The cost of following Christ

In the church circles I know, it seems that when we talk about “the cost of following Christ,” we mean one of two things:

A) enduring ridicule and ostracism from nonbelievers; or,

B) literal martyrdom

People seem to tend towards one extreme or another. But do we consider anything else on the spectrum between the two?

Following Christ might mean you’re late for a date because you stopped to help someone on the side of the road (and decided not to leave until it was resolved). Showing mercy might mean missing events altogether because of Kingdom business.

Following Christ might mean associating with people you’d rather not: people who make you uncomfortable, whom you’d rather not be seen with, who trigger every prejudice (disguised to you as “reason” or “wisdom”) you have. Visiting “widows and orphans in their distress” might mean embracing people who’d make your friends’ noses wrinkle.

Following Christ might mean passing up opportunities to make money because you have more important things to do. It might mean you can’t buy a home or a new car. It might mean going without new clothes, movies, eating out, smartphones, wifi, or any luxury we’ve come to consider essential to life. It might mean getting funny looks, then concern, then ire even from other Christians who think you’re too extreme: you’re giving too much of your time and money.

Following Christ might mean drawing ridicule from those in power and their clients; then, after ridicule, subversion and even open hostility, because whatever the GOP wants you to think, the powers that rule this world are not friendly to the mission of Christ.

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Answering ancient questions: what is goodness?

death-of-socrates-cropped

People’ve been asking this question for a long, long, long time. 

About 2,300 years ago, in ancient Greece, a very wise man named Plato recorded many of the words of his master, Socrates. Once, Socrates had a conversation with a priest of the gods, whose name was Euthyphro. Socrates loved to ask people questions about all sorts of things. In this case, he questions Euthyphro on the nature of “piety” or “piousness:” that is, following what the gods command.

The fundamental question becomes: is the pious pious because the gods ordain it, or is the pious some higher standard that the gods adhere to?

This question has come down through history to us like this: is goodness good because God commands it, or is God held by some higher standard of good? Both answers have problems. (more…)

How to break up and still get along: some tips

Broken heart

Disclaimer #1: I’ll say up front that I can’t claim credit for any of the practices or attitudes I’m going to recommend: all I did was take what others had taught me and applied it.

Disclaimer #2: I am not presenting this as a 10-point guide to a painless breakup. There are no guarantees; these are just things that worked for my former girlfriend and I, and I hope they’ll work for you too.

That said, here’s the short story: about ten months ago, while I was at Dodger Stadium with a lovely young lady I’d been seeing for a few weeks, I asked her to be my girlfriend. Four months ago, as we sat down for coffee, she looked me in the eye and said, “I don’t think we’re going to work out.” When she’d given her reasons, I couldn’t help but agree. We agreed to still be friends, walked out, and that was that.

Today, we’re as amiable as though nothing ever happened, if not more so. Aside from mutually giving some space for the first month or so after the breakup, we haven’t avoided each other; neither of us have quit the Bible study we both attend, glared daggers, or badmouthed each other. We still respect and admire each other.

Nathan, why are you saying this?

The only reason I think anything in this post is worth sharing is because a lot of people have been surprised by this story—surprised that the two of us even still speak to each other, still more remain friends. Some have expressed regret that their own relationships didn’t turn our like this; others have asked me how we did it.

Our friendship is what it is today because of certain attitudes we took into our relationship. We broke up well because we dated well. I hope these will help you too:

1. Our purpose was clear

When I asked her to be my girlfriend and she accepted, we agreed that the reason we were doing was to figure out, over time, with prayer, whether we should get married or not. We understood that this exploration, and no more, was what we were committing to at this stage. We agreed that “success” meant reaching a definite answer, whether that was yes or no. We certainly knew that “no” would be painful, but we also knew that “no” would be much better than saying “yes” when we shouldn’t have.

I really think this is the only good reason to enter this kind of relationship, but if you think differently, at least make sure you’re on the same page as your S.O. Being clear on your purpose will save you from being surprised later.

2. We both knew what we needed

To start with, it wasn’t each other. I’m convinced this is one of the biggest things that stifles relationships (and leads to awful breakups).

We also both knew that we were complete single people in Christ and we didn’t need to find “our better half” or “soul-mate.” We did know, however, that if we were to marry, we would need to agree on:

  • spiritual values
  • family style
  • expected lifestyle
  • careers
  • gender roles

We also both knew that each of our future spouses would need to have strong faith, godly character, and interests we could share. This doesn’t mean we fully articulated all of these to each other at the outset, but we each knew for ourselves and knew we’d discuss them at some point.

3. We both knew what we wanted

And we knew this was different from what we needed. I might have wanted a fellow literati who’d obsess over John Milton and Beowulf with me, but I knew this wasn’t crucial. She might have wanted a man who shared her love for Disney, but she knew it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

The other great things about our wants was that we were both open to them changing. Dating a real person can really make you change what you want (I mean that in a good way).

I’d especially caution: don’t let your “wants” grow into a six-page list that maybe three people on earth could fulfill. At least, if you do that, don’t wonder years later why you’re still single.

4. We weren’t the world to each other

Neither of us staked our hopes, dreams, or self-worth on the other. Six months in, we weren’t writing out our names together or planning our wedding (at least I can vouch I wasn’t). We both had an established identity apart from each other, rooted in Christ.

In this sense, it’s essential not to need each other. If her approval had made the difference between my life being whole or hell, I never could have let go of her. If her self-worth had hung on my affection, she never could have let go of me. If you feel you need someone to complete you, I suggest you read the Gospel of John and pray, because you need an identity, and it has to be much bigger than another person.

5. We knew it wasn’t personal

—in a certain sense. We both knew this relationship was one part experiment, one part adventure to see whether we were a good fit for marriage. There are a lot of factors to that, some of which are always beyond our control. We both knew that, if we weren’t a good fit, it was nothing personal.

This left no room for any bitterness or lasting hurt if one of us broke off the relationship while the other wanted to keep it. We both realized that, if one person doesn’t want it, it’s not a good fit. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) marry someone who doesn’t want to marry you. (If you married someone who wanted to marry you, and they feel they no longer want to be married to you, or vice versa, that’s a completely different issue).

Side-note: if someone breaks up with you because of some character flaw that you have, don’t get mad at them or say that’s not fair. Instead, own it! This is someone you’ve let see into your life in a very intimate way, and now they’re telling you: this is what they’ve seen. Take that seriously and work on it.

6. We committed to honor

We committed to treat one another, by God’s strength and grace, with respect and honor, as members together of Christ’s family. This included being up-front and honest, not false or double-dealing. This included making sure (in time, appropriately) the other person knew things about us that might make them say “no.” This meant not taking advantage of each other. This meant relating with kindness, understanding, and patience.

7. We dated human beings

—as opposed to our idealized, daydream versions of each other. What I mean is that we listened to each other and ditched our preconceived notions of what the other would be. I stress this because, when you’re talking about family and life aspirations with someone you’re thinking of marrying, it’s deceptively easy to hear what you want to hear. Study your significant other and find out who they really are.

This also meant we realized the other person might hurt us. It was a risk we chose to take, and we were ready to meet that with God’s grace, not with bitterness, indignation, or acrimony.

Any breakup is bound to be painful if the relationship meant anything—but hopefully, if your hearts are in the right place, it doesn’t have to be bitter.

For more on dating gracefully and with purpose, I’d highly recommend Lisa Anderson’s The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose, as well as The Sacred Search by Gary Thomas.

Are Christians prudes?

Prudery 1 - George Augustus Sala

“Prude” wasn’t always a negative word, but in the last century it’s come to describe someone who seems to feel disgust, revulsion, or fear towards expressions of intimacy.

Synonyms include: prig, prissy, goody-goody, fuddy-duddy, killjoy, moralist, and puritan (ironic, that last one, as the original Puritans definitely enjoyed the good life, but that’s a topic for another time).

The people I’ve most heard called “prudes” are Christians, and that’s why I care about this topic. Some of us who follow Christ may well be prudish (but so are a lot of non-Christians)—but what I want to show you is that Christianity is not prudish.

What I want to show you is that Christianity is chaste, and chastity is a very good thing. In fact, it’s the opposite of prudery, just as love is the opposite of fear.

Chastity isn’t just virginity: chastity is appropriate expression and enjoyment of affection and intimacy. For example, sex with someone who’s not your spouse is utterly unchaste, but nothing is more chaste than sex within marriage.

The difference between chastity and prudery can be confusing, because the two can act very similar. The difference is in the attitude. Prudery tends to be fearful, disgusted, cold, and self-righteous (especially when a prude is priggish). On the other hand, true and God-inspired chastity should be joyful and celebrate intimate affection!

The bottom line is that God invented intimacy, and He thinks it’s a great idea. Like anything else, it has its boundaries—just like water, food, fire, and wine, it has its harmful and helpful uses—but within those guides, it is a wonderful, God-blessed thing, and Christians should treat it as such.

“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure . . . ”

We’ve made room for a lot of lies by treating these words as purely negative—as though “honoring marriage” had only to do with abstinence beforehand.

Marriage should be the one place in all the body of Christ that He shines through most clearly. The Christ-centered union of a son of the King to a daughter of Heaven is one of our clearest pictures of what God Himself is like. To enjoy and celebrate that, for yourself and your spouse and others, is incredibly chaste. Prudery is not part of Christianity, but chastity certainly is.

 

Thanks for reading!

Nathan

 

 

Image credit: “GeorgeAugustusSala1828-1895” by Allister – Flickr: George Augustus Sala (1828-1895). Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – link.

To single Christian men who want to be married: How are you preparing?

Cross against blue sky with clouds

If you’re a Christian man who might possibly like to be married someday, then pay close attention to Ephesians 5:

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Men, how can we possibly dare to take this lightly?

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6 Questions Creationists Need to Stop Asking

In the wake of the recent, highly publicized debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I ran across this article by Matt Stopera:  22 Messages from Creationists to People Who Believe in Evolution. Stopera asked 22 people who identified themselves as “creationists” to write a message or question to evolutionists.

monkeys

Most of the results are groan-worthy.

I’m not going to address them all (or even most of them), but I get the impression that these questions are meant to be magic bullets that’ll leave evolutionists dumbstruck and only able to say, like Job, ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?’

The thing is, it doesn’t work like that. You are never going to defeat the entire theory of evolution by posing a simple (or impossibly complex) question, as though your listener had never considered the issue. There are a lot of thought-provoking questions that can be asked, but the following are not among them:

(more…)

How Christian men can treat Christian women

So you came to this blog because, for whatever reason, you think there’s something wrong or lacking in the way that men treat women in the church. Whether you’re a man who wants to learn how to better conduct himself, or a woman who wants to read what this man is saying to other men, you already feel that this matters. (more…)

Responding to Unloving Christians

This is intended to be an examination of why the church is not what it should be, an apology and an appeal to my friends who are not believers in Christ, and a clarion call to all my fellow-believers to fulfill the destiny that God has for us, now and forever.

The calling of the church

Here is what Christians are to do: Jesus said that the most important commandments are “You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all you mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He also said to his disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is what is to define us as Christians: our love for God and, consequently, for one another and for our neighbors. The church, which is Christ’s representative on Earth, is supposed to be the most loving group of people in the world.

So why isn’t it?
(more…)

Respect, tolerance, love, and other doubtful things

A lot of words are being tossed around by my generation. Love. Tolerance. Respect. As in, respect others’ beliefs, tolerate everyone, and love everyone. We say these things easily enough. They’re looked up to as noble ideals—but what do they actually mean? How do most people understand them? If I disagree with someone else’s beliefs, is that disrespectful? Is it intolerant to try to change others’ beliefs? If I believe someone else’s actions are morally wrong, is that hateful?

I sense a deep divide between what these words mean to the popular culture and what they mean to Christians. (more…)

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