Four Rules To Simplify Christian Dating

Is it just me, or has the whole Christian dating / courting / dorting thing become really, really complicated?

When Josh Harris wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he had good intentions. He was reacting against the casual, recreational, aimless dating that had come to dominate the American landscape. He was trying to help young men and women stop hurting each other through the endless hooking up, breaking up, hooking up, breaking up, etc. Like I said, good intentions, good impulse. I’m grateful for Josh.

But, as we are so prone to do, we took good principles and distorted them and distilled them into a series of unhelpful / legalistic practices. Dating / courting has turned into an elaborate set of unwritten rules which must be followed to the letter, no matter what the circumstances. A guy must ask a girl’s dad first, then the guy must ask the girl, then the girl must say yes, then the couple can start seeing each other IN GROUPS (!). If things go well for the first eight months or so, the couple may or may not be allowed to spend semi-unsupervised time together and possibly even (GASP!) hold hands. Once the young man has firmly established himself financially and is sufficiently godly, he can ask the girl to marry him. Of course, he again must ask the dad first. Both families, as well as lots of church members, must be involved in the entire process, from start to finish.

Now, is there wisdom in some of these practices? Of course. But the reality is, you can’t slap these practices on top of every relationship and expect the relationship to go well. There are so many variables in each relationship: the age of the couple, the spiritual maturity of the couple, whether or not both sets of parents are believers, how long the guy and girl have been a Christian, the ethnicity of the couple, and on and on. To take some variation of the practices above and arbitrarily slap them onto a relationship can actually end up harming the relationship.

And here’s the kicker: believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about dating/courting relationships.

When we place our practices above Biblical principles, it’s a recipe for disaster.

I want to suggest that we can make this whole dating thing a lot simpler and less confusing by simply holding fast to the clear, relatively few principles spelled out in Scripture. What are those principles?

Christians Pursue Jesus Above All

This is the overriding principle which must govern every relationship. Loving Jesus first and foremost means seeking him above all else and obeying his commands above all else. To love Jesus is to obey Jesus. Once this is set firmly in place for both individuals in the relationship, many of the other details will fall into place. Obedience to Jesus is the filter through which every action must pass.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

If we are committed to obeying Jesus, than that necessarily rules out dating unbelievers. There’s no such thing as missionary dating. Missionary dating is simply disobedience dating.

Christians Pursue God’s Wisdom

When it comes to dating, God’s wisdom is desperately needed. There are so many issues which aren’t explicitly addressed by Scripture, and therefore require wisdom. Is it sinful for a couple to drive to a deserted area at night just to “hang out”? No, but it might not be the wisest thing. Is it wise for a young man to talk to a young woman’s parents about dating/courting their daughter? Sometimes. It depends on whether the parents are Christians, how old the woman is, and a host of other conditions. Does a young man need to have financial stability before he can get married? Not necessarily, but it is wise for him to think through his financial status.

The good news is, God loves to give wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

Christians Pursue Absolute Purity

“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

This is definitely a tough one. Here’s why: part of this is principle and part of this is practice. The principle stands firm: absolute purity. The practices, however, may differ from relationship to relationship. Obviously, premarital sex is out of bounds. Making out in the bedroom is off limits, as is all sexual activity. But there are certain things that may be tempting for some people and not others, like holding hands. This is why we need to be careful about laying strict, absolute practices. Life has so many hues, and each person is so different. Wisdom is an essential component when thinking through this issue.

Men and women must pursue absolute purity when dating. Each individual must wrestle through exactly what this looks like in practice.

Christians Pursue Community

This principle applies to dating couples, just like it applies to every other Christian. As Christians, we are part of God’s family, and we allow other believers to speak into our lives. Dating couples are called to let other Christians speak the truth in love to them. This doesn’t mean that they hang out exclusively in groups, or only in the context of their extended families. It simply means that they open their lives up to other believers.

Christians pursue Jesus, pursue wisdom, pursue purity, and pursue community. These are the firm biblical principles. The practice of these principles will look very different in each relationship. Let’s simplify dating by being committed to these principles, rather than a set of extra-biblical practices.

That Awkward Moment When You Make Fun of Tony Romo and the Holy Spirit Convicts You

I’m a big fan of humor and laughter and poking fun at pretentiousness. I suppose everyone is a fan of laughter. Only a weirdo or a serial killer would say he isn’t a fan of laughter and humor. But I really, really like to laugh. I’m a jokester. Life is too short and too sad to be continually serious. I should probably put that phrase on a t-shirt or inspirational poster or something.

I’m also a big sports fan, which, when combined with my love of humor, means I have a moral obligation to make jokes about:

  • Every New York sports team.
  • The basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest, now known as Metta World Peace. If you know anything about Metta’s history of throwing punches, you understand why his name change is utterly ridiculous.
  • Shaquille O’Neal’s role in the movie Kazaam and Michael Jordan’s role in Space Jam (what nut job convinced those guys to take on those roles?)
  • The Duke Blue Devils.
  • The Dallas Cowboys.

Recently, pastor Tullian Tchividjian posted on Twitter that he was going to dinner with legendary Cowboy’s quarterback Roger Staubach and current Cowboy’s quarterback Tony Romo. I instinctively replied, “Make sure Romo doesn’t choke at dinner.” It was a dig at Romo for his propensity to choke in clutch situations (see interceptions, botched snaps, Jessica Simpson, etc.).

I got a lot of virtual high-fives and huzzahs for my quick wit. Even my Dallas-loving friends were giving my shout-outs. I was riding pretty high. I was Mr. Funnyman, Mr. Comedian, Mr. Quickwit.

But then the Holy Spirit had to get involved and do that whole conviction thing He does.

The Holy Spirit reminded me that even though Tony Romo is a celebrity, he is also a person, which in turn means that I must treat him as I would want to be treated. For some reason, I tend to think of celebrities apart from their personhood, as if they are some form of disembodied person. I make fun of Romo and Bieber and Kanye and lots of other celebrities without giving it a second thought. I suspect you might do the same. In our social media world, it’s so easy to do.

But the command to love others as we love ourselves applies just as much to celebrities as it does to “normal” people. I imagine that Romo’s colossal melt-downs are a consistent source of grief for him. Botching a game-winning field goal snap in a playoff game is no small thing. His career and reputation have been somewhat defined by his perpetual failures. He has been ripped to shreds by the media and by comedians and by late-night talk show hosts.

Would I appreciate someone making fun of me for my failures? Nope. Would he appreciate me making fun of his choking habits? Probably not.

Will I make fun of celebrities in the future? Probably. But before I do, I want to pause and consider how my words would be received if I said them directly to the person. Famous people aren’t exempt from the golden rule. As a follower of Christ, I am called to treat everyone, including celebrities, in the same way I would want to be treated.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch Space Jam.

Standing God’s Commands On Their Heads

We human beings are funny creatures.  And we Christian human beings are funny new creatures. Sometimes we take God’s commands and stand them on their heads.  Here’s what I mean.

Philippians 2:4 says we should look to the interests of others.  Yet sometimes I hear believers say, “No one takes an interest in me.  No one reaches out to me.”  The Bible doesn’t tell us to make sure people are taking an interest in us, but that we should take an interest in others.  If we want others to take reach out to us, we should reach out to others.  Jesus said whatever you want others to do for you, do for them.  Sow what you want to reap.

I’ve heard folks say, “I quit going to small group because I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”  Oh, we forgot.  Small group is all about you.  God commands us to not neglect fellowship but instead to stir up and encourage one another (HEB 10.24-25).  So we should go with the attitude of how can I contribute tonight, how can I encourage or pray for someone.  When we go to a meeting, we should ask Jesus for opportunities to serve and bless.

Another way we stand God’s commands on their heads is by focusing on the things God commands others to do while neglecting what we should do.  I’ve heard husbands say, “My wife doesn’t submit to me,” while not considering whether they are loving their wives as Christ loved the church.  Don’t focus on what God commands others to do, but what he commands you to do.

How about standing God’s command to worship him on its head?

Ever heard someone say, “Worship didn’t do much for me this morning.”  Awww, we’re sorry your majesty wasn’t entertained and enthralled today.  Maybe we should get Paul McCartney to lead worship next Sunday.  Sorry the smoke machines didn’t fill the room and a few of the explosions were softer than normal.  Maybe we should ask Jesus if he got anything out of our worship this morning.

The main problem in all these examples is our tendency to focus on ourselves instead of God or others.  The more we can get our eyes off ourselves and on to Jesus and others, the more of the Lord’s joy we’ll experience.

photo by travelling.steve

Does God Need Our Praise?

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving…The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me (Psalm 50:14, 23)

Ever wonder why God commands us to worship him?

Is it because he’s some cosmic egomaniac who feeds off our admiration?  Does his love cup need constant replenishing? Does his self-esteem wane?  Or does he get some perverse pleasure from making his creatures do meaningless tasks?

Apparently Israel had fallen into thinking that God somehow needed the sacrifices he required of them.  They’d begun thinking like their pagan neighbors who believed their gods literally ate the animals sacrificed to them.  But in Psalm 50, God tells Israel he doesn’t need their offerings.

I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats? (9-13)

So why did God command them to offer animals to him?  They weren’t for God’s benefit, but for Israel’s.  He graciously gave them the sacrifices to temporarily cover their sins so they could draw near to him and enjoy a relationship with him.  The blood of the goats and bulls was to remind them that sin had to be paid for and to point to Christ’s permanent atoning blood sacrifice that was to come.

God doesn’t need our service or money or praise:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  (AC 17.24-25)

All God commands us is for our good and his glory.  He doesn’t need our serving or giving or worship, since he gives us life and breath and everything.  When he commands us to sing or pray or love our enemies, it’s for our benefit.  When God commands us to give our money, it’s not because he needs the cash, but that we might find him to be our treasure. And in being the source of all our good and blessing he is glorified.

photo by [auro]