Archives For Relationships

This seems to be the conventional wisdom on the subject: men and women cannot be friends. Things will always turn romantic for one or the other. They will try to manipulate one another and one or both will always be hurt.

I understand where this line of thinking comes from. Who among us hasn’t experienced unreciprocated love? Who hasn’t fallen in love with a friend? Also, affairs happen. People are manipulative. Men and women pursue their lustful desires under the banner of friendship.

But I don’t think the Christian community has considered the implications of saying that men and women can’t be friends. Here are a few reasons I believe we need to stop saying and believing this.

 

1. All love involves boundaries.

Men and WomenBy saying that men and women can be friends, I’m saying that they can love each other in a certain sense (that’s what friendship means) and still keep that love within its proper boundaries. Take my sisters, for example. I love them deeply. Yet there are boundaries that my love for them will not cross, expressions of love that are simply off limits. The same with my mother and my daughters. The same with my coworkers and students.

Now, people go astray in all of these areas. Incest and affairs are realities. But we can’t let the sinful distortion of love push us to throw out love altogether. In every friendship, there is genuine love. Yet that love must stay within its proper bounds. If that love prompts romantic feelings where they don’t belong, the love must be redirected.

Consider this: even with my wife my love has boundaries. Jesus says that if I love my wife more than him (actually, if I don’t hate her by comparison), I’m not worthy to be his disciple (Luke 14:26). So while marriage opens up many expressions of love, I don’t have free reign to love my wife in whatever way or to whatever degree I choose. My love for God may be boundless, my love for my wife may not.

 

2. Women are not valuable only insofar as they are potential partners (and vice versa).

Lloyd Christmas "putting out the vibe."

Lloyd Christmas “putting out the vibe.”

One major problem I have with the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends view is that it over-sexualizes, or at least over-romanticizes, love. It’s saying, “I won’t be friends with a woman unless we’re heading towards dating/marriage.” This is part of the reason breakups are so awful—you’ve now made each other ineligible for “friendship.”

This one actually makes me angry. A Christian man will look at a woman made in the image of God—a human being for whom Christ gave his very life—and say, “I’ll only get to know / be edified by / invest my time in this person if there’s a chance I’ll marry her.” If you can’t interact with a woman without playing romantic or sexual possibilities in your head, then yes, you’re not ready to spend time hanging out with women (and vice versa). But that’s a horrible place to be, my friend. That’s a sin issue you need to attack for the glory of God. Your sisters in Christ are too valuable to be sidelined because of your lust (and vice versa).

 

3. We can’t divide the body of Christ.

Another tragic consequence of the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends view is that it splits the church in half. Half of the church I may be edified by, I may use my Spirit-empowered gifts to bless, I may see and appreciate the image of God in. The other half, meh.

One of the reasons I love being in a small group in our church is that I get to interact with men and women over biblical issues. I get to learn from both genders. I get to know them better. I get to hear their perspectives. We get to use our spiritual gifts to build one another up. If you read 1 Corinthians 12 carefully, you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t talk about two bodies of Christ: one male, one female. No, we’re all stuck in this body together. There can be no divisions, all suffer and rejoice together (vv. 25–26).

 

The Challenge

Picture a flower garden. I could do nothing to my garden but compulsively soak it in Miracle Gro. But uncontrolled growth leads to a tangled mess. If every flower is allowed to grow however it will with all of the growing power I can give it, ugliness abounds. But if I carefully tend the flowers, adding fertilizer to this plant, skillfully pruning that plant, my garden can grow beautifully.

So it is with love. We cannot let our love for each person manifest itself in any way we may desire. We certainly can’t pursue distorted versions of love. Love requires pruning, discernment. And that’s the challenge. We have to be careful to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). But shunning half of the body of Christ out of fear is not Christian. I don’t know precisely what your relationship with members of the opposite sex should look like, but they are your neighbors, and you are called to love them.

[If you’re interested in delving in to this topic further, I recommend this blog series on dating, and this excellent book.]

You & Me Forever Cover - Francis & Lisa ChanOn August 26, you’ll get to read another powerful book from Francis Chan.

Francis has been hinting at writing a book about marriage for years now, but other important projects have taken priority. But now the wait is (almost) over. Francis and Lisa have been working together on this book, entitled You & Me Forever, and it will finally be available at the end of August.

 

The Premise

Francis and Lisa will tell you that there are many good books on marriage available. If you’re anywhere near the “marriage arena,” chances are you’ve read at least a couple. While You & Me Forever isn’t going to replace the best marriage books out there, it does offer a unique approach—an approach I’ve never seen before. Honestly, I wish this book had been available when I was preparing for marriage, and I plan to use it when I do premarital counseling with engaged couples.

The unique approach is evident from the first pages, when Francis says:

“Even now, I am working to make sure that my family is set up for the future. When most people make that statement, they are talking about financial security for their last few years on earth. When I say it, I’m referring to the millions of years that come after that.”

You & Me Forever is all about viewing marriage in light of eternity. With chapter titles like “Marriage Isn’t that Great” and “Don’t Waste Your Marriage,” the emphasis is on how marriage fits within God’s overarching plan, how marriage displays God’s glory, and how marriage functions as a part of God’s mission for us on earth.

What you won’t find here is a handbook of communication principles, advice to strengthen your sex life, or guidelines for handling finances. It’s not that these things are not important, but Francis and Lisa have written a different type of book—partially because that book has been written many times over, and partially because they wanted to write a book about marriage that didn’t focus on marriage.

To be sure, every chapter is about marriage. But Francis and Lisa insist on every page that while marriage is good—wonderful, even—it’s not ultimate. Our marriage-mania can easily push us to idolize marriage, idolize our spouses, idolize our kids.

You & Me Forever provides an excellent model for thinking deeply about marriage while always subordinating marriage to its proper place in relation to the God who made it and the mission he has given us.

What you will find in this book is a high view of God, a genuine delight in God’s gift of marriage, a passion to work on our marriages for the sake of God and his mission, practical stories that show the beauty and tragedy of marriage, and a call to put God first in everything—which is the only way any of us will survive marriage in the first place, let alone glorify God in it.

 

The Format

Francis and Lisa wrote this book together. In every chapter, the bulk of the material is written from Francis’ perspective (that is, the first person pronouns refer to Francis) and then Lisa adds a section to each chapter from her perspective. At times Lisa’s sections are nearly as long as Francis’, at other times it’s significantly shorter. But even the material that Francis wrote from his perspective was a team effort. Both are great writers, and the combination of their voices adds strength to the book.

Francis and Lisa ChanAnother interesting feature of this book is that Francis and Lisa want to use the book as a donation tool. So 100% of the net proceeds will fund a variety of important charities. As has always been the case, Francis is not looking to get rich off of his books (though he certainly could)—he just wants the book to be used for God’s glory at every possible level.

 

Where to Get It

You will be able to get a copy of the book at regular book outlets and at youandmeforever.org. Once the book releases, there will also be videos corresponding to the each chapter that you’ll be able to access for free at that web address. A workbook is also in the works that will facilitate group discussion and premarital counseling.

A big thank you to Francis and Lisa for continuing to follow the Lord and for sharing their insights in such a gospel-centered way.

 

You and Me Forever – Francis & Lisa Chan (Trailer) from Marcus Hung on Vimeo.

I wanted to say thanks to the 90+ students who attended my class, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church” this last semester at Eternity Bible College. I loved our interactions, discussions, and the very helpful feedback you’ve given me throughout the semester. As a brief recap, we spent most of our time in the text, working through direct and indirect passages relevant to the issue. We also listened to a few (former and current) LGBT people, who helped us put flesh on the topic. During the last few classes we discussed all the “what about…” questions that surround homosexuality. “Can I attend a gay wedding if I think homosexual behavior is a sin?” “What do I do when my child comes out?” “Should I vote against gay marriage?” and many others.

Silo Blog AdFor those who weren’t part of the class but wanted to be, I will soon release two online courses on homosexuality through The Silo Project, so stay tuned.

I often get asked, have you changed your views after studying the topic and teaching the class? Sometimes the question is genuine; other times the questioner has a sharpened pitch-fork ready to address the wrong answer. In any case, my answer is always the same: “yes and no.”

No, I have not changed my view about what the Bible says about homosexual behavior. The Bible says homosexual behavior is sin. I’ve tried to read the text from the affirming side—”monogamous, consensual homosexual behavior is blessed by God”—but I’ve found their arguments to be unconvincing. No doubt, there are several good points made by James Brownson, Matthew Vines, and others, and I may agree with some of their exegetical conclusions about some passages (e.g. Gen 19), but at the end of the day, there are too many interpretive problems with their view, so I can’t buy it.

So, I (still) believe homosexual behavior is sin. The difference, though, is that now I know why. I’ve worked through the passages, thought about the theological questions, and listened to countless testimonies from LGBT people. I’ve heard, weighed, and considered the main arguments for the affirming position and still remain traditional in my views not because I’m addicted to tradition, but because the traditional view rightly captures what the Bible says about homosexuality. Hopefully, now, my view is based on the Bible and not my upbringing or assumptions.

So I haven’t changed my view. However, I have changed my posture. I used to think that standing for the traditional view of marriage meant that I need to wear it on my sleeve and front my conclusion at the beginning of every conversation. But Jesus didn’t, and so neither will I. Jesus, of course, never mentioned homosexuality. However, he did take a conservative stance on various sins while dishing out grace quite liberally on those steeped in those sins.

Jesus stood against extortion, yet didn’t mention extortion when he encountered extortionists (Matt 9:9-13; Luke 19:1-10).

Jesus stood against violence, but didn’t mention violence when he befriended a leader of a violent superpower (Matt 8:5-13).

Jesus opposed adultery and even took a hyper-conservative view on sexual ethics (Matt 5:27-32), but he didn’t front sexual sin when he encountered people engaged in it (Luke 7:36-50).

Jesus didn’t often lead with law; instead, he led with love and he loved people into holiness.

I often wonder what made Jesus so compelling to sinners. Why were they “drawn to him” as Luke 15:1-2 tells us? I think it’s because his cosmic love for people seeped deep down into the bones of people who were broken and battered by a sin-tarnished world. In a round about way, my traditional view of homosexual behavior compels me—if I want to be like Jesus—to love LGBT people even more. jesus and sinnersNot, love the sinner and hate the sin, but love the sinner and hate my own sin. Because we’re all sinners. I should have more LGBT friends, and not less, if I’m true to my non-affirming view. Jesus had few friends who were conservative religious people, but he had a whole slew friends who were thugs, fornicators, extortionists, gangsters—or people who were simply rejected and unloved by the religious elite.

Therefore, I want to be known for hanging out in the gay district in town, for donating time and money for people suffering from AIDS, and for attending parties that are filled with gays, lesbians, and transvestites. Why? Because Jesus was known for attending such parties (Matt 9:10-13), so much so that it tarnished His reputation (Matt 11:19). But Jesus didn’t care about His reputation. He cared about grace. He cared about love. He cared about fulfilling the mission entrusted to him by His Father and energized by the Spirit.

So have I changed? Ya, I guess I have. Hopefully I’ve changed toward, not away from, Jesus. Such a shift will always be dangerous and invite criticism from religious people.

My understanding of the issue of homosexuality has also changed. That is, I no longer can see same sex attraction and orientation as some abstract ethical debate that I banter around with among all my heterosexual friends. Homosexuality is not an issue. It’s people. It’s Matt and Leslie and Dan and Jeff and Jeremy and Maddie and many other beautiful souls trying to find hope and peace in a broken world. Loving people doesn’t mean affirming whatever behavior they desire; such an approach has never resonated with historic Christianity. But loving people the way Jesus did involves deep and radical commitment, sacrificial generosity, and a burning passion to discover and delight in the humanity of God’s image bearers. If we construct walls of conditions and prerequisites—“I’ll love greedy people, but not gay people…I can tolerate gluttons at my work on doughnut day but I despise my lesbian boss”—we fail to mediate the healing love of Christ. And we fail to uphold the biblical gospel we claim to promote.

In any case, I’ll be blogging less about homosexuality. Why? Because I need some space to reflect, read, and have non-social-media conversations about this vital topic. Plus, there are many other beautifully complex truths that I’m passionate about.

So, my next few blogs will be about grace (or charis): that ever so familiar and ever so watered down truth that binds us to our crucified King.

How do you reach an impoverished neighborhood with the gospel?

A typical approach is to send in money occasionally. But poverty is actually far more complex than most people imagine. It takes on a variety of forms, and it stems from impossibly deep-seated assumptions, systems, and processes. It’s actually a huge misunderstanding of the problem to assume that poverty is primarily financial. Financial poverty is deeply connected to and very often caused by other forms of poverty, such as relational poverty and spiritual poverty.

La Luz 1So if you truly want to reach an impoverished neighborhood with the gospel, you have to first take stock of what kind of poverty has taken hold. And you need to be ready to respond—not just financially, but holistically. If you find relational poverty, are you prepared to offer yourself so that their relationships can be enriched? So that these human beings can see their value as human beings? So that you can learn to appreciate everything they have to offer each other and the surrounding society that views them as lazy and disgraced? Are you prepared to enter into their spiritual poverty and show them (not just tell them) the depths of the riches available to them in Christ?

It’s the depth and complexity of the problem and the high non-financial cost of truly addressing these needs that ensures poverty will remain around the world.

My geographical area is affluent. Everyone around me has more than they need. Way more. And yet there are pockets where poverty has an iron grip. In one of these pockets, in one particular neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, the people are what you’d call “working poor.” They have jobs, and they work hard. Yet their wages do nothing to bring them above the poverty line. This kind of poverty can’t be eradicated by telling the people to work harder, or even by sending in money. It requires incarnation.

When Jesus wanted to help human beings who were trapped in their cycle of need and deep-seated spiritual poverty, he did more than send us a message of hope. He did more than sending us laws or even forgiveness. He sent himself. He entered into our mess so that he could lead us out of it. Personally. Profoundly. We call this the “incarnation”—God took on flesh.

La Luz 2One of the churches that Eternity Bible College partners with is incarnating the gospel in this particular impoverished neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. They’re not inviting these people to join them for their suburban church services. They’re not sending in money or work crews. The leaders of this church moved into the neighborhood. Incarnation. The life of the working poor has become the life of these church planters. Church is in the neighborhood. The gospel is in the neighborhood. The gospel is not foreign, coming in from the outside. With this team of church planters, the gospel took on flesh and dwelt among the working poor.

This church will soon be hosting an event that is a great example of this approach. The church is called Living Stones/Piedras Vivas (the church is bilingual because the neighborhood is bilingual—incarnation), and the event is called La Luz. And there’s a way you can help them with it. One way that the church wants to help the poverty in the neighborhood is by providing the children of these working poor parents with the opportunity to play soccer. The local parks and rec department has had to raise its fees for soccer. This instantly excludes many of the neighborhood children from organized soccer, which means instantly increased relational poverty.

So Living Stones is doing two things to address this need. First, they are putting on a week-long soccer clinic for the neighborhood kids, taught by Division I collegiate coaches and players. This clinic will also give them opportunities for displaying and sharing the gospel, thus addressing the spiritual poverty. Second, they are raising money to give 100 scholarships to neighborhood kids so they can play in the soccer league. Members of Living Stones and their kids have been investing in this soccer league by playing and coaching, so allowing more neighborhood kids to participate is a means of addressing their needs on a number of levels.

To learn more about this event or to invest financially, click here. For more fundraising opportunities, click here.

Those of us who are living and serving in more affluent suburban contexts have a lot to learn about incarnation from churches like Living Stones. It may not mean hosting soccer clinics or offering scholarships (though it may). The important thing is that we deeply consider how to present the gospel in a clear way to the people God has placed around us. How do we portray the gospel with our lives, and not merely with our words?

Music is unquestionably a gift from God. He didn’t have to create us with the ability to hear, much less to hear sounds so exquisite that we’re moved to tears. And yet he created the complex physics of sound and enabled our brains to interpret all of the beauty that eardrum vibrations can convey.

Christians, who should be the most attuned to God’s gifts, often find ways to limit our exposure to the depth and potency of music. For example, we like to limit our enjoyment of music to a specific subgenre we call “Christian music.” I’ve written on this before, and I also discuss it in Resonate (so, you know, you should probably buy a copy for everyone you’ve ever met…). My goal is not to degrade the music coming out of the Christian Music Industry, but to call us to engage with the wonder of God’s gift beyond this small marketing demographic.

Arcade FireIn this post, I’ll explore one brilliant piece of music that those who remain within the confines of the Christian Music Industry will never experience: the song “Afterlife” by Arcade Fire. (I wrote about Arcade Fire a bit in Resonate, but this song released after the manuscript was submitted, and I’ve fallen in love with it.)

Though Arcade Fire is not a “Christian band” by any definition I’ve heard, they frequently explore religious themes. In fact, they even purchased an abandoned church for rehearsals and recording and to give themselves access to an ultra-churchy pipe organ. So I wasn’t a bit surprised when their latest album, Reflektor, spoke of searching for the “Resurrector,” exposed the harmful effects of pornography, and meandered through other religious concepts. But I was surprised at the hopeful wrestling of “Afterlife.”

The song begins with a start: “Afterlife. Oh my God, what an awful word.” As Christians, we long for the afterlife. But Arcade Fire made me think here. After. Life. That is pretty crazy. The hope we have for the future comes after life. As the song puts it,

“After all the breath and the dirt and the fires are burnt…
After all this time, after all the ambulances go
After all the hangers-on are done hanging on
In the dead lights of the afterglow”

It reminds me of how odd our hope for the future must sound, of how odd it truly is that Paul would tell us not to “mourn as those who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).

The song also asks, “When love is gone, where does it go?” What a question! When we lose someone we truly and deeply and actively love, what becomes of that love? This question is followed by the related question, “Where do we go?” This has got me thinking so much about the ache of love in the absence of a loved one. It raises the question typically asked only at funerals, and then only briefly. And the question of where love goes leads me straight to this profound passage in the New Testament:

“Love never ends…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:8, 13)

Arcade Fire 2The song never answers the question, but it does not shy away. The repeated refrain is:

“Can we work it out?
Scream and shout till we work it out.”

That’s as good a summary of the human experience as I’ve heard. We’re asking where we go, and our lives are a series of screams and shouts directed toward finding the meaning to our existence, the meaning that we know exists but remains just beyond our grasp. As the Preacher said,

“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

Best of all, the music is incredible. Mysterious, hopeful, inspiring, exultant, beautiful. Hardcore music asks some of the same questions, but something about the way Arcade Fire explores the issue in the actual music, not just in the lyrics, strikes me as compassionate, honest, and full of longing.

It’s not that Arcade Fire is teaching me about the afterlife. It’s not that I’m ready to add their song to the end of my Bible, or even my theology books. But their creative approach to these concepts has pushed me to think and feel my way through these all-important issues with a greater sensitivity and some fresh thoughts. And I’m deeply indebted to them for it.

So to those who would appreciate God’s gift in its fullness I say: Enjoy every ounce of musical beauty that Chris Tomlin conveys in his music, but don’t turn up your nose at Arcade Fire. The gift of music is being joyfully explored in many “secular” places.