I’ve just returned from a walk listening to a Tim Keller sermon on the jealousy of God from 2011 in which he offers this extensive quote from CS Lewis’s Problem of Pain, chapter3:
You asked for a loving God: you have one. ..not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philantropy of a conscientious magistrate, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.
When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.
What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chieﬂy has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.
God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives.
God loves us too much to leave us as we are and too much to give us what we want. Keller says we would not give a 5 year old child everything they asked for because we have better things for them in mind. He reminds us of how we look back at our teenage years and cringe with embarrassment at the things we demanded from our parents and even of how our 25 year old selves seem child-like once we have reached 50 and so finally God loves us too much than to give us what we want.
Here’s a really helpful post for any of us who find our constant struggle with sin a discouragement in our lives and maybe even a reason to doubt the reality of our faith. When it comes to issues of sin, shame and guilt Ken Berding offers the following insight from a conversation with JI Packer.
‘Paul wasn’t struggling with sin because he was such a sinner. Paul was struggling because he was such a saint. Sin makes you numb.’
(HT: Trevin Wax)
As pastor of a church with quite a few students I’m pretty often in a conversation about dating or going-out.
More than anything else it reminds me of 1) how confusing and plain wrong is the advice we receive from the world in all it’s wisdom and 2) how little advice if any I got from anyone in the church.
Coming from a non-Christian background I didn’t have a clue what ‘going-out’ was all about. Most of my contempories were pretty clueless too. We knew we were supposed to only go out with other Christians and we knew ‘how far we could go’ in terms of physical intimacy and that was about it.
I don’t remember anyone saying to me ‘I don’t think you’re ready to be anyone’s spouse so I’m not sure you’re ready to go out’. Shame they didn’t because it’s what I needed to hear.
Why do we only start to meet with couples to talk about their relationship after they’ve made the biggest decision of their lives ie to get married?
Shouldn’t we be helping them assess whether they should be in the relationship at all, asking them how it’s going, helping them work out what it means to be godly in it, and of course whether and when they should get engaged.
Well if you’re going out or thinking of going out talk to your pastor and get some advice. But in the meantime if you want to read something about how to lead well in a godly going-out relationship then this is place to start.
Two articles on the boundless.org website which get to the heart of leading well are
|What Does a Biblical Relationship Look Like? by Scott Croft|
|Stop test-driving your girlfriend by Michael Lawrence|
Finding fault, finding forgiveness – part 1
“There are two basic problems in every marriage: one is the husband and the other is the wife.” So quipped author and Church Pastor, Tim Chester.
After all how long into any marriage before we begin to realise that this is harder than we thought it would be!
There are many different factors, situations and circumstances that put pressure on any marriage but crucial to a Christian marriage is a mutual recognition that sin and failure are inevitable.
Yet, despite our theology it can be profoundly disorientating to discover that my spouse has faults I didn’t know about or expect. Somehow, at least for a time, I thought my spouse had avoided the fall.
If we are to build strong marriages we need to grasp that through our failings and faults God works out his purposes for us. They are his opportunity to manifest grace and to demonstrate his power in the weakness of a marriage between two sinners.
Three books have been particularly helpful to me in preparing to teach a seminar at our church entitled ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’. They are When sinners Say ‘I Do’ by Dave Harvey, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and What did you expect? by Paul David Tripp. Each of the three are biblical, insightful and honest but above all else each are optimistic about the impact that spouses can have on each other.
Keller’s book appeals to us to see our marriages as preparation for the great marriage to come between Christ and the church. Once we understand that God has given us a spouse now to change us, to make us fit for Christ, it changes the way we face up to finding fault. Keller writes;
What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then…you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.
So as we get going with a short series of posts on ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’ let’s start with five necessary insights for facing up to sin and finding opportunity in them.
A. Five realities to remember in a marriage:
1. As sinners living together in a fallen world sin and failure are inevitable.
You might think you are going to find the perfect match but no Christian should live under any such illusion. The Christian of all people should be ready to face that fact. When we do enter marriage with realistic expectations it helps us to be ready not to run from them but to embrace them as opportunity.
2. ‘Everyone’s marriage becomes something they didn’t intend it to be.’
Paul Tripp’s observation is both obvious and yet profound. There is always an element of disappointment as well as frustration in a marriage which is flawed. When two sinners commit to spending their lives together it’s the marriage itself that will face challenges.
3. ‘Patterns of sin and failure in marriage must be met with patterns of confession and forgiveness.’
Paul Tripp again on the very way we overcome the corrosive affect of sin in a marriage relationship.Being quick to confess our sin and quick to forgive each other’s sin are necessary to building a strong marriage.
4. When we live this way real transformation is possible in a marriage.
So many marriages are damaged by our unwillingness to ‘find fault’ or to ‘find forgiveness’ but when patterns of mutual confession and mutual forgiveness begin to embed themselves in a marriage real change happens
5. None of this is possible without the gospel that supplies this power to confess and this power to forgive.
In future posts we’ll see that the ability to confess sin, freely and willingly and the power to forgive sin lie not in us but in the gospel and who we are in Christ.
The last word goes to Tim Keller:
I don’t know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive, fully, freely, unpunishingly, from the heart.
If you haven’t as yet heard of Jeremy Lin you probably soon will. This article in the Telegraph is as good a place as any to start.
Lin is an evangelical Christian and basketball player who has enjoyed a meteoric rise from zero to hero in a matter of a couple of weeks.
The telegraph reports
‘Lin, if you were not already familiar with this unassuming Harvard graduate, is a 23 year-old of Chinese ancestry, whose first five games as a Knicks starter have redefined sport’s relationship with Hollywood. In that time, he has accumulated 136 points, surpassing Shaquille O’Neal’s league record. But barely a fortnight ago, Lin was still sleeping on his brother’s sofa. Basketball narratives do not come any more fanciful.’
Lin says of his story
‘Anytime something like this happens, a lot of it is out of my control. God’s fingerprints are all over the place. You can try to call it coincidence but 20, 30 things all had to happen at the right time for me to be here. That’s why I call it a miracle.’
For a really helpful post on Lin and whether Christians can play competitive sport to the glory of God visit Barnabas Piper’s blog.
An interesting post by Chris Wiles on being a single Christian on Valentine’s day prompted me to offer up some material on marriage, singleness and Christian ministry. A second post will follow on some of the practical outworkings on the issues faced by married’s and single’s in ministry situations.
1. Biblical models of marriage and singleness in the Bible
- The Apostles – 1 Cor. 9:5
- Priscilla & Aquilla – Romans 16:3
- Typical situation of a church elder – 1 Tim. 3. 2-5
- Jesus, Paul
2. Does the New Testament offer any advice on whether marriage or singleness is better for Christian ministry?
a. Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Tim.3:2-5
Marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Companionship, procreation.
Christians, through marriage, have opportunity to model to the world God’s ultimate purpose of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the church. Given that the majority of people in a local church congregation will be married a church minister has opportunity to model to the church, and to a watching world, Christian marriage and through marriage point people to Christ.
Marriage is a privilege, blessing and gospel opportunity!
b. 1 Corinthians 7 – a brief overview
1 Cor. 7:1 should follow the ESV translation
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’
Some at Corinth seem to have been following the Greek practice of celibacy and considering themselves more spiritual for doing so. They were possibly also using Paul’s celibacy to justify their own attitude to sex and marriage.
In Chapter 7 Paul wants to defend the value of singleness without defending their rationale for it.
The theme of Chapter Seven can be summed up as ‘remain in the situation in which God called you’ v.8, 17,20,24,26,40. i.e. Be content with who you are in Christ.
Were you married when you became a Christian? Then stay married, even if your spouse is an unbeliever. This is command of the Lord v.10-11
Were you a widow(er) or unmarried? Then Paul’s advice is that it is best to stay unmarried, as he himself is. v.8.
Please notice that to those who are married Paul issues a command from the Lord but to the singles Paul does not use commands but rather offers guidance. He chooses not to speak with the full force of his apostolic authority but with words of advice.
‘Paul’s argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters. He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his ‘opinion’ (v.25). The argument is then laced with ‘I think’ (36), ‘I am sparing you’ (28), ‘I wish’ (32), ‘I say this for your own good’ (35), ‘let him do as he wishes’ (36), ‘he shall do well’ (37). Whatever else this is not your standard Paul.’
c. Why does Paul seem to prefer singleness?
i) Eschatological perspective – Christ is coming soon vv.26-29
This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in vv.26-29 as the present crisis v.26 and again in v.29 when he comments that the appointed time is very short. If Christ is coming soon then there is an urgency about the Lord’s work and we must be free from the grip of the world’s values e.g. Pursuing the things the world chases after – spouse, 2.4 kids, nice house, car and dog!
ii) Those who are married inevitably have divided interests. v.28, 32-24.
Family life is hard work and requires time and effort to sustain. Being single enables an undivided service of Christ.
d. Is it less spiritual for Christians to seek to be married?
No. Twice Paul affirms that if you marry you are not sinning v.28, 36
Paul also recognizes that God gifts people differently. He gives a marriage partner to some and not to others. v.7. If you are married, thank God for your partner. If you are single thank God for that too! Both are gifts from God.
Paul is concerned that we seek the Kingdom of God first, c.f. Matt.6:31-33, and not get hung up on marriage. However if a suitable marriage partner comes along and we wish to marry then we are free to do so.
‘Ultimately, however, it is our freedom to marry or not which Paul emphasizes time and again. .. As such, we should regard singleness (whether short or long term) as an available option and, since we all start out single, we should approach life form the point of view of seeking the Kingdom of God, not the end of our singleness, as our priority.’
- First things first. Seek to serve Christ where you are!
- Don’t idolize either marriage or singleness.
- Don’t consider yourself superior because of your status e.g. ‘smug married’s or ‘single for the gospel’.
- If looking for a potential marriage partner ask:
‘Will this person I am thinking of going out with / marrying help or hinder me in the work of the gospel?’ ‘Will I help them?’
- If you are thinking about starting a relationship look to go out with someone more godly than you.
- Consider life goals i.e. how, where and when you might serve in say 10 years time when thinking about marriage.
g. Can I know today which gift I have been given by God?
Not necessarily. John Stott helpfully comments in an interview with Al Hsu at the end of his book Singleness
In spite of rumours to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my twenties and thirties, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single. I’m now seventy-six and well and truly ‘on the shelf’! Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have travelled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.
It should also be noted that some people long to be married and yet for various reasons never do. This must be seen as God’s sovereign gift for them.
Some good books to read on the broader issues of marriage, singleness and the gospel:
Good commentaries on 1 Corinthians!
So we’re starting a 20′s ministry at church.
When are we meeting?
Six times a year we’re going to meet for 90 minutes after the evening service.
7.45pm Enjoy something to eat
8.00pm Talk on the theme or topic of the evening. Biblical, practical, gospel-centred advice.
8.20pm ‘In our experience’ – direct input from one or two members in their 20s on how they have found adjusting to this aspect of life.
8.30pm QandA for speaker and ‘in and our experience’ testimony.
8.40pm Discussion in small groups and prayer (with suggested questions provided by speaker)
What are we looking at?
We thought we’d ask the 50 or so who came to the launch event what they’d like help with. Ranking a list of 25 or so in order here are the results. The higher the score the higher the demand.
|Long term planning||211|
|Relationships – marriage, singleness||176|
|A godly mind & speech||116|
|Witness & evangelism||106|
|Time management & prioritising||77|
|Relating to parents||72|
|Finances & budgeting||71|
|The Holy Spirit||70|
|Church – settling/belonging/serving||69|
|Personal bible study||66|
|Money & materialism||54|
|Sexual purity & pornography (for singles &marrieds)||52.3|
Their hearts are far from me. – Matthew 15:8
Could there be a more damning verdict from Jesus on the religion of his own time?
It may be that ‘People honour me with their lips’ but Jesus sees through to the heart, through the display, the pretension, the activities, the professions.
Is it not time for us to ask ourselves ‘is your religion a religion of the heart?’
JC Ryle asks:
What is the first thing we need in order to be Christians? A new heart
What is the sacrifice God asks us to bring to him? A broken and contrite heart
What is the true circumcision? The circumcision of the heart
What is genuine obedience? To obey from the heart
What is saving faith? To believe with the heart
Where ought Christ to dwell? To dwell in our hearts by faith
What is the chief request that Wisdom makes to every one? “My son, give me thine heart.’
Along with David we cry out ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ – Psalm 51:10
What I’ve been getting wrong all these years
As a church for the past 12 years we have poured a great deal of time and energy into ministry amongst students. I’ve loved every minute of it and many hearts and minds have been captured by a love of Christ and a determination to offer the rest of lives to Him and the service of the gospel. Seeing that transformation in the lives of individuals as the gospel bears its fruit is an amazing privilege.
But for 12 years I’ve given practically no thought to what happens next, to the decade after graduation. That has been a mistake.
More and more I’m realising that the 20s are a key time in discipleship and that we as a church need to do far more.
A new ministry to 20somethings
As a result we’ve started a semi-regular meeting (6 times a year) for the 20somethings at our church. We’re calling it ‘New Street: navigating life in your 20s’. For those of you who don’t know New Street is the name of the main Train Station in Birmingham.
- It is not a social club (although we hope people will build strong friendships through it).
- It is not a dating agency (although we’d be delighted if God brought people together through it).
- It is not a replacement for our homegroups (we need to integrate our young graduates into the church family)
- It is an opportunity to think through together the opportunities and challenges that come – almost one after another – within the space of just a few years in our 20s.
Why is it such a challenge being a Christian in your 20s?
At our first meeting a few weeks back we wanted to recognise, together, that it is a tough transition from student days to adult life. We called the meeting ‘The shock of the new’. In future posts I’ll set out exactly what I think is going on in our 20s that churches and their leaders might find helpful.
But maybe for many of us we simply need to accept that it’s never been tougher being a 20something and a Christian (or at least not in the living memory of the church).
Not much has been written either in the secular or Christian media. One book I read Get it together – a guide to surviving your quarter-life crisis by a non-Christian author put the problem like this:
Graduation is a celebration loaded with pressures precipitating an existential crisis. Who are you? What now? You’ve got to make the best of it!
Well what does that existential crisis look like for a Christian and how does the gospel answer it? More in future posts.
If any of you have any experience of a 20something ministry in your church then I’d love to hear about it.
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