what was pure. Flesh makes promises then breaks them. Falsely accuses. Slanders. Gets cancer. I am so sick of this flesh.

And yet these are the times I need to ask the Psalmist’s question: What kind of power does flesh really have in comparison to God’s? The answer is of course: very little. Very little in light of eternity. Flesh can sting, disappoint, even murder, but it can’t take away the future hope I have in Christ. That promise remains untouchable.

But what about all the pain this side of heaven?

God acknowledges it. He captures every private tear (Ps. 56:8). He does not downplay its presence in our lives, but instead tells us that those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:5). About this verse, John Piper writes:

Be realistic. Say to your tears: ‘Tears, I feel you. You make me want to quit life. But there is a field to be sown (dishes to be washed, car to be fixed, sermon to be written). I know you will wet my face several times today, but I have work to do and you will just have to go with me.

This morning, despite heavy limbs and heart, I took Piper’s advice. I told my sorrow: You’ll have to come along, because I’m going to church. When I picked up my friend Jennifer on the way, I admitted to her that I was distracted. As a fellow griever, she understood. We arrived and I got to sing hymns alongside my family, the congregation. I was reminded during the sermon that glory is a promise; that trials are too. The pastor pointed out that the order in Scripture for Jesus and His followers is always:

suffering --> death --> glory

Accepting this did not take away my pain, but it validated it. There will be times when I sow in tears, when I must take my pain to church, to Walmart, the DMV, or coffee with a friend. But these tears are not forever and death is not the conclusion:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,  and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Heb. 2:14, 15)

Eternal joy is a promise worth dwelling on, especially during periods of earthly sadness. Read these promises to yourselves. Write them on your wrist, your friend’s Facebook wall, or your most oft-used bookmark. You’re going to need them:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Rev. 21:4)

And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isa. 51:11)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Five Articles for the Sexually Frustrated Christian

For so many, sex seems like the missing puzzle piece. Christians are not any more immune to this thinking than unbelievers. It’s a challenge to respect God’s design for sex without idolizing or demonizing it. And we are easily caught up in “if only” thinking. If only...we could experience it more often, differently, with someone else, or at all, then we would finally be complete. Whole. Satisfied. Some of us have even been told that sex is the only way to truly understand intimacy with Christ, making marriage an awfully attractive goal.

The following articles will challenge and encourage you whether you are single, divorced, widowed, married, same-sex attracted, or just plain lonely. I don’t endorse every idea in these pieces, but I do believe each one is worth the read.

To a society that says, “Sex is nothing,” we say, “It’s much more serious than you think.” But our society also says “Sex is everything. This is where I get my identity, my fulfillment, my life.” To this, we say, “Sex is less serious than you think. You are pinning too many hopes on sex.”

Many people today believe that the purpose of human life and the measure of human flourishing is in the freedom to express oneself, to deliver one’s unique inner essence to the world by “being true to yourself.” Apply this expressivist philosophy to sexuality, and you wind up with a society in which sexual self-expression becomes vital for happiness. To question the validity of someone’s sexual attractions or practices is to call into question their personhood, to do damage to their identity, to radically dehumanize them by submitting their desires to scrutiny.

In response to this idea, the Church must say, “Human dignity means you are not defined by your sexual attraction.” Staking your identity in sexuality or pinning your hopes for happiness on sex is too low of a goal for a human being made in God’s image.

In this case, we put sex in its place — not by saying “sex is no big deal” but by telling people, “you are so much more than your sexuality.” We will not reduce our human self-understanding and self-expression to sexual urges. It’s not that we diminish sex, but that we elevate human dignity.

From My Gay Roommate by Eric Teetsel

Tim vacillated between acceptance of his sexual inclinations and the greater calling of his faith for years before finally finding rest in the decision to let Jesus be enough. That arduous journey was made much, much more difficult by voices from within the Church encouraging him to embrace his inclination to homosexuality.

Wesley Hill says: 
I don’t want to say that friendship is a substitute for erotic love. They’re definitely different things. In the historic Christian understanding, erotic love is about one spouse complementing the other spouse who is sexually “other.” When the two partners come together, their love opens them to new life—to the “one flesh” of a child. Friendship isn’t like that. Friendship is about two people coming together not for romance or procreation but for companionship, for mutual encouragement, and for serving the wider community. So a celibate person does give up one form of intimacy. But that doesn’t mean he or she gives up intimacy altogether.

From An Open Conversation on Mixed Orientation by Preston Sprinkle (interviewing Brian and Monica Gee):

Monica Gee says:
During that time, we realized that in our marriage, we were both being called to live with form of suffering if our relationship was to continue. I say ‘called’ because it certainly wasn’t our choice, and yet it was exactly where God had directed our lives. In remaining faithful, Brian suffered by not experiencing the fulfillment of many of his physical and emotional needs. And by remaining in our marriage, I suffered by having my deepest fears realized and feeling a deeply painful form of rejection. We both realized that this suffering wasn’t going to be temporary and would probably never find resolution in our lifetime. And yet, this common suffering that we experienced united us to Christ’s suffering and to each other in an inexplicable way. We began to take solace in this unity, a unity that would become a keystone for our life and work together in the years that have followed.

Brian Gee says:
But what is at the foundation of a Christian marriage except the charge for both spouses to continually serve and sacrifice for one another as Jesus both served and submitted to the Father, even in the face of certain failure, pain, weakness, or suffering. We know that as humans we do fail, we will be hypocrites, and we will cause those we love pain. Like anyone, I’m not exempt from that, and no amount of self-protection will change that reality. So when real sexual hurts and unspeakable relational betrayals go unforgiven or even unaddressed, it’s not the initial incompatibility that makes the relationship insolvent; it’s the progressive lack of willingness of one or both spouses to lay down his or her own desires for the sake of the other, especially in the face of certain future pain.

It might be that the pain of a life without physical intimacy was part of what equipped Paul to proclaim through the Spirit that to die is gain. To die is to gain a glorified body that feels and experiences the truth that all our needs are met in Jesus. To die is to gain the heavenly reality that earthly intimacy can only reflect in shadows. To die is to gain full oneness with God, fullness of joy, and pleasures forevermore.  

This pain has blessed me by forcing me to be all in with God: banking on him for my joy. Our God is a God of pleasure. He is not calling us to hunger because he wants us to be miserable. He is calling us to hunger because he wants us to experience the greatest pleasure available to man: himself.

Nothing sounds as foolish to the world as a person who would pursue purity, not out of some sense of religious obligation, but out of a faith that there is a greater pleasure in store for those who would trust in the Creator. Nothing makes God look as beautiful as when we, who have tasted his goodness, would use our lives to testify that we will forego any momentary joy in order to taste more of him.