29 November 2015

Singleness as good and bad

I've thought a lot about singleness over the years, and so I appreciate good articles about singleness. Dayna Vreeken at YALT recently wrote a good article honestly acknowledging both the good and bad of singleness. I especially appreciate how she stresses how being single is mixed: some things are hard but there is also much joy and good that also should be acknowledged. 

The following are some of the great points that she elaborates on:
It is time we acknowledge being single can, at times, be hard. This is not unique to being single, being married too contains annoyances and pain. But, it is often only acknowledged over coffee, beer, or ‘hallmark’ holidays in back corners of rooms. There is almost no room to truly mourn the pain or difficulty of singleness. So, let’s acknowledge it. . . . Singleness can be painful because often, people who are single expected their lives to go a bit differently. . . . many people pity those who are single rather than extending empathy, hospitality, and trying to truly understand what being single is like for each person. . . . Depending where you live, it is easier to fit in culturally and socially if you are married and/or have kids. . . . There is a notion in society that there is a relational, aka maturity, ladder. . .
It needs to be acknowledged wholeheartedly that being single can also be a beautiful, good, life-giving calling we have received from God.. . .  Being not married is a gift because life is always a gift—just like any other station in life, there is beauty in being a single person. . . One example of beauty is that being single breeds a necessary interdependence. Since I do not have one constant, ever-with-me partner in my life, I do not have the luxury/temptation of accidentally becoming immersed in one person and so, the older I get, the broader and deeper my community gets. . .
 Even if you're not single, I encourage you to read the article. It's a good reminder for those of us (especially in the church) who tend to think of marriage as the norm.

28 November 2015

Us, them and the extensiveness of grace

After years of studying linguistics and the Old Testament prophets, I have learned to love grammar. There are layers in the text that we don't always see, and grammar is one of the ways that helps us look closely at the text to discover what it means.

I spent the last few weeks studying Ephesians 1. It's a wonderful text, full of praise to God and praise for what Christ has done to save us. There's only one difficulty, and it's significant - the difficulty in understanding and appreciating predestination and election. Many people - both inside and outside of the church - are bothered when they hear the idea that God has elected some (some being Christians, of course). It sounds like Christians think we are better and actually deserve more (even though the text and the Bible do not say that - and most Christians do know and believe that). It's just so easy to get into us vs. them thinking. We are special, they are not.

Looking at the text of Ephesians 1, there's also an us vs. them going on, or more specifically we vs you. In verses 11­-14, the text goes from talking about us – we were chosen in verse 11 - to you in verse 13 – and you also were included in Christ. In the prophets, this switching between them and you is a way for the writer to make sure that the people hearing the text also realize they are included in the message. The switch from them to you can be rather startling, kind of like a teacher calling your name in the middle of a class and asking you to repeat what they just said when you were obviously falling asleep.

Perhaps some of this is going on – that the people hearing or reading this text – are being reminded that you, too, should be praising. At the same time, I would expect us automatically to include ourselves when the text talks about us, especially when it's good news (cf gospel in v. 13)!

So what else might be going on with this switch in pronouns? The you in the text here – the ones to whom the book was being written ­ were Gentiles. The inclusion of the Gentiles in the gospel did not happen smoothly, as can be seen in the book of Acts, especially chapter 15.

As Christians we often focus on election begin about how good I am. Yet, the people hearing the text would have heard again and again that they had NOT been chosen. The Jews were the ones chosen, and not Gentiles. The switch here from we to you thus says not only that they have been included, but also us. When it comes to election that switching of us and them makes all the difference, it's the idea that even I got chosen. I did not deserve it, in any way shape or form, but yet even though I thought I should be excluded I got to be included. It's like getting into med school after being rejected by three other schools, not just this year but also last year.

The text here in Ephesians is pointing to grace being much bigger than we expected. Paul is saying that people who we expect to be excluded – like me, because I know I don't deserve it ­are actually included. We have been chosen, even though we have done nothing to deserve it. If we let this good news settle in, how can this not turn us towards God in praise and thanksgiving and a desire to follow Him?

Much of this text was excerpted from a sermon on Ephesians 1 preached Thanksgiving Day 2015 at River Terrace Church.

04 November 2015

Abstinence in a culture obsessed with sex

A friend recently passed on an article about what happens when men pledge abstinence until marriage. What intrigued her about the article was that the study about the effects of abstinence was done by those outside of Christian circles and passed on to her by someone who had no association with evangelicals. This seems to indicate that how Christians approach sex is thus of interest to people outside of Christian circles, albeit most likely less because of an interest in Christianity and more because of a fascination with sex.

The article confirms and highlights how our culture is overly focused on sex. What might surprise some people is that the same is true in evangelical circles. Only the focus is not about the sex that these unmarried men were getting but the sex that they were not getting. Abstinence is seen to bring with it many challenges and a strong need for accountability. The problem, though, is that it's only men that seem to be struggling so much with sexual desire, reinforcing a damaging untruth far too common in evangelical circles: women are nonsexual and men are highly sexualized beings.

The second half of the article, which talks about what happened after these single men get married, points to an area where Christians could improve: being more realistic about how complicated sex is in the midst its goodness. When the Bible talks about sex, it does so in a highly practical way, focusing especially on appropriate boundaries and how not to hurt others through the use of sex. This realistic view of sex, instead of detracting from the goodness, actually contributes to sex being more good. How else can we learn to build healthy and good relationships if we're not willing to talk about how countercultural sex within Christianity really is? Sex and sexuality is not primarily something to obsess about (either through abstinence or within marriage) but instead is messy, complicated and even ordinary (for more about this, see Real Sex by Lauren Winner).