Jericho Beach, `49°16'22"N by 123°11'51"W <http://maps.google.com/maps?q=49%C2%B016'22.45%22N%20123%C2%B011'51.40%22W&t=h>`__
It's quite nice how my birthday falls just after the close of the school year, so that I do actually have a chance to rest and reflect. I like going to the beach to think and pray: something about the water and the long sight-lines is so soothing!
Today, I drove clear across town to Jericho Beach on Point Grey; I remember walking barefoot on the sandflats of nearby Acadia Beach last year. As I park the car and meander on foot along the waterfront, the weather around me today is breathtakingly, paradoxically, beautiful. It is bright and sunny with the promise of summertime, but it is yet still brisk with the chill wind of winter. Above me and towards the ocean, the sky is cloudless blue; above the city and towards the mountains, it is dark and cloudy. In the distance fall long vertical lines of rain. When I stand still, the sunshine warms my face even as the arctic breeze makes me shiver.
Further down the pathway, there is an enclosed shipyard storing hundreds of small sailboats, and wafting from it is a light tinkling melody that sounds like windchimes. I think it rather odd, until I draw closer and realize that it is actually the sound of rigging, clanging against hundreds of hollow aluminum masts! What lovely music! There are a few other people out at the beach on this Friday afternoon, but for now I am alone with my thoughts.
Sunday school at KS these few weeks has had a guest speaker, Paul Stevens, talking about dating and marriage: I think it's been really good! A lot of people from FL came over especially for these talks; we had probably 70-80 people in the basement of KS. It's only natural, I suppose, for me to be thinking a lot about these things. I have a lot of head knowledge about the right things to do, but when the heart gets involved I suppose it's a different story.
We certainly don't teach enough in the church about proper dating/courtship. I know of more than one Chinese church that was so afraid of their kids dating that they made rules (explicit or implicit) against dating within the youth group. The problem is that it doesn't prevent kids from dating -- it just means they start dating non-Christians outside the youth group! I think the churches simply find it easier to make rules than really to study the Scriptures, take a defensible stance, and teach with compassion and full conviction.
Along the beach, I stop at a strategic park bench to do my devotionals: the bench is somewhat sheltered from the wind, but still warmed by the sun. :) My quiet time today is from I Peter 1, but the first time I read through it, somehow it doesn't seem to register in my mind: I am still thinking of other things. I flip ahead a few pages and see that indeed, chapter 3 does talk about family and marriage -- but only after reaffirming basic theology in chapter 1. I'm eager to get to ch3's verses on husband and wife roles, but first I come up against this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Why is this passage here? Why does it come first? Through the fog in my brain these verses sound a piercing clarion bringing me back to the solid assurance we have in Christ -- our living hope, our future inheritance, and our present calling. The calling of Jesus Christ takes primacy! Everything else, even marriage and family, follows after -- these relationships ought not to supplant our service to God, but rather further the kingdom of God as our own personal relationships become a public testimony of God's grace. I've heard it said before that one of the best ways to find a wife is simply to keep on doing what God has called you to do -- and along the way, in God's timing, if it is His will, He will set before you a corresponding "helpmeet", an ezer kenegdo, compatible in ministry. Reading a bit further on:
Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There's an old adage I heard once from a speaker: "Major on the majors, and minor on the minors". He was an ex-Mormon, and was sharing about how to reach Mormons and help them to discern. On the surface, the Mormon church talks just like any mainline Christian denomination, but when we dig deeper and ask them important questions -- is Jesus the Son of God, how can we be saved, etc. -- we find big problems. These are the majors! Everything else -- the hymns we sing, community service, even living lives that the world considers "moral" -- those are minor: notunimportant, but of secondary importance.
I fear we've lost sight of the majors in church. It saddens me to hear about people who give up on our church because the hymns are too boring, or others who give up on coming to prayer meeting because the worship is too loud, too "free", too "charismatic" (however they define that dicey term!). Have we lost the discernment of what are the majors and what are the minors? Have we lost sight of the Great Commission? Have we lost sight of the many around us who are desperate for the simple message of the saving grace of Jesus Christ? We are not defined by our style of music, or our cultural demographic, or our socio-economic class: we are defined and unified by our life in Jesus Christ and our mission to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
I've heard it said before that our church is mostly upper-middle class professionals: that it's not a church for crack addicts, for instance. I agree it's good to have a target audience for purposes of new initiatives, but are we prepared to respond to any and all who enter? To the non-Christian, one church is pretty much the same as any other -- one of the most common questions I've had non-Christians ask me is what the difference is between denominations, and why there's so much animosity. I don't have a good answer for the latter! In a church of our size and prominence we're pretty much guaranteed already to have people, many people, addicted to crack, to alcohol, to porn, to gambling. It's not that they don't exist, it's that they are struggling silently, because of the certain condemnation and gossip that will happen if they open up. It is a scathing judgment of our church. Let us be known as a church for upper-middle class crack addicts! Let us be known as a church that welcomes alcoholics, smokers of tobacco or marijuana, those who have had abortions, those who are struggling with homosexual sin. Church should be a hospital!
It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Ohhh, my heart is rolling now! :) Ach, but I have rambled far from the current passage, and the thoughts that I had at first today. A book given to a friend of mine during relationship counseling said something akin to this: "Stay single in order to serve Jesus. Get married in order to be like Jesus."
I'm not sure I totally agree with the word choice, but I see the point: We who are single have time and freedom to serve God in many ways that aren't so easy for married couples. At the same time, marriage is the quintessential picture of God's love relationship with us: the struggles and lessons learned in marriage need to mould our character to be more like Christ.
I think of the fictional character, St. John, in *Jane Eyre*: he proposed to Jane because he saw her as a useful tool, a comrade in arms for the ministry. But he did not love her -- and so he had a wrong concept of marriage. At the other extreme, I know of many young couples whose lives are so busy that they simply stop serving God, particularly once they have kids: they only attend Sunday worship, arrive late, and hide out in the balcony. So many see church as a subcontracted service they pay for, to babysit their kids and teach them to be obedient to their parents. But somehow our service to God ought to be enhanced and refined by family: we worship and serve God together as a family unit, and the reconciliation that we pursue within the family spills outward to influence the church toward unity under Christ.
I think of my own parent's marriage, how it has become a platform for ministry to reach many thousands of people all over the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Their marriage is not perfect, to be sure, but in the honest sharing of lessons learned, all these anecdotes from their private life (and indeed, ours as well, as their children) become a public proclamation of God's faithfulness: God's blessing when we follow His Word, and God's grace when we fall.
So I suppose now you're wondering where I'm going with these thoughts -- if/when am I going to get married! :) I don't really have the answer to that, myself! It will be in God's timing, by God's calling, and for God's glory. The breeze is turning colder now; it's time for me to wrap this up. The word I heard from God this time last year on Acadia beach was: *WAIT*. This year, it seems I'm hearing:*TRUST*.