When I have no control. . .

I was raised to look at life very concretely. It was always black and white.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. And now I’m sitting smack dab in the middle of a gray area, unsure of whether to go to the left or to the right. To close my heart or to hold it open. To hope that this chapter of my life isn’t over yet or to turn the page and see if God is beginning to write a new chapter.

I have no discernible reason to close the door on this opportunity, and I have every reason to believe that God is not yet finished writing this chapter. Save the one reason that is forcing me to relinquish control. Everything was black and white until now.

I close my eyes and wish that it were all a dream. I wish that I’d never walked through that door. I wish that I’d never sent that invitation. I wish that I’d never made that phone call. I wish that I’d never driven to that coffee shop.

Or do I?

If I hadn’t, I’d never have smiled with that smile, or breathed in that aroma, or tasted that flavor, or watched that movie, or cooked that meal.

The beauty is that none of it was for naught. For all of this has taught me that I have absolutely no control over my life. Every trial I face teaches me that when I have no control over my life, I am better off. For herein rests sole authorship of my life—Jesus, my King. And every pain I endure drives me closer to his heart.

So that I may look more and more like him.

I pray that I will no longer have control.

Pornography, abilities, rights, and dental floss. . .

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
~ Dr. Ian Malcolm

I came across an article today on the havoc that pornography wreaks on a relationship. One of the commenters said this: “What I ask you is what is so bad about porn, I really do not see porn as a sin, in itself is releasing sexual tensions. (sic) Only the benighted would think that it’s a sin against ones (sic) wife. The subject is weak, and saying that it’s lust is callow.”

Disregarding the irony of the commenter referring to the desuetude of pornography as childish, I want to focus on what struck me about his attitude. A fixation on one’s capabilities reveals a self-centeredness characteristic of toddlers and young children. It’s hardly becoming of a grown man; the child exclaims, “Look what I can do!” while the adult asks, “Given what I can do, what then should I do?”

The role of the man in his relationship with his significant other (whether wife, fiancée, or girlfriend) is to pursue and sacrifice, not to satisfy his own needs. In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that the husband is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the church, sacrificing himself for her. That’s our role model, guys. That’s how we’re to relate to the most important woman in our lives.

I don’t really want to turn this into a post about maintaining control over one’s libido, though that’s certainly an aspect of this. What I want to consider is the general idea of self control. Being able to do/say/eat/own something doesn’t necessitate doing/saying/eating/owning that thing. In America, we live in a culture where we like to assert our rights. It’s my right to drink whatever size of beverage I want. It’s my right to own whatever kind of gun I want. I realize this is taking a turn towards politics, so I’ll stop citing examples now. I’m not going to comment on whether those rights should exist in the first place or not, but there are consequences for asserting our rights. Drinking as large a soda as you can get your hands on will lead to health complications down the road. Owning as powerful a gun as possible will lead to increased suspicion from local authorities.

In the film Jurassic Park, the scientists that John Hammond hired discovered a way to bring extinct animals back to life. As is common in a Michael Crichton story, the characters didn’t think through the consequences of their actions, and the island descends into chaos.

Every action has a consequence. Everything I do affects some area of my life and, by simple association, also affects the lives of those closest to me. The Bible speaks often of maintaining a certain standard of living, not so that we can earn favor with God because through Christ we already have that, but so that we can live at peace with those around us. Paul wrote to the church in Rome some basic instructions for an ethical lifestyle for Christians. In that section of his letter, the message is that we are to give up our needs and desires for the sake of those around us.

During a recent staff meeting, my pastor gave a lesson on the value of discipline. In every other aspect of life, the benefit of growth is additive. For example, the more I read about something, the more knowledge I gain on the subject matter. But when we learn discipline, growth’s benefit is exponential. So, if I discipline myself to floss daily, not only do I no longer have food stuck between my teeth, but my gums grow stronger and healthier, my breath is much more attractive, and I extend my longevity.

I’m seeing this happen in my own life as well. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably discovered that I’m a romantic. But I have a friend with whom I have to keep this character trait in check. You see, I’m the guy that would write letters on parchment paper with a fountain pen and seal them shut with an old-fashioned wax seal, or show up on her doorstep with flowers and a poem. But that isn’t helpful to her at all. Yes, it’s terribly difficult for me to hold that guy back. She’s astoundingly beautiful to me. But I learn to discipline myself—to refrain from singing of her beauty from the rooftops, from whisking her away on a horse-drawn carriage, from writing sonnets about her lilting gracefulness—not just for her well-being, but also in order to learn discipline.

What are the benefits of this discipline? For starters, I begin to understand her need for trust-building. I begin to discover what it means to be patient, not only in this one area of my life, but in many other areas as well.

But it also means that I lay my own wants and desires down and care primarily for what she needs. I give up my natural urges for the sake of meeting her where she’s at and looking after what she requires.

Even though I’m perfectly capable of being the type of guy who writes eloquent love letters and creatively devises romantic evenings, I may not have license to be that type of guy. Because ultimately, every action I take has some kind of effect on another person, likely the one I care for the most. Whatever action I take, I take because I should seek to benefit another, not simply because I can.

Paul put it this way: “In humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
~ John Donne

Dating. . .

Yeah, I’m bringing it up. What can I say? I’m a romantic.

As a single guy, it’s something that’s on my mind quite a bit. But as a guy in full-time ministry, it’s something I try to avoid doing too much. I mean, I’ve certainly gone on my fair share of dates in the past, not to mention a fairly long and serious relationship that God decided to put an end to. But I’m slowly learning that, while dating isn’t off-limits to me, it’s unwise to do so prolifically.

I’m sort of just rummaging through some of my thoughts here, and I doubt I’ll have anything terribly insightful, meaningful, or even coherent to say. I’m mostly just journaling and posing some questions that I hope those of you who are single and following Jesus will take into consideration or perhaps even answer.

coupleWe’ve all heard the clichéd statement, “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.” For a follower of Jesus, that sea is considerably smaller. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but our standards should be higher than others around us. For starters, if you’re truly seeking to obey Christ, you’re not going to date someone who doesn’t, at the very least, believe Jesus to be Messiah, Savior, and King over all.

But if you’re reading this blog, odds are that you’re following Jesus and want to mirror him in your decision-making, particularly in this area of life. So you’re probably not looking for someone who is a nominal Christian, but instead you’re looking for someone who is actively following and obeying him. The sea gets even smaller still.

Allow me to pause here on my “sea” analogy and reflect on something that takes place in Christianity that kinda bothers me. There’s an awful lot of pressure on dating. Why? Why can’t we just go out for a movie/dinner/coffee with someone of the opposite sex? Why is there such a stigma surrounding it?

coffee-dateWhy does it feel like the pressures of marriage surround our attempts at going on dates? Yes, it’s true that every girl I go out with is a potential wife, but dwelling on that thought is only ruining the good time that we could be having.

I don’t know how true this is in your life, but I have a tendency to put an inordinate amount of pressure on a first date. Yes, I want to make a good impression, but seriously, it’s a first date. I really should just be having fun, enjoying her company, and taking it one step at a time.

Anyway, back to the fish in the sea. I’ve established that the sea is small for Christians, smaller still for obedient Christians (which, shouldn’t we all be?), and now for me. Because this blog is about me anyway, right? ☺

I had a friend who was in full-time ministry who began dating a pretty awesome girl. She loved Jesus and was certainly committed to growing closer to him. She was an active part of the church community, and while they were dating, she was quite supportive of my friend. (I’m going to call them Stan and Brita from now on.)

This is far more nuanced a story than how I’m recounting it, but for the sake of my post, I’m going to stick with relevant portions of the story.

Stan and Brita got engaged, and over the course of their engagement, it became pretty clear that in order for their marriage to work, Stan had to leave the ministry. It wasn’t because Brita was the wrong girl or anything, and there were other reasons for Stan’s departure besides the upcoming marriage. The couple is still actively engaged in their church, even volunteering in the ministry that Stan once shepherded. But he left full-time ministry to marry Brita.

I guess the point I’m making is this: there appears to be a unique kind of girl that can be in a relationship with a guy who is in full-time ministry. I could be wrong here, but a girl who can’t handle the rigors of her significant other’s ministry—which will undoubtedly put a lot of strain on their relationship given the necessary stressors of his job—probably shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who is in full-time ministry.

Granted, biblically, the relationship a guy has with his wife should come before all other responsibilities. And so, given the charge to properly “love your wife,” a guy should be willing to sacrifice for the sake of his wife. But by the same token, the life of someone in full-time ministry looks very different from someone who’s job stays at the office. Even someone whose work comes home from time to time.

I suppose that really narrows it down for me, doesn’t it? Or, in keeping with my analogy, shallows it out.

Again, I could be way off base here. Because what’s to say that a woman can’t learn to adapt to her husband’s lifestyle?

Another thought, and this one is again pretty specific to me. I have a rule for myself where I’ve decided that I won’t date anyone on my team. Period. I have another rule where I won’t date anyone that I’m ministering alongside, regardless of whether she’s on my team. I’m considering extending that rule to the congregation at large. I can’t think of any healthy scenario in which I started dating someone who attends the church where I lead a ministry.

I like my rule, and it helps keep me safe and above reproach. But it’s been challenged even by the story I mentioned above. Brita was one of Stan’s volunteers. It worked for them.

(I also have a rule about not dating someone I’ve met online, but that rule is in place for a whole different set of reasons.)

Practically speaking, dating someone you serve with seems a little unhealthy and just a bit dangerous. And I wouldn’t use Stan and Brita’s story as a model for normative dating scenarios. At my college, you weren’t allowed to date anyone you were serving in a ministry together with. It’s a bit extreme, but I think I understand the heart behind it. You’re there to complete a task in serving Jesus through blessing your community. It’s unwise to throw a dating relationship into that mix.

For me, everything that I’ve mentioned in this post really limits my dating options. Which, as I type out this sentence, I’m discovering is actually a very beneficial thing for me. My life, vocation, and career are all completely devoted to serving Christ in overt ways. I really shouldn’t be muddying that up by dating within my ministry environment. And limited dating options helps to keep me focused on what I’m supposed to be doing: serving Christ full-time.

So there’s my thought vomit on the topic of dating. Like I said, this isn’t a post where I wanted to share any valuable insights or coherently discuss a topic. I just wanted to put my thoughts out in the open and see what you think.