Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex, Baby

Let’s (Not) Talk About Sex, Baby

We all know boundaries are vital for healthy relationships, and especially for dating relationships. Even if you’ve been prone to cross the lines you’ve drawn in the past, you can admit that lines need to be drawn between the not yet married. We may never be more vulnerable in our lives than when we begin to share ourselves with a new boyfriend or girlfriend — slowly and carefully and intentionally opening our hearts and minds and schedules and dreams to someone else. If we ignore the risks we take, love will end up hurting more than it has to.

Likely you can list the typical Christian boundaries:

What kind of touching is allowed?
Will we spend any time together alone?
How late should we hang out?

Holding hands, basements, curfews, group dates, hugging, kissing — these are the common flashpoints for Christian dating. But far fewer are talking about one major set of boundaries in healthy relationships: talking.

Have you and your significant other spent any time talking about talking? This article is not an attempt to build an additional cell on the prison of Christian dating, but to liberate more of you from an overlooked, but widespread, trap in dating.

Many of us simply find out too late how much of our heartache in relationships can be traced to something we said too soon. After all, our most private part is not something anyone can touch. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Touching too soon will surely put our hearts in unqualified and dangerous hands, but our words can leave us just as vulnerable.

Let’s Talk About Talking

Most of us have never thought of setting conversational boundaries. I wasn’t ready when one girlfriend’s dad asked in the first couple months of our relationship, “Have you mentioned marriage yet?”

[Long, awkward pause.]

“Um, yeah . . . I think we did talk about it once. . . . ”

“I don’t think that was appropriate for you to talk about, and I expect you to care for her better than that.”

I was totally caught off guard. I had never even thought of certain topics of conversation as inappropriate or dangerous. If dating is supposed to be the pursuit of marriage, don’t we have to talk about marriage? Yes, we do, but carefully, and at the right times, and in wise ways. For some, talking about marriage can be as intimate as touching — or even more.

Trust in a marriage isn’t only for the bedroom, but for all of life. We weren’t meant to build a blueprint for life with three or four almost-spouses. It may feel fun and exciting now to talk about what time of year we might get married, or how many kids we might have, or where we might vacation, or what kind of ministry we might take on together, but it can be as spiritually dangerous as sexual immorality. Some may be tempted to talk about sex, to dream out loud about how great lovemaking would be in marriage. It may feel safe — we’re not even touching — but actually it’s just a lightly veiled effort to enjoy the intimacy of sex too soon without crossing physical boundaries.

You’ll have to have certain conversations eventually, but don’t rush into them, and when you do have them, have them with caution and self-control. You will be able to safely enjoy dreaming together for years and years — without a hint of guilt or danger — if you get married.

How Much Do We Talk?

There are at least two categories to think about when it comes to conversations with a boyfriend or girlfriend. First, monitor how much you talk and how much time you spend together. If we’re serious about guarding our hearts and minds, developing healthy independence, and anchoring our hope and joy in Jesus more than in each other, we’ll be careful with how much time we’re focused specifically on one another. It may feel ridiculous and unnecessary to resist the impulse to talk all the time — you’re both curious, and excited, and ready to hang out — but it will serve you so well in the future, whether you get married or not.

My wife and I dated long distance, so our situation will be different than yours. At first, we talked about once a week, typically for thirty to forty minutes, for a couple of months. Then it was a couple times a week. After six months or so, we started talking most days, typically for an hour or less. We never made it a habit of talking for hours every night. We’ve never regretted that in marriage, and we’ve had every opportunity to make up for any lost time.

Our rhythm wasn’t coincidental or accidental; it was intentional. We wanted to honor Jesus and each other even more than we wanted to talk to each other (and we really enjoyed talking to each other). Boundaries were not concessions we made because we were Christians. They were freedoms we exercised and enjoyed, and they reflected what mattered most to us. Boundaries not only reveal what we say we believe; they reveal what we really prize.

I don’t share our experience to write new rules or to try to limit you to an hour per day, but to give you categories for deliberate self-control and patience. Wisdom won’t be a predetermined amount of time for every relationship, so you’ll have to talk about what seems healthy and appropriate for you, and to ask friends and family for their input. I can tell you, from my own failures in this area, that it won’t happen by accident, so don’t be afraid to initiate the conversation about your conversations.

What Do We Talk About?

Second, think about what you talk about when you do talk. Limiting your time will focus your conversations, at least it did for us. Trading three or four hours for forty minutes meant we were more intentional with what we talked about. But it’s still worth talking about which conversations you don’t need to have yet — or even shouldn’t have yet.

You don’t have to figure out your whole future together by the third date. You don’t have to talk about your relationship every time you talk, or even half of the time. You don’t need to remind each other why you like each other every fifteen minutes. You really don’t need to talk much about marriage until it’s reasonable that you might actually get engaged and married relatively soon. Conversations like these easily become places we compromise without realizing it in the moment. We indulge desires for intimacy without touching. If you don’t have anything to talk about now except your relationship and your future, you probably won’t have much to talk about if you do get married.

Have a conversation about how often you should check in about your relationship. Seek out counsel about a good timeline to talk about marriage. Draw in others to decide on a good time to talk through your pasts in relationships. Define the relationship every now and then, and communicate your feelings and intentions clearly, but spend significantly more time talking about what God is teaching you, how you’re growing in grace, and where you’re spending your energy and gifts for the sake of others.

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The Protestant Melting Pot: Martin Bucer (1491–1551)

The Protestant Melting Pot

Martin Bucer may be the most important Reformer you’ve never heard of. He led in the shadow of the other German giants Luther and Melanchthon, but he manned the helm of what became, at least for a time, the capital city of the Protestant world.

Bucer was born near Strasbourg on November 11, 1491. At fifteen, he joined the Dominican cloister, a monastic group of Roman Catholic preachers. Friars like Bucer carried out the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but unlike monks, they did so among the people, serving in community, not in isolation.

Germany’s Most Eligible Friar

Martin Bucer first heard Martin Luther in April of 1518 (Bucer was 26; Luther, 34). He was captivated by Luther, especially his conviction that we are justified by faith alone apart from any contribution or merit of our own. Three years later, he not only left the Dominican order in order to preach the gospel, but he also abandoned his monastic vows and decided to marry, suddenly making him, perhaps, Germany’s most eligible (and radical) friar. He married a nun (no less) named Elizabeth.

The Protestant Melting Pot mevyzaow

While Luther had led Bucer into the Reformation, Bucer did not see eye to eye with his spiritual father on everything, in part because he had already been heavily influenced by Erasmus, whom he appreciated and admired despite their theological differences. Bucer’s generally more inclusive and ecumenical bent providentially positioned him to play a significant role in the wider movement.

Reformation in Moderation

Strasbourg became the hub of Protestantism in large part because Bucer and other leaders remained openhanded on many of the most controversial and divisive issues. For instance, in 1529 Bucer brokered a historic, if hostile, meeting between Luther and Zwingli over the Lord’s Supper. Being himself predictably sympathetic in both directions, he brought the two sides together hoping to achieve the kind of agreement that might catalyze the unification of the two main threads of the Reformation.

While the meeting failed to birth an accord over the Table, it illustrates the kind of role the former friar played — between Luther and Zwingli, between mainstream Protestants and the more radical Anabaptists, even between Reformers and Catholics. Instead of forming and leading a distinct movement of his own — the Bucerans, if you will — he strived to bring movements together under the clear teaching of Scripture into one great Christian melting pot. He realized and prized the precious power of solidarity.

First Small Groups

As the strange spiritual offspring of Luther and Erasmus, Bucer’s Reformation took on a distinct and eclectic flavor. Initially, he simultaneously stressed that justification is by faith alone, while also zealously demanding Spirit-empowered discipline and good works in the Christian life. Good so far. However, later in life he spoke of a kind of “double justification” that was at least confusing, if it did not in effect blur the line of “faith alone.”

One way or the other, Bucer cared about Christian conduct. As a result, he persistently pursued means of church discipline. First, he went to the officials in Strasbourg, pleading for stricter enforcement. When the government refused to impose more rigorous standards for obedience, he formed voluntary groups of believers within local churches for the purpose of regular accountability and church discipline. Thus, Bucer may very well be the unlikely (and reluctant) father of the modern small group.

After being exiled, John Calvin witnessed the kind of church discipline chartered in Strasbourg and built on the same principles when he returned to Geneva. Calvin spent some of his happiest years learning from Bucer in Strasbourg, while pastoring a congregation of fellow French refugees.

German Glue

Bucer’s first wife, of twenty years, died from the plague in 1542. On her deathbed, she encouraged Martin to marry Wibrandis Rosenblatt. Wibrandis, later nicknamed “The Bride of the Reformation,” had already married and buried three leading reforming men: Ludwig Keller, Johannes Oecolampadius, and Wolfgang Capito (also from Strasbourg). Just seven years later, she buried her fourth.

While the former friar helped pioneer the path to marriage for converted monks, he also opened a wider door for divorce, but only as “an absolute last resort and generally rare, rather like the death penalty for adultery” (Reformation, 660). His exceptions became a sharp edge carving out similar openness across Protestant Europe.

In 1549, as the Augsburg Interim forced Protestants in Strasbourg to readopt traditional Catholic beliefs and practices, Bucer accepted Thomas Cranmer’s invitation to take refuge for a time in Cambridge, England, as Regius Professor of Divinity. He died just two years later, in 1551, before he could return to Strasbourg.

Many have overlooked the lesser-known Martin, probably because he lacked the timing of Luther and Zwingli and the nuanced precision of Melanchthon and Calvin, preferring instead to bridge the gap and facilitate unity among the Reformers. And that’s precisely why we should remember him — the German glue of the Protestant Reformation.

God Wounds Us Because He Loves Us

God Wounds Us Because He Loves Us

Often the love we need most is the love we want least. The love feels so harsh, so blunt, so unpleasant in the moment that we often don’t even recognize it as love.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5–6)

Sometimes the Lord’s love for us feels like the opposite of love, but that’s only because we can’t see everything he sees. Behind the real pain he allows is an even more real love for those for whom he sent his Son (John 3:16).

The world would never call any kind of pain “love.” The world simply does not have categories for God doing whatever necessary to draw us to himself — his strength, his righteousness, his help, his peace. But his love for us explodes the world’s small categories and far surpasses its weak expectations.

How God Wounds

We see this kind of unexpected and painful love in Amos. God has done everything reasonable to awaken his people to their sin and to rescue them from their rebellion against him, but they simply will not relent.

He withheld food to make them hungry: “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6). God was willing to watch them hunger if that’s what it took for them to hunger for him, again.

He stopped the rain to make them thirsty: “I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither; so two or three cities would wander to another city to drink water, and would not be satisfied; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:7–8). God was willing to let them thirst if that’s what it took for them to thirst for righteousness.

He corrupted the fields to ruin their harvest: “I struck you with blight and mildew; your many gardens and your vineyards, your fig trees and your olive trees the locust devoured; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:9). God was willing to compromise his people’s livelihood if that’s what it took for them to look to him for all they needed.

Most devastating of all, he even killed their loved ones: One last time from Amos: “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses, and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me . . . . I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were as a brand plucked out of the burning; yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:10–11). God was willing even to see them die if that’s what it took for them to truly live.

Why, Lord?

He withheld food, “yet you did not return to me.” He withheld water, “yet you did not return to me.” He ruined the fields, “yet you did not return to me.” He even killed their loved ones, “yet you did not return to me.” God’s purpose was not destruction, but reconciliation. His motivation was not revenge, but compassion. He wasn’t wielding his power and justice mainly as punishment, but as invitation. In every ounce of suffering, he calls to his people, Come back to me.

We see this kind of love throughout the prophets. God is willing to withhold anything to bring his people home to himself. Again and again, the pain he allows is designed to lead us to comfort and hope and healing, not despair.

He allows us to suffer so that we would turn and receive compassion: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). The pain may feel like God’s fierce anger in the moment, but it actually serves to reveal his warm compassion toward us. Joel writes, “Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2:13).

So that we would return and be healed: “The Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them” (Isaiah 19:22). The Lord does take away. The Lord does strike. The Lord will tear. All that he may heal. Hosea sings, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up” (Hosea 6:1).

So that we would return and be redeemed: “I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isaiah 44:22). When we return to the Lord, we don’t meet resistance or reluctance. This Father runs to receive his prodigal (Luke 15:20). We finally find redemption.

So that we would return and find rest: “Thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling” (Isaiah 30:15). When we suffer, enduring disappointment or rejection, wrestling with disease or disability, losing someone we loved, we may want rest more than anything — rest from the pain, from the questions, from the doubt, from the anxieties. Tragically, many of us run away from God to try and find rest, when the suffering is designed to lead us into real rest with him. God hangs the same banner over every trial: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).

So that we would return and rejoice: “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” (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11). Satan prowls like a lion, waiting to devour the vulnerable. And because he preys on the weak and vulnerable, he often focuses on those who are suffering. The devil wants your life to be all sorrow and no joy, but God means for you to find deeper, more durable joy in your sorrow and suffering (2 Corinthians 6:10). When we begin to see all that God does for us through adversity, we not only learn to tolerate our weaknesses and afflictions, we “boast all the more gladly” in them (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So that we would return and have God: “I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7). In the end, the sweetest gift God gives us when he wounds us is that he gives us more of himself. When we return to God, we get God (1 Peter 3:18). He is not some unnamed supernatural postman delivering what we need, and then being forgotten behind his gifts. He is the first and greatest gift he gives to any of us. And he is worth whatever we must lose or suffer to have him.

But If You Will Not Return

God pleads for his people to return — to come home — but the passage in Amos 4 ends ominously. The Lord himself warns Israel,

“Thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!” For behold, he who forms the mountains and creates the wind, and declares to man what is his thought, who makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! (Amos 4:12–13)

Whether we return to God or not when we’re wounded, we will meet him one day. The suffering we experience now is designed to bring us to him as a precious son or daughter. But if we refuse, we will meet him as an enemy, and our suffering will be far worse forever. An eternity apart from him, and against him, will make years of pain and heartache look strangely light and momentary by comparison.

Don’t be afraid to feel the pain in suffering, and to grieve the pain, but let it lead you to God, not away from him. He is wounding you with love, and pleading with you to run to him.

One Day Never Again: May Heaven Fall on Las Vegas

One Day Never Again

Tens of thousands poured into a Las Vegas music festival totally unprepared for fifteen minutes of hell. But hell is what they saw, and heard, and felt. Hundreds were injured. At least 58 are dead, savagely ripped from this world seemingly at random.

Sunday, October 1, 2017, saw the deadliest mass shooting in American history — a sentence that has become all too common. Orlando last June. Sandy Hook before that. Previously Virginia Tech. Random acts of violence have become terrifyingly familiar.

At this point, we know little about the gunman who opened fire on the crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. We know he was 64, that he was an accountant, that he lived just outside of the city, and that he had no criminal record. Information will be collected and disseminated, but we already know enough from this scene to say that whatever else he was, he was a horrible, violent, and evil man, who now faces a horror far worse than the one he unleashed.

At this point, we also know very little about the 58 he murdered — each life an unexpected and unsearchable tragedy. We haven’t yet met the spouses, the children, the loved ones left behind. We do not know them, and the extent of their heartache, but our hearts break for them as we feel just a faint part of their pain. We pray for God to deliver the comfort, healing, and hope each of them so desperately needs now, most likely in ways they’ve never needed before. We pray that heaven would fall on Las Vegas.

58 Sudden Tragedies

Father, we do grieve. You know each of the 58, and you know every life falling apart because of their loss.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18). Who knows how many of the victims were hidden in Christ while they had nowhere to hide? We do know God was near — all-knowing, sovereign, compassionate — ready to protect his own. And he is close by now, ready to sustain and help the brokenhearted.

He delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72:12–14)

When God looks out on a war zone like the one on Las Vegas Boulevard, he despises the violence, and he prizes the lives of the innocent, especially those who cry out to him in faith. Their blood is precious to the infinitely valuable One.

However much Las Vegas has become an international symbol for iniquity, and however much hell invaded the city for those fifteen minutes, God through the prayers of his people may yet flood the evil with heaven in the coming days and weeks and months — through the hope and love his people show one another and those in need. He loves to reveal his stunning mercy in the wake of sudden tragedy.

May every citizen and guest of Las Vegas, and everyone watching from a distance, not “presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience,” but may we all know that “God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance” (Romans 2:4). May the lasting legacy of this tragedy be mercy, and not evil.

The End of Violence

Father, execute your perfect justice in your perfect timing. While you reveal your mercy to the hurting, we trust that you will terrorize terror.

God has compassion on the vulnerable and afflicted, and he violently opposes the evil. When terror strikes, we are not helpless. Our God is not caught off guard, and he is never late. He is not responsible for evil (James 1:13), but he will sovereignly see first that it is repaid, and that all its worst horror is forced to serve those that love him.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
   he has bent and readied his bow;
he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
   making his arrows fiery shafts.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
   and is pregnant with mischief
   and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out,
   and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head,
   and on his own skull his violence descends. (Psalm 7:12–16)

The violent always receive the worst of their violence. The evil in Vegas was not repaid through the pitiful, cowardly escape hatch of suicide. No, this man only escaped into hell. He sat in ambush, and now he stands in judgment.

He sits in ambush in the villages;
   in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
   he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
The helpless are crushed, sink down,
   and fall by his might.
He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
   he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” (Psalms 10:8–11).

God has seen, and heard, and felt last night’s terror, and it will not go unpunished. “The Lord hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalms 11:5). When confronted with violent terror like this, we respond in faith, not hate, because God himself will have his vengeance (Romans 12:19).

Terror No More

Father, we wait for the day when you will put a final end to all terror.

As we wait for more information, we pray the weighty promises of Psalms 10:17–18, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.” Terror had its time last night, and it will strike again — but one day never again.

Mass shootings will not always happen. Those who assault the innocent and remain unrepentant will spend eternity wishing their hell lasted only fifteen minutes. And those who run to Christ will soon enough forget how to fear.

The Most Important Ingredient for Rebuke

The Most Important Ingredient for Rebuke

If you want to rebuke well, you must be honest (Matthew 18:15), you must be bold (Luke 17:3), and you must love (Ephesians 4:25). The recipe for good rebuke involves far more than one ingredient, but one ingredient may be the most important.

The apostle Paul says to Timothy, “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Patience is enough to convict me over how I correct others, but complete patience? Paul knew how gratifying to our pride it can be to tell someone they’re wrong. And he knew that whenever we speak the truth in genuine love, we will be willing to wait for God to bring the growth. Be ready to say the hard thing, Timothy, and then do the harder thing and practice complete patience with fellow sinners.

Your experience in relationships may be vastly different than mine, but for me, the hardest part of rebuking someone has not been being honest or being winsome — challenging as both may be. No, the hardest part has been demonstrating patience when the rebuke is ignored, or when change comes slowly.

Microwave Repentance

We are impatient in rebuke because we think rebuke is more like a hot pocket than a crockpot. We want two minutes of instant contrition and transformation, not the days, weeks, or even years it often takes for God to rewire dysfunctional hearts and habits.

Our rebuke will always be shallow and fleeting if we think the work is done the moment we inform a brother of his error. We often consciously or unconsciously believe that the right set of words will set things right, and we’ll immediately be able to move on. But loving rebuke rarely happens that quickly or simply. Good rebuke is not a moment of boldness, but a gentle and persistent pattern of patient correction.

Love Is Patient

Loving rebuke is “patient and kind; it does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [Loving rebuke] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4–7). If more of our rebukes sounded and felt like love, perhaps our hard words would be more treasured and less resented in our relationships.

Patience covers a multitude of sins. Our patience does not atone for others’ sins, or overlook them, but it will endure them for a time, bearing with the offense and hoping for repentance, even against all odds. When you feel like giving up on someone, ask God to give you enough hope, enough love, enough patience to bear one more day. A time may come to walk away, but far too many walk away when true love would have been willing to stay.

Impatient with Passivity

Don’t mistake patience for passivity.

Paul says, “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Patience doesn’t just sit on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. It helps, and encourages, and even admonishes, but with a faith-filled, compassionate willingness to wait (and even suffer) for change.

If we think we are being patient when we just withdraw or overlook or neglect or “let go” in the face of sin, in most cases we’re not truly being patient. In fact, we’re likely being impatient — and lazy, uncaring, and self-preserving. Instead of taking the rougher, harder road of patient perseverance, we opt for the moving walkway of easy avoidance.

Patience is not passivity. It’s active, intentional, and longsuffering love.

Complete Patience

Where do we learn this kind of patience? First, it requires real effort, but true patience is always ultimately a fruit of the Spirit working in us, not our working harder (Galatians 5:22). Growing in patience requires building muscles through practicing patience, but those muscles feed on the Spirit or they atrophy — and fast. Every effort to exert patience in the face of resistance requires faith that God will work in us the patience that is pleasing in his sight (Philippians 2:13).

Second, we have to see that we have received mercy in order “that in [us], as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Complete patience with sinners only grows out of sinful hearts who have experienced perfect patience from the sinless one. To say it another way, patience and gentleness are the children of humility (Ephesians 4:2).

Our patience with sinners will not fundamentally change by focusing on being more patient with their sin. Lasting patience with others comes from looking at our Lord’s patience with us. God is wealthy in patience (Romans 2:4; 9:22). His patience can’t be counted in billions. If you want to be slow to anger, quick to forgive, and ready to wait for change, meditate on words like these: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you” (2 Peter 3:9). The scandal that God chose you should be enough to make you more patient (Colossians 3:12).

Ironically, the patience we need with others’ sins begins with looking at our own, not theirs. Only when we’ve felt the awful weight of our wickedness, and the miracle of our forgiveness and freedom, will we be able to extend undeserved mercy and grace to someone who has sinned against us — and to do so with supernatural patience.

One More Ingredient

Paul includes one more often-overlooked ingredient for good rebuke: “Reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Now, he is a preacher speaking to a preacher about preaching, but it has implications for us all.

The hard work in rebuke is not simply to muster enough courage to say the hard thing, or to patiently persist in calling someone to repentance. The hard work also involves taking them to God’s own words, thoughts, and desires in the Bible to have their words, thoughts, and desires shaped by his. The voice your brother or sister needs most is not yours, but God’s.

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on his work in the world, he didn’t say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . telling them what is right and wrong.” Rather, he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). Not just what they should do, but how and why.

If you see your brother or sister walking out of step with the gospel or wandering (subtly or overtly) away from the faith, pray first that God would “grant them repentance” that leads to life (2 Timothy 2:25, Acts 11:18). Then ask God to give you the integrity to be honest, the courage to speak up, the compassion to rebuke lovingly and winsomely, the patience to wait on his timing, and the specific words you need from Scripture to lead them through repentance.

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Are You ‘Not Yet Married’?

Are You ‘Not Yet Married’?

What do you feel when you hear the phrase “not yet married”?

Some will readily, even happily identify with the label. You’ve wanted to be married for a while now, and you don’t mind that others know about your desire. You sense God calling you to be a husband or a wife someday, even though that calling’s unconfirmed today. Your life is not all about finding “the one,” because you have given your life to Jesus, but you would love to share that life with someone and pursue him together. You don’t know what God will do, or if you will ever marry, but it’s clear that whatever might happen (or whoever), for now it is not yet.

Others will immediately be offended by the same four syllables. I know because I’ve read and responded to the emails. Perhaps you’re reading this article to validate your utter dissatisfaction with such a shallow view of singleness. Why would we define ourselves by the absence of marriage, especially if we are children of the living God, bought at infinite price, filled with divine power, and promised an eternity of life and happiness? I am not “not-yet-married,” you may say. I’m perfectly happy just as I am — my schedule, my career, my ministry, my freedom.

I often responded that way to married advice and encouragement during my single years — “Stop defining me by my singleness!” But I’ve come to like the phrase “not-yet-married” for at least four big reasons.

1. Some of you want to be married.

First, many Christians do have a deep and enduring desire for marriage. Their hearts ache to find a husband or a wife. It’s a calling they believe God has put on their life, and yet it’s still an unrealized and unconfirmed calling today.

Many of them have tried to pursue marriage the right way — not diving in too quickly, making sure to set clear standards and boundaries, and leaning in to hear from good friends and counselors. But it hasn’t worked out. The dates they have been on haven’t gone well, or no one’s ever shown any interest.

Others have thrown themselves into one relationship after another, dragged around by their desires for intimacy, and led into sexual immorality and regret. They’ve been told their desire for marriage is good, but they have no idea how to take the next step, or how to think about all these months, even years, of brokenness and loneliness. That may not be you, but it was me, and it’s at least a few of your Christian friends.

Regardless of your dating history, I want to shape your waiting and longing for marriage with everything Jesus has already given and promised us, and with the work he’s given you to do in every season of life, regardless of your marital status.

2. Most of you will be married.

Secondly, statistically most of you will be married. A few of you will be called to lifelong singleness, and it will be beautiful to watch you savor Christ and serve others as a single man or woman. It will be stunning for the world to see — someone trading the pleasure of marital love and sexual intimacy for a lifetime of singular devotion to God and laying down your life to bring others to him. But most of you will be married, even if that’s not on your radar or priority list today.

If trends from the last couple hundred years continue, the average believer will be married at some point in their life. Therefore, it seems appropriate to talk to most believers in their twenties or thirties as if they might one day be married. We should not be consumed by that reality, define our progress or contentment by our marital status, or give all of ourselves to pursuing marriage. We should, however, be preparing ourselves to be ready and faithful if God calls us to love and serve a husband or wife.

3. Some of you have given up on marriage.

Others are not convinced. You’re still skeptical and offended. Ironically, that’s another reason I’ve come to like the phrase “not yet married.” More and more young adults, at least in America today, are disillusioned with, and pessimistic about, marriage.

Several factors are at work, I’m sure. The pain of divorce may be the biggest. Fewer sons and daughters have seen their father and mother fulfill their vows and persevere in love. Put another way, more of us have tasted divorce firsthand as children, or watched our friends suffer from it. Why would I think my marriage would survive? Why would I subject myself to that kind of regret and pain?

But God gives us hope. He is the one who joins man and wife, and he can preserve their union, and make it flourish. With God, you can believe again in marriage. One of the most radical and countercultural things we can do today to declare our faith in Jesus is to marry someone and remain faithful to them, and only them, until we die.

4. Every Christian will be married.

Lastly, on this side of heaven, we are all not-yet-married in the most important sense. Every wedding day in this age is a pointer to a wedding day to come, when we are given again, forever, to our Savior and King. On that day, we will sing, “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). God made every marriage a movie poster of a marriage to come — a marriage every single believer in Jesus will enjoy one day and forever.

The way we love a husband or wife, as imperfectly as we will love him or her, tells the world about the kind of love God has for us — and yet it will be as nothing compared to the real thing: an eternity of peace, joy, and life purchased for us by our Bridegroom at the cross. One day we’ll get to meet him face-to-face. It will be the greatest family reunion of all time — the wedding to end all weddings — when God, with open arms, receives us, despite all our brokenness, made beautiful by the blood of Jesus.

In Christ, we will all be married, and that marriage to come shapes every other desire and longing in this life — especially our desires for marriage.

Mobilizing the Not-Yet-Married

Being “not-yet-married” is not about dwelling on the negative. If you are in Christ, you are never again defined by what you are not. You have too much in him to be discouraged about not having anything else — even things as important in this life as a job, or a spouse, or children. The things that fill our lives and make us happy here are simple grains of sand compared to the endless beaches of knowing Christ.

It was, after all, an unmarried man who said, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8–9).

And being not-yet-married is not about waiting quietly in the corner of the world for God to bring us a spouse. It’s about mobilizing you — a growing generation and movement of single men and women — out of shame, selfishness, and self-pity into deeper levels of love for Christ and more consistent and creative ministry to others.

You Are Not Destined to Be Your Parents

You Are Not Destined to Be Your Parents

Parents have a lot of influence on who we become, but not more than God. Whatever kind of parents you had — godly or ungodly, wise or unwise, kind or unkind — you can overcome your past.

The kings during Isaiah’s ministry are a Khan Academy course in broken families: Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, and his son Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1). Four very different rulers, but each a father, and each a son — and each a sinner in his own way. What intrigued me while reading through 2 Chronicles recently was the relationships between them. How did a father impact his son? And how did the sons respond to successes and failures in their fathers’ reigns?

The transitions highlight one theme that holds just as true today: We may be biologically or socially predisposed to fall into similar patterns of sin as our parents, but we are not destined to repeat their failures — or their faithfulness.

One Father’s Moral Failure

Uzziah became king when he was sixteen, the same age we let children drive today. Two whole years before he would have been trusted to vote for an American president, the people entrusted him to govern an entire nation of God’s people. Despite rising to power faster than teenage pop stars today, “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4).

His father, however, hadn’t always done what was right with the right heart (2 Chronicles 25:2). In fact, Amaziah brought foreign gods into Judah and worshiped them (2 Chronicles 25:14). And because he did, God gave them over in battle to the northern kingdom of Israel, who captured the king and tore down the wall of Jerusalem (25:21–23).

When Uzziah’s father chose what was wrong in the eyes of God, the people conspired against him, so he fled in fear (25:27). But his own people hunted him down and executed him. He died in shame, as a traitor and adulteress against God himself. Excommunication by death penalty was Uzziah’s inherited legacy.

Imitating Flawed Parents

The people killed their own king, making his 16-year-old their sovereign. How Uzziah lives and serves in the wake of his father’s outrageous sins has everything to do with how we live and serve in light of our parents’ failures. Again, Scripture says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done” (2 Chronicles 26:4). Uzziah didn’t throw out everything his dad had done just because he had fallen in the end. No, Uzziah imitated what was right in God’s eyes in his father’s example, and he abandoned what was wrong in God’s eyes.

Uzziah reigned for 52 years. “He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper” (2 Chronicles 26:5). With God’s help, he conquered the Philistines and the Arabians (2 Chronicles 26:7), built strong towers in Jerusalem (26:9), and raised up an impressive well-prepared army (26:11–15).

Not only did he seek the true God, as his father has once done but failed to do later in life, but he immediately set himself to repairing what was wrong or lost during his father’s reign. He took it upon himself, with God’s help, to recover the land lost in battle, to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, and to reestablish God’s people against her enemies — not as reparations for his father’s sins, but as a renewal in the wake of sin. He took the ashes of his father’s failures, and asked God to breathe new life into them.

The author of 2 Chronicles says, “His fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong” (2 Chronicles 26:15).

Another Father Falls

Next verse: “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the Lord his God and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (2 Chronicles 26:16). The sterling young king finally caves to temptation as an old man. Like his father before him, he followed God for years, but then fell into terrible moral failure.

Eighty priests confronted Uzziah over his sin. “Then Uzziah was angry” (2 Chronicles 26:19). He doubled the offense by rejecting wise, godly counsel, adding unrighteous anger to his stubborn pride. And God struck him with leprosy. He lived and ruled alone, because of his leprosy (2 Chronicles 26:21).

He rejected his father’s failures, refusing to entertain or worship foreign gods, but he carved out failures of his own. Uzziah proves at the same time that we are not destined to repeat our parents’ sins, and that every son and daughter is still vulnerable to the sin inside each of us.

Another Son Emerges

How did Jotham think about his father’s leprosy — separated from everyone because he spit in God’s face — or his grandfather’s execution, killed for trading away the Maker of mankind for silly, man-made figurines? Did he wear their shame everywhere went? Did he blame his weaknesses and sins on their bad examples?

Jotham became king at 25, and 2 Chronicles says simply, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord according to all that his father Uzziah had done, except he did not enter the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 27:1–2). Unlike his father, he humbled himself before God and his temple. Like his father, he followed his father’s example in godliness, while refusing to repeat many of his father’s failures. He fortified Jerusalem with walls, gates, forts, and towers (2 Chronicles 27:3–4). “Jotham became mighty, because he ordered his ways before the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 27:6).

Imperfect Sons of Fallen Fathers

Now Jotham wrestled with sin of his own, as we all do. We know from elsewhere that he failed to tear down the high places where men and women worshiped foreign gods (2 Kings 15:35), a sin his father had also committed (2 Kings 15:4), meaning Jotham was not immune to his father’s bad influence. We are all more tempted to fall where our fathers and mothers fell. But Jotham proves we are not destined to fall. He embraced and imitated his father’s faithfulness, and rejected many of his father’s failures, though imperfectly.

His story is the shortest chapter in 2 Chronicles (only nine verses), but leaves perhaps the greatest example — overcoming the devastating weaknesses and failures in his family to lead with imperfect, but steadfast faithfulness. He chose what was right in the eyes of the Lord, even after he watched his father and grandfather choose what was wrong.

To Sons and Daughters of Failure

If you are a son or daughter of failure, take heart. Like Uzziah, we can walk away from the gods of our fathers. And like Jotham, we can reject the pet sins our parents kept in the home. We may be more likely than others to repeat our parents’ unique failures because we learned so much from them, but God’s word and his Spirit can always rescue us from what is wrong in his eyes, however ingrained the wickedness might be in our history and experience.

And we need to be reminded not to throw out evidences of grace and models of faithfulness because our father or mother failed in some major way. To the degree that they “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord,” hold onto the rightness and imitate them in your life, your marriage, and your parenting. And in the ways that they “did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord,” grieve over their sin and the pain it caused you and others, and then choose to repent and turn from sin yourself.

You cannot undo their sins, or pay for them. But you can kill the same sins before they undo you. In the wake of their iniquity, treasure the grace that can keep you from making the same mistakes and falling into the same failures.

You Are Better Having Loved and Lost

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