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.
Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.
Mental illness is tricky business. As Christians it is something we desperately need to talk about yet almost never have the courage to talk about. We need to talk about it because it affects so many people. My guess is you either know someone who struggles with mental illness or you struggle with it yourself. Mental illness is not limited to the crazies on the street who talk to invisible phantoms. Moms, dads, pastors, executives, accountants, and karate instructors struggle with mental illness. When we don’t talk about mental illness openly and honestly the result is tragedy and hurt and pain and confusion.
We don’t have the courage to talk about mental illness because, frankly, we’re not sure what to say. For those of us who struggle with anxiety or depression, trying to explain it someone who has not experienced it is extraordinarily difficult. For those of you who don’t deal with mental illness but know someone who does, my guess is that you’re not quite sure how to help them. You desperately want to help, but don’t know what to say or what to do.
If the body of Christ is going to effectively serve those who struggle with mental illness we need to have some open, honest conversations about it (and just to be clear, this post is in no way directed at anyone in my church!). As one who has struggled with chronic physical anxiety for many years let me add my voice to the discussion. I hope that my fragile thoughts can serve both the strugglers and those of you who care for the struggling.
THEOLOGY BEFORE TREATMENT
When talking about mental illness the temptation is to immediately jump to solutions. You need more faith. You need more prayer. You need to fast. You need to pray against Satan. You need an SSRI drug. You need electroshock therapy. You need to have your blood levels tested.
While these things certainly have their place, if we are going to truly understand mental illness and help those who are struggling we need to get our theology straight, and the theological starting point for talking about mental illness is the doctrine of total depravity.
Total depravity is a fancy theological way of saying sin has affected every facet of our being. Sin has wreaked havoc upon our souls. Apart from God’s intervention we are fundamentally bent toward sin. We cheat, lie, gossip, slander, prey on the weak, and are fundamentally opposed to God in every way. We are spiritually depraved. The glory of the gospel is that when God saves us he begins to reverse this fundamental depravity, transforming us more and more into his image.
Total depravity also means that sin has also wreaked havoc upon our bodies. We get colds and cancer, backaches and fibromyalgia. Our bodies betray us. They simply don’t work like they’re supposed to. The glory of the gospel is that someday we will be given new, immortal, resurrection bodies. But we’re not there yet. All of creation, including our bodies, groan for the day of our final redemption.
A SOUL AND BRAIN PROBLEM
When someone says they are feeling anxious or depressed we are too quick to go to spiritual solutions. We assume they aren’t trusting God or they aren’t believing God’s promises. We assume that if they would start thinking correctly all the bad feelings would go away. If they would simply believe God’s promises everything would be straightened out. But that’s not necessarily true.
Remember, we are body and spirit. Too often we make everything spiritual and forget about the body part. A guy could be feeling anxious because he has too many bills and too little money. Anxiety is a normal temptation in those circumstances and the guy may need to be exhorted to trust God more.
But because our bodies do not function correctly, a guy could be feeling anxious for no reason at all. I have experienced this all too often. Adrenaline courses through my body. My heart races. I have shortness of breath. I can’t sit still. My body is in fight-or-flight mode. And I’m Not. Worried. About. A. Single. Thing. Changing my thinking won’t change my feelings.
In these times I need two things. First, I need to be reminded that God is near, he is my Father, he cares for me, and he will take care of me even though I can’t feel it. I don’t need to be exhorted to trust God more because I’m not doubting God in the first place. Second, I need something to get my body chemistry straightened out. This is where medicine and doctors can be very helpful.
THE STARTING PLACE
The starting place for truly understanding mental illness is recognizing that we are both body and soul. Yes, there are times when our souls are whacked out. But there are just as many times when our bodies are whacked out. This is the biblical reality. We need to be careful about the assumptions we make. When someone is dealing with depression or anxiety we need to ask careful, thoughtful questions. We need to figure out if they are dealing with a soul problem or a body problem (usually they’re intertwined). We need to relate to them as whole people, not just souls.
If your friend had a migraine you wouldn’t start by telling them to increase their faith in God. You would start by treating their migraine. Yet too often we offer unhelpful, overly spiritual solutions to those struggling with mental illness.
Let’s slow down. Listen. Pray. Be there for them.
As you walk through each minute of each day you really only have two options:
OPTION #1 - Keep your eyes fixed on your circumstances. Your difficult coworker, your sickness, your tight budget, your child who isn’t doing well spiritually, your strained relationship with your spouse.
When Peter walked on the water, he took his eyes off of Jesus and immediately began to sink. His faith in Jesus was overwhelmed by what he could see with his eyes. By the circumstances that surrounded him.
OPTION #2 - Keep your gaze fixed on the Lord.
Today, our peace and joy and gladness hinge on where we fix our gaze. Lord, fix our gaze on you.
I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately.
Not the kind of dreams you have when you’re sleeping, but the kind you have when you’re awake. The kind of dreams that actually keep you from sleeping. The dream of starting a business. The dream of having kids. The dream of getting married. The dream of signing a record deal. The dream of publishing a book. The dream of having a large house. The dream of becoming a missionary.
My generation has been told that if we dream it, we can have it. You want to be president? You can do it. You want to be a teacher? You can do it? You want to be a famous actor? You can do it. With enough hard work, you can make all your dreams come true. It’s sort of like Field of Dreams—if you build it, they will come. If you dream it, it will happen.
I’ll be honest: there have been times when I’ve bought into the dream machine propaganda. I’ve bought the books and read the blog posts and listened to the podcasts. I’ve written out “life plans” for myself, in which I sketch out all the things I want to accomplish over the next five years. I’ve purchased goal-setting apps for my iPhone (yes, I know I’m a nerd).
But in recent months I’ve come to realize something very important: God isn’t in the dream fulfilling business.
Actually, God does fulfill dreams, just not my dreams. God is in the business of fulfilling his dreams.
This theme runs through all of scripture. God has a plan, a dream if you will, for each person, and he always fulfills that dream. Abraham and Sarah dreamed of having lots of kids together. God dreamed of them having one son together, who would, along with Abraham, be an instrumental part of an incredible covenant between God and God’s people. Moses dreamed of growing up in Pharaoh’s palace. God dreamed of sending Moses into the desert for forty years, then using Moses to lead God’s people out of Egypt. Hannah dreamed of having a large family. God dreamed of her having a son, Samuel, who would be dedicated to the Lord’s service.
The people of Israel dreamed of a Messiah who would come in power and destroy all the enemies of Israel. God dreamed of a Messiah who would come in weakness and humility and be crucified upon a Roman cross.
The moral of the story? God’s dreams for me are better than my dreams for me, and God will always fulfill his dreams.
Deferred, deterred, and destroyed dreams can make your heart feel sick. They can make you question God. Why God? Why am I still single? Why am I stuck in this job? Why is my church still so small? Why can’t I have kids? Why am I still struggling in my marriage? Why am I still battling these health problems?
To which God would reply (without minimizing your pain one bit):
You can trust me. Your dreams aren’t working out, but mine are. You are mine, and I have a plan for you. I will make it happen.
There’s a fascinating phrase in Acts 13:36. Paul says, “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption….” God had a very specific purpose for David, and he ensured that David fulfilled that purpose. Once David fulfilled that purpose, he died and went to be with the Lord.
God has a very specific, good, wonderful purpose for you and me. He will fulfill that purpose. My dreams may not come true, but God’s dreams for me will come true. And the good news is: God’s dreams are always much better than mine.
NOTE: I wrote another post on this theme over at the Desiring God blog.
Stephen Altrogge is a writer, pastor, and knows a lot about Star Wars. Find out more at The Blazing Center.
Stephen Altrogge serves as a pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA, where his main duties include leading worship, preaching, and working with youth. He also has written a number of worship songs that have been included on Sovereign Grace Music albums. Stephen is the author of the book Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wannabes, published by Crossway Books in September 2008, and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, published by Crossway Books in April 2011. When not shining his dad’s shoes, you can find Stephen drinking coffee or playing video games.
Find out more when you visit his blog, The Blazing Center.