The Blog has Moved!

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Hello Everyone, sorry about the late notice, but I did want to let you know that I have moved by blog to http://www.enochhaven.com. Hope you will follow me there! -Enoch

For Those Who Are Uncoupled

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(This post is a slightly longer version of the blog I wrote for my church)

A Powerful Picture

If the past is any indicator, this weekend I will see a reoccurring genre of images on my social media feeds. And no, I am not talking about the pictures of flowers, chocolate, and smiling couples at nice restaurants. The exact details differ, but often these pictures depict a wine bottle accompanied by a solitary glass. Some also feature a catchy hash tag like #ValentinesDayDinner . The funny thing is, I don’t always see food in these pictures. An image really can speak volumes.

This day, though joyful for some, is a painful reminder of aloneness for many others. Singles Awareness Day provides a fitting acronym for many who long to spend the evening with someone special, but can’t.

What good can a blog post about singleness do on Valentine’s Day?

When I was asked to write about this for my church’s blog I resisted for two reasons. First, I fear that anything written about singleness to be published at this time has the distinct possibility of doing more harm than good. This can be an emotionally volatile time, and even well intentioned words can cause real pain when read at the wrong time. I also understand that simply being single does not make me an expert on the subject. While many singles have similar stories, it is impossible to describe the “single experience” with uniformity. Men and women experience singleness differently.  Being single at twenty one is far different from being single at sixty. Some people choose to be single and others are single against their wishes. All of our divergent experiences of singleness have their own particular challenges, and the last thing any single adult wants to hear is another person claiming to know exactly how they feel.

That said, I have decided to venture into this minefield with the belief that some good can come from an honest discussion about what it means to be single today. I am certainly not a sage with great wisdom to share, but I am a fellow traveler who cares about other people also experiencing singleness. My goal here is to tell you a little bit about my own experience and share a few truths that have encouraged me in this journey.

Where I Stand

I have written on singleness before in a general sense, and I plan to write about it again, but perhaps this situation calls for a more personal reflection. This is the post I almost didn’t write because there is always a danger with this type of vulnerability. You don’t want to be misinterpreted, and you certainly don’t want to come across as desperate. But I share in the hope that something I write will resonate with those who read.

I never expected to be single at twenty eight. While singleness at this age is pretty typical in urban areas, I come from a place, Northern Michigan, where marriage in the early twenties is normal – and I expected to be married for years by this point. Most of my friends back home are married, and three of my younger siblings are also married. My birth family is very important to me, and I care about families a lot. I have long desired to be a husband and father.

Romantic relationships are all around me. Within the past two months there have been nine different engagements among my friends, (including two different girls I once went on dates with) and I am excited for all these couples. I can think of five girls I once pursued romantically who are now engaged or married to someone else.

I often vacillate between really enjoying my life and really wanting to be in a relationship, but the desire for marriage is almost always there for me. It isn’t typically haunting or overwhelming, but it is usually present. And if I wasn’t already thinking about it, there are plenty of reminders.

It’s Not Always Easy

It seems like everyone has something to say about singleness, and many of them seek to remedy the “problem”.  Friends offer us well meaning encouragements to “put yourself out there”, even though many of us do all the time.  We are even told to not “be so picky” – as if desiring mutual attraction, appropriate social function, and spiritual stability is really asking too much. During the holidays we have to endure interrogation by relatives who are concerned about our relationship status. After all, they all got married before twenty five, so we must be doing something wrong. On top of all that, at this time of year in particular we are bombarded by advertisers seeking to leverage emotional connections to sell their products. (Just a side note with this one: if you honestly think the jewelry store cares about you or the health of your relationship, think again. They will sell jewelry to a man buying for his mistress, and they are just as enthusiastic about your second engagement as they are your first – at least if you buy the ring from them)

Being single can be hard, and sometimes it is even harder in the church. Single adults are accustomed to hearing spiritual, but often trite, exhortations about how God has a plan. We are regularly fed sermons and illustrations that focus on marriage and family life. Those of us who are seeking a spouse often find dating within the church to be confusing. Making the transition from sister or brother in Christ to girlfriend or boyfriend (and sometimes back again) can be difficult.

In addition to these general church/singleness concerns, I deal with other specific challenges related to my vocation. Practically, being single while serving in the ministry limits your employment opportunities. Some churches and ministries are hesitant to hire older, single men. Worries about relating to the married population and suspicions about sexual orientation seem to be the most common concerns. While I tend to think any standard that would bar Jesus and the Apostle Paul from church leadership is wrong, the reality is that a lot of churches just don’t want an unmarried pastor.

And if you think dating within the church is awkward, try being on staff and dating girls at your church.  Balancing spiritual care for all and personal affection for one is not the easiest thing to do, and you never want to be guilty of making any woman feel uncomfortable worshiping in your community because you express romantic interest in her.

What I Have Found Helpful:

At this point you know a little bit more about me. Perhaps some of you can also relate to these experiences. Now I would like to offer three principals I have learned to apply in the midst of my single experience.

1.      Surround Yourself With Community

We often connect God’s words in Genesis 2:18 “It is not good that the man should be alone” (ESV) with romance. After all, soon after God said this He created Eve. But we must remember that God wasn’t just satisfying Adam’s romantic longings, He was also providing him someone to share life with. Adam’s need for human friendship was even greater than his need for sexual fulfillment. In our western context we tend to see romantic relationships as the primary avenue for deep personal connection, but this modern attitude is far from Christian. The marriage relationship is not the only relationship in which one can experience God’s design for community. God never designed us to live in isolation, and we must be careful to cultivate godly community in whatever stage of life we are in.

I am particularly blessed to be part of a church with a large group of unmarried adults. Many of these people I consider to be good friends, and we do a ton of stuff together. I also have a great Christian roommate, and we regularly have inspiring conversations about God and life. These relationships are some of my greatest blessings, and I don’t take them for granted.

Pursuing this type of community requires intentionality. We may be required to shift our priorities and make sacrifices to develop these relationships. Practically it often starts with small decisions like planning events with your friends – not because you are looking for romance, but because you need other people in your life. It may also mean choosing those you live with carefully, and having a roommate even if you would rather live alone. Living with an older couple or a family could also help build this type of community into your life.

2.      Listen To The Right Voices

As we already discussed, there are no shortage of perspectives and opinions on singleness and relationships today. Many of them, dare I say most, are not worth listening to. We must take control over what messages about relationships we absorb. This will likely mean (politely) tuning out the over-curious relatives and learning to ignore the sappy television ads. We may need to stop reading the romance novels and constantly listening to mournful love tunes. We may even need to set aside the Christian dating and marriage books for a while.

So what voices should we listen to then? We can start by listening to those who are doing life right regardless of their relationship status.  And we should develop friendships with those who care more about the person we are now than about the person we might someday date. If your friends make you feel like a lesser person for being single you may need to find new friends.

We can also read the words of those who have navigated the waters of singleness commendably. Many church fathers and monastics wrote extensively about their single experience, and their words are a vital part of our Christian heritage. There are also current authors who write powerfully about what it looks like to live a Godly and fulfilling single life. In particular I have found the writers at Spiritual Friendship to be profoundly encouraging in their attitudes about relationships. Though these authors often write from the perspective of those who experience same sex attraction their words about singleness are full of wisdom and encouragement even for those of us who do not share their specific situation.

3.      Remember God’s Truth

I grew up in a church full of children, and every night at my home we listened to the Focus on the Family radio broadcast. It may not have been intentional, but the unavoidable impression was given was that good Christians all got married and had kids, preferably at a young age. The idea that living as a single person could be pleasing to God may have been given lip service but this wasn’t encouraged or recommended. In fact single adults were often looked at with sympathy and suspicion.

God, however has a lot to say about singleness and some of it may surprise you if grew up in a church like mine. Jesus and Paul affirm the single life by their words (Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7) and examples. Scripture also clearly teaches that human marriage is only for this earth. (Mark 12:25) For the Christian, the single state is the eternal state. Even the best, most beautiful, most God honoring marriage will not last into eternity.

It is also worth noting that Christianity stands out among other belief systems in the way it affirms the single life. This is specifically true when you compare Christianity to Judaism, Islam and Mormonism. As Barry Danylak says in his book Redeeming Singleness:

“While Christianity is similar to its Judeo-Christian siblings in its sexual ethics and value for family, it is notably different from its siblings in its affirmation of singleness as a gift and valued lifestyle within the life of the believing community.”p.17

Unfortunately, as we have already discussed, single adults may not feel affirmed in many churches today. Christians are not always good at living out our theology, and this is one of the areas where we have failed. But it is comforting to know that there will always be an important seat for singles at God’s table. Remembering the acceptance Christ showed to single adults should give us patience with those who don’t understand, and stoke in us a passion for making our church a welcoming place for those who are uncoupled.

If you are single, I hope something here has been encouraging to you, and I pray that this weekend will be different (and better) for you than it could have been otherwise. I plan to spend this weekend with friends and also attend a Valentine’s Day party. But I will certainly be glad when it’s over – at least for one reason. On Monday the candy goes on sale.

Not So Happy Holidays

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Christmas cheer is here; at least that’s what the billboards say. For weeks now we have been bombarded with advertisements featuring smiling families gathering around filling meals, jewelry boxes being opened, and new cars adorned with big red bows. The Christmas season is, after all, primarily about candy canes, cuddling, and getting gifts, right? But what are we supposed to do when we just don’t feel all the peace and love?

For many of us, the holidays bring something other than happiness. Sometimes it’s hard to have joy when…

…all you can think about during Christmas dinner is the one who is no longer there.

…your positive emotional health is largely due to the fact that you HAVE NOT been around your family in months.

…you want to feel happy for your cousin (and her new ring) but can only manage to fake a smile.

…your grades slide as seasonal depression sets in.

…you just don’t know what to say anymore to your brother who turned away from God.

…you don’t have someone special to go ice skating with.

…you can’t afford to pay your bills let alone buy presents for those you care about.

…the gift you really want is one that God seems unwilling to give.

The seasonal images of happiness and comfort are especially disturbing when you can’t share in their pictured perfection. Even if you are generally a fan of the Christmas season, sometimes it’s just tough to watch. Perhaps you have found yourself wishing it was already over. If only we could just fast forward to February. Sure, you want to remember Jesus’ birth, but you could do without the rest of it.

Often, during this time of year we resist expressing our hurt in effort to avoid putting a damper on the seasonal mood. After all, who wants to hang out with a downer at Christmas? But is this suppression of emotion, and the isolation that results, really the best way to deal with our pain? Perhaps our decision to remain silent actually serves to prop up the holiday perfection narrative.

Wouldn’t our friends and churches be better served if we humbly chose to shatter the illusion? The truth is, most of the people in those pictures are not as happy as they look anyway. Even an average image looks amazing with an Instagram filter thrown on top. Somehow we need to find the freedom to say: No, I am not alright, and all this “holiday spirit” isn’t helping matters.

Christianity has a rich tradition of honestly expressing deep pain. This practice, called lament, flows through Scripture from the Prophets and Psalms in the Old Testament to the cries of Jesus in the New. When we refuse to acknowledge our pain we turn against our own history and stunt our spiritual growth. Painting an artificial portrait of unlimited happiness is unchristian no matter what season it happens to be. Though we desperately long to return to Eden, we cannot do so, even for a few days.

The church needs to rediscover the practice of lament, and I can’t think of a better time to do this than Christmas. Joy and sorrow have always been hauntingly intertwined in this celebration. Just days after the birth of Jesus, Mary his mother was told: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:35) It was a harsh prophecy for a new mother to receive, but, in time, the truth of these words was clearly shown. Jesus is the biggest gift this world will ever receive, yet his birth and life meant great pain for the person closest to him.

So let’s resolve to be honest about our pain this Christmas, first with God, and then also with others. And let’s not think our intense emotions are too much for God to handle. He created us with the ability to experience each of them. He can take it, really he can, and he won’t be mad at you for spoiling his birthday celebration either.

This doesn’t mean Christmas has to be depressing. I believe that when we truly weep over our enduring sorrows it becomes easier to genuinely rejoice with others. When we stop denying it hurts and start being honest we can experience a deeper joy. The birth of Jesus is good news not because our lives are perfect; it is good news because they are clearly not. The more we remember this truth the more beautiful Christmas will be to us.

Fractured Persons – The Rise of Postmodern Sexual Gnosticism

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“Hey boy!
I don’t need to know where you’ve been,
All I need to know is you and no need for talking
Hey boy!
So don’t even tell me your name,
All I need to know is whose place,
And let’s get walking…
All I wanna do is love your body[i]

So sings one of our cultural prophets. Whether or not you agree with Christina Aguilera’s vision of love and intimacy, you cannot deny that she expresses an increasingly common perspective on sexuality. This view says that sex is merely a physical exchange between two people, devoid of any deeper significance.  It is essentially an experience of physical pleasure. To some in our world, intercourse carries with it all the intimacy and relational commitment of a handshake. Nothing more is needed or expected. Hayley Williams expresses a similar perspective when she sings:

“I know that we were made to break, so what, I don’t mind,

Are you gonna stay the night?

…doesn’t mean were bound for life,

So are you gonna stay the night?”[ii]

Though slightly less impersonal, this song also separates sex from commitment. The physical experience of a night spent together is the one and only goal. No thought is given to any other consequences or implications of the decision to have sex. The pleasure of one night is all that matters.

This sexual ethic fits nicely with our modern, scientifically fueled physical reductionism, but it also bears a striking resemblance to an older perspective – Gnosticism. This somewhat loosely organized belief system emphasized the acquiring of secret knowledge and taught that the physical and spiritual realities were polar opposites. Drawing on Platonist philosophy, many Gnostics believed that all things physical were created by a lesser “deity” and were, therefore, inherently evil. This perspective led to extreme asceticism, including bodily abuse, and also to uninhibited physical indulgence. The Gnostics were known for both self-flagellation and orgies. Their reasoning was: If the body is not eternally significant, why not do whatever you want with it? Lady Gaga would certainly agree:

“You can’t have my heart

 And you won’t use my mind but

 Do what you want (with my body)

 Do what you want with my body

 You can’t stop my voice cause

 You don’t own my life but

 Do what you want (with my body)

 Do what you want (with my body)”[iii]

A Better Vision

As we have seen, the suggestion that what we do with our bodies doesn’t matter is neither new nor novel. Christianity, however, communicates a distinctly different message. Gnosticism was one the first theological challenges early Christians faced, and in the writings of Paul they had relevant response.

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

The earliest Christians did not believe that the body was a meaningless shell. To them the body was useful not only for earthly existence, but also for serving God. Christianity has always taught that physical acts have spiritual implications. It is for this reason the Apostle Paul also writes that sexual immorality is “…a sin against your own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18 NLT). The human body is not a soul container to be used and discarded but rather a creation of God that will be eternally renewed through physical resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). The resurrection is proof that our bodies are important. God cares so much about our bodies that he will restore them to perfection so that we can live in them for all of eternity.

Humans are multifaceted beings, and Christians, above all people, should recognize the connection between body, mind, emotion, and spirit. We must not submit to this postmodern Gnosticism. While Lady Gaga argues that what she does with her body doesn’t affect her heart, life, voice, or mind, the Christian must disagree. It is naive and inaccurate to believe that sex only affects our physical body. In fact, this belief leads to a dangerous fracturing of the human person. As Dr. Archibald Hart writes:

“Who we are as sexual beings defines who we are as persons. Too often, however, sex and the self are kept apart – miles apart. Many men and women have compartmentalized their sexuality in order to maintain any sense of self-respect and dignity….So they keep sex separated, almost as if it is in another world. This explains why otherwise moral and upright men can have pretty sordid affairs. They have so effectively split off their sexuality that it never dawns on them that they have fractured their personalities. They lack self-integration.”[iv]

When we accept this disintegration of the human person, we diminish the gift of sex. Though cultural forces seek to detach sex from self, the Christian can offer a comprehensive theology of the body that recognizes the power of sex and eternal significance of the physical form. Where culture disconnects Christianity reintegrates. Where culture cheapens Christianity revalues. The contrast could not be clearer. While often caricatured as prudish, the vision of sexuality found in Scripture is actually far richer than the vision of sexuality offered in pop songs. May we choose the better vision.


[i] Christina Aguilera – “Your Body”

[ii] Zedd “Stay The Night” ft. Hayley Williams

[iii] Lady Gaga “Do what You Want” ft. R. Kelly

[iv]  Dr. Archibald Hart The Sexual Man p. 204

Sardines and Unexpected Mentors

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The scent spread rapidly as he peeled back the lid from another can of sardines. I tried hard to avoid showing my disgust as the smell of oily fish quickly saturated the air surrounding our table. Sitting across from me was a man I had only just met. For weeks I had heard rumors of a Bible study group at my college, but I was hardly prepared for my encounter with the leader of this band of believers. Josiah was a cheerful man with a powerful smile – and many eccentricities. A nursing student, he had recently started college in his mid-twenties.

Josiah listened as I shared my story, his large beard parting frequently to let his lunch swim through. During that first meeting we talked about our current classes, our families, and a lot about Jesus. While our interests and upbringings were quite different, there was something fascinating about this man. After all, not many of my classmates wore combat boots to school. I didn’t know it at the time, but this man would soon become a meaningful mentor to me.

In the nine years since that meeting Josiah and I have shared a lot of experiences. Together we baked pies, collected honey from his bees, and even built a bear cage. But more than just doing things together, Josiah invited me into his life. I have watched him deal with romantic rejection, process career moves, and navigate difficult family situations. In each of these scenarios I saw him put Christ at the center of his decision making process.

The Bear Cage

The Bear Cage

He also helped me process things going on in my life. When my attempts at romance didn’t turn out like I hoped he listened. When I returned from my trip to the Philippines he was eager to hear what God had taught me there. His encouragement was so helpful when I was struggling while studying for the ministry in Chicago.

We certainly talked about Jesus, but often we just talked about life in general. Josiah has some of the best stories of anyone I know. He talks about swimming across the lake and butchering animals in the barn. He also spent several months doing hurricane relief work in Louisiana.  I will always remember the time when he shared with me how to go about buying candles with a girl – such good advice.

Josiah and I now live more than two hours apart, so I don’t get to see him as often as I would like. But a couple times a year I still make the drive to spend the weekend with Josiah, his wife Jenny, and their three kids. Both of our lives have changed a lot since we first met, but I am still watching his life and learning what it means to be a man of God. While I have yet to develop a love for sardines, I have gained more from our friendship than I ever could have ever imagined.

My hope  is that you would be open to forming friendships with godly men and women around you, even if they don’t look like the kind of mentor you want. You may be surprised how God shapes your life through unexpected people.

JosiahEnochBeach

July 4, 2013

How To NOT Be Single

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Should We All Just Get Married?

Over the past few years I have read several articles that urge young adults to marry. The reasons given for this encouragement are many. Marriage is said to promote personal maturity, encourage spiritual growth, provide a healthy outlet for sexual desire, and challenge us to sacrifice for others. (Also see: Young and In Love Challenging the Unnecessary Delay of Marriage) While Christian authors seem more likely to engage in this discussion, some secular voices have also spoken out, encouraging marriage at a younger age.

To be quite honest, I find many of these arguments to be persuasive. I spend a lot of time meeting with young, unmarried men, and I often encourage them to get serious about pursuing marriage and family. I firmly believe that many young adults should seriously consider getting married earlier in life. I am also convinced that marriage, when undertaken with God’s design in mind, has the ability to powerfully and positively shape those who enter into such a union.

But why is singleness described so negatively? Well, this is largely because extended singleness has become associated with irresponsible living. Some of those choosing to remain unmarried are also choosing to act childishly. Avoiding commitment in marriage is often associated with avoiding commitment in other areas. For whatever reason, young men seem more likely to fall into extended immaturity. This new wave of self-obsessed, overgrown frat boys has frustrated their female peers and led Kay Hymowitz, among others, to ask Where Have the Good Men Gone? While single women do tend express a bit more motivation than do single men, the fairer sex is not immune to irresponsibility. HBO’s successful series Girls depicts a group of young women who also seem content to extend their adolescence indefinitely. There is a right way to be single, but this certianly isn’t the way…

Of course there are also other reasons for marriage to be delayed. Educational and professional goals often take priority over relational ones, and many of today’s young adults are transient, making developing relationships more difficult. While these factors are certainly understandable, many cases of singleness that happen under these circumstances are also influenced by unchecked selfishness and disordered priorities.

There are plenty of bad reasons to be single, and there are also plenty of singles living badly today. I make no excuses for the poor examples of singleness in my generation, and I certainly don’t claim to have mastered the life stage myself.

That said, I am beginning to wonder if all this criticism of the single state is a bit misdirected. Is it possible that our experience of singleness and not singleness itself is the primary problem? Perhaps rather than trying to reduce the number of years people remain single we should instead begin teaching people how to correctly use their years of singleness. Maybe instead of just telling young adults to get married we should seek to help them navigate singleness in a God honoring manner.

If the core problem is irresponsibility and poor character among single adults, marriage won’t necessarily remedy this.  It may actually serve to compound the problem. Getting married does not automatically fix a person’s character flaws. In fact, if there is not sufficient maturity between the two parties, a marriage is likely to implode.

What God Has to Say

Scripture does seem to acknowledge that responsible marriage can counteract the dangers of unfocused singleness (1 Tim 5:15), but it also assumes that singleness, both chosen and un-chosen, will frequently occur (1 Cor 7, Matt 19:12).

But those looking to Scripture to support their irresponsible single lives will certainly be disappointed. The picture of singleness painted for us in Scripture is active, focused, and God centric. The expectation, even in the case of widowhood (1 Tim 5:9-10), was that those who are single would use their singleness to serve God and serve others in a special way. Both Jesus in Matthew 19 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 depict singleness as a state that allows for wholehearted devotion to God.

Paul notably argues for singleness saying:

“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” – 1 Cor 7:32-35

Yes, marriage usually occured far earlier in Biblical times than it does today, and it is also true that many people today who remain single will ultimately get married. But the Christian paradigm for singleness remains the same. There is no option in Scripture for lazy or self-centered singleness. If you are single you are called live out your singleness in a way that honors God. And no, faithful service to God as a single adult should not be an attempt to manipulate God into giving us a spouse. He must remain in the center, not the periphery, of our desire.

What If?

Marriage is one way to embrace personal responsibility, but it is by no means the only way of doing so. In fact, the very realities of single adulthood that often lead to its abuse also provide incredible opportunities.  College debt notwithstanding, many single adults have large amounts of expendable income. Since most do not have a family to care for, singles also have more time and relational energy to invest in others. Furthermore, they are often quite mobile, able to travel to places where there are great needs.

One of the deepest sorrows I have about this generation of single adults is that in spite our incredible potential many of us have failed to take full advantage of our singleness for God (though there many hopeful exceptions). Financial resources are not invested in ministry and missions but are instead spent on expensive drinks and wardrobes. Time and relational energy are not used to minister to those around us, but are instead expended in weekend bar hopping extravaganzas. Mobility has also become an excuse for remaining uncommitted to community and church. These critiques are not absolute, but any factual look at the statistics involved here will prove that many single adults have priority problems.

I believe that many Christians are intentionally remaining single for poor reasons, but perhaps a bigger problem is that many Christian adults are using their singleness so poorly. Within the church we have an army of single Christian adults, and yet we fail to see the impact such an army should have. But what if this were to change? What if millions Christian singles were to start consistently using their singleness in daring ways for God? There is no doubt that our church and our world would radically change. Then maybe instead of reading articles encouraging marriage we would read articles encouraging this passionate demographic to continue serving in their singleness.

I get excited when I think about the ways some of my peers are living out this ideal, and I pray that more single adults will commit themselves to using their singleness as God intends. When this happens, watch out!

But It’s Hard

Living as a single adult is certainly not easy, and as the years go by it can get increasingly harder. As someone who remains single at 27, I understand some of the challenges singleness can bring. There are intense seasons of loneliness, and at times the desire for companionship and sexual fulfillment can be overwhelming. While there are no easy answers to these challenges, I am convinced that living the single life as God calls us to do will actually make single life more bearable and more fulfilling than it would be otherwise. On this point John Meyendorff says:

“…the human instinct of love and procreation is not isolated from the rest of human existence, but is its very center. It cannot be suppressed, but only transformed, transfigured and channeled, as love for God and for one’s neighbor, through prayer, fasting and obedience in the name of Christ.”*

Singleness, especially unwanted singleness, can be incredibly challenging. Again, there are no easy answers here, but celibacy and singleness (temporary or permanent) work best when accompanied by intentional devotion to God and to others. Lazy and self-centered singleness will only increase sexual tension and relational discontent.

Looking Ahead

The cultural forces causing extended singleness are powerful, and in the years ahead we can only expect the delay of marriage to increase. There are good reasons to resist this development, and Christians should not blindly go along with the culture in this regard. Part of our response should be encouraging marriage earlier for God honoring reasons. But we must not blindly push people to the altar either. Instead let’s push each other toward Christian obedience in whatever life stage we are in.

We should, in some cases, encourage others to embrace marriage and not intentionally remain single, but perhaps it is even more important to understand how God does NOT intend for us to live the single life. May all of us who are single live each day actively embracing God’s powerful plan for singleness.

*Taken from Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective Page 71

Justice and the Just One: Refections on Social Activism

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A new wave of social activism has swept over us. Across this nation we hear many voices echoing the call for freedom and justice. A new crop of activists has arisen to combat oppression and fight against abusive social structures. These advocates share an increasing discomfort with the way things are. Many in this generation are simply not content to allow suffering to continue unaddressed.

This concern exhibits itself in many different ways. Some speak up on behalf of the homeless population. Other individuals seek to bring hidden abuse to the light. Many fight against the evils of sex slavery and forced prostitution. Yet others seek to address issues of economic disparity and financial discrimination.

While some may see these efforts as inadequate or misguided, there are many positives to acknowledge. I rejoice that many of my peers realize that something is deeply wrong with society, and I love the fact that so many in my generation are willing to sacrifice their time and expend significant effort to see these wrongs made right. Surely, not all of these campaigns are well thought out or responsibly carried out, but there is much to praise here.

Inside the church we have also seen a rise in interest in social activism.  Numerous mission trips are carried out with the goal of alleviating suffering around the world. Christian college groups launch creative fundraisers such as “Seesaws Against Slavery” to help bring an end to the global sex trade. Since 2009 The Justice Conference has sought to inspire and connect a generation of men and women around a shared concern for the vulnerable and oppressed.” Indeed, many Christians have stepped up to defend the hurting and broken around us.

Yet, as I reflect on the passion so many of my peers have for social justice I have some concerns. It is in this light that I offer the following two exhortations.

Allow Good Theology Inform Our Activism

For the Christian everything we do should be a reflection of what we believe about God. While our society encourages us to separate our religious convictions from our public behavior, a Christian does not have this option. We are called to evaluate all of our actions and even our thoughts by what we know to be true about God (Romans 12:2). This means that for a Christian, every action we take must be theologically informed. Thinking secularly about social activism will simply not do. We must not starve passion of truth.

But Christians should not think theologically about social activism merely because we are commanded to do so in the Bible. Thinking theologically adds an incredible richness to our actions. If we ignore our theology we are setting aside the most compelling motivation for God honoring social activism in existence.

Those who plumb the depths of Scriptures will find that God’s heart beats for the hurting. The Bible is replete with exhortations to care for the hurting and defend the defenseless. When we dishonor our fellow human beings we dishonor the God who created them (Proverbs 14:31). The truths of Scripture concerning social justice are more powerful than any humanist motivation for activism. Simply put, being for Jesus gives us the best reasons to be for social justice.

If the Bible is true and if Jesus is God, Christians have more compelling reasons to care for the hurting than anyone else does. This is not to question the heart of those who do not share faith in Christ. Many non-Christians care deeply about the hurting. But if Christianity is true, Christians should care more than anyone else. Caring for the broken is deeply imbedded in our spiritual identity. It goes beyond a passion – it flows from godly conviction.

Furthermore, our desire for social justice should flow out of our belief in a just God (2 Thessalonians 1:6). He is our measuring stick for right and wrong. He not only acts justly, he is just.  While human moral opinion shifts over time, God’s character remains the same. Without Jesus, justice is merely a matter of personal opinion.

When popular sentiment and the passing passions of humanity fail to preserve what is good, we can put our confidence in a God who is truly just. No wrong escapes his sight, and no evil deed will be left unaddressed (Ecclesiastes 12:14). One day every person will stand before God and give an account of everything they have done (2 Corinthians 5:10). Every rapist, every abuser, every exploiter will stand before their Maker. Every wrong deed and every wrong thought will be judged by the only one who is able to judge perfectly. Because of him we pursue what is right, and in him alone will true justice be achieved.

Understanding this fact gives us hope that when we fail to achieve our ultimate goals for social justice here on this earth, no social evil will be allowed to stand eternally. Without Jesus there will never be justice – either in this life or the next, but with him all will be made right.

Theology must inform our activism. Social activism without a theological foundation is like a car without an engine, it might look good and feel right but it is ultimately incapable of taking us where we need to be. We must not divorce what is morally right from what is ultimately true. When we remove our theology we deprive our service of its greatest power.

Care for the Whole Person

Something else that proper theology allows us to do is care for the whole person. Christians recognize that people are both physical and spiritual in nature, and we have the unique ability to care for mankind in both of these ways.

God clearly cares about the physical wellbeing of people. In fact, much of Jesus’ earthly ministry focused on healing to physical bodies that were broken. Some of his other great miracles involved providing food for the hungry crowds. God has little patience with those who fail to meet the basic physical needs of those around them (James 2:14-17). Their faith is called “dead”. Pure and faultless religion, according to Scripture, is evidenced by caring for the needs of the widow and orphan communities (James 1:27). Many of these needs are clearly physical in nature.

But God’s concern for the individual does not stop with his care about the body. God’s ultimate concern is for the human soul. Physical suffering and death are horrible for sure, but they both pale in comparison to spiritual death (Matthew 10:28).

We must not ignore the spiritual needs around us as we try to eliminate physical suffering. We are faced with more than just malnourished bodies; we are dealing with eternal souls. Certainly, giving aid to someone should be more than a manipulative ploy to strong-arm them into the Christian faith. But if we withhold the life giving Gospel from those we serve, we willingly consent to their spiritual starvation. Anyone can give a bed or a meal, but not just anyone can give the Gospel. May we not hesitate to offer what we alone can provide. Let’s not be content with delaying the death of a body for a few years when we could see God save a soul for eternity.

Sadly, physical wealth and security can often mask spiritual poverty. Nowhere has this ever been clearer to me than during my time here in DC. When I walk down M Street or drive through Tyson’s Corner I see droves of people who are safer, healthier, and more comfortable than 99 percent of the world’s population, and yet they are spiritually impoverished. As we seek to alleviate suffering let’s not create a new group of individuals who sign on to a spiritually anorexic form of the American dream. It is quite possible for a homeless person or a Haitian orphan to be spiritually healthier than a prosperous American.  As Jesus warns us in Luke 12:16-20, the security found in abundant food and material wealth can promote a dangerous feeling of disregard and an inappropriate sense of invincibility. While the man in this parable had prepared for his future physical needs he had failed to prepare adequately for his spiritual reckoning.

For a Christian, loving the whole person means intentionally caring for both body and soul. The believer in Christ is uniquely capable of addressing needs both physical and spiritual. As we passionately serve our fellow man lets commit ourselves to doing both of these things well.

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