Explore The Garden: Kindling Affection While Dating

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Dating is a complicated dance.  Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.    

For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions.  First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other.  You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care.  You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy.  In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically:  You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy.  You have a body.  You were made for this.  

Enter the second (and opposite) tug.  

Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth.  Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).  Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.  

Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires.  To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms.  “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there”  Although these specific prohibitions are important , they are not the full story.  

Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward?  How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?

Transform How You Think About Boundaries

The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries.  Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden?  Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5).  The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them.  This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.  

How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart?  Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life?  But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship?  Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy?  This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.

The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship.  When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured.  Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”  

To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult.  However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children.  This starts in your heart.  Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries.  You’re storing up pleasure for later.  Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile.  Transform your thinking.

Patterns Become Permanent

Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse.  So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed.  So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden.  The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.

Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship.  When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life:  Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions.  These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship.  Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories.  Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.

Trust The Divine Sequence

In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy.  The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight.  They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4).  The poem is composed of all these elements.  This is the divine sequence.

It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies.  The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures.  And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.   

Deep Roots

In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots.  If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage.  So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree.  Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in.  Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

Can I Flirt to Convert?

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

 

Dear Young Romantic,

 

A playful smirk can be hard to shirk – no matter who it comes from.   A “harmless” smile from a handsome guy can often be memorable – regardless of whether he is a believer or not.

In your last letter you mentioned to me a romantic interest who is becoming hard to resist in your mind. All the right factors seem to be in place – cute charm, dreamy looks, social suave, a pleasant appeal and even conservative convictions. The only thing missing is… Jesus.

They don’t necessarily oppose Jesus, he just isn’t present. There is not a hostility towards God, the Bible, church, or even moral living. It just is not something they talk about much or “get into.”

There even seems to be a remaining shell of religion from times past. Perhaps dating a Christian is just what they need? They are so close to the truth and they love so many good things the Bible supports, surely they would be compelled to follow Christ fully if they were enticed by a godly companion.

I am glad you are wanting to reach out with the gospel, but I am not convinced this is the way to go about evangelizing. I don’t think the way to share Christ is through candle lit dinners and gushy love notes. The way of the great commission isn’t “flirt to convert.” Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. I believe there is a better way to display the love of Christ and serve the lost.

Here are three truths I would like for you to consider:

 

True love is soul deep.

 

What do you find romantically attractive in someone who is not a believer? It would be unbiblical and frankly ridiculous if I were to say that all unbelievers are repulsive. Every human is made in the image of God and bears his beautiful thumbprint. Unbelievers can be kind, generous, endearing, and attractive. This is not the issue. The issue is: do you understand true love? If the Scripture is true that God is love, then how can someone truly understand love apart from knowing Christ intimately? (1 John 4:8)

Take a good look at them. What makes them tick? What consumes them? Is it a red-hot love for Christ and his Scripture? Do the pages of the Bible leap out to them with joy and delight? Are they moved to tears by the mercy and wonder of God?

Do you catch them washing the feet of those who can never repay them this side of heaven? Do you find them praying for you and have you seen God answer their prayers? Are they willing to be spit-upon and laughed at for the sake of the cross? Are they willing to stand for the oppressed even when it is not popular? Has the glory of God set their heart ablaze with passion to see Christ reign over every human heart?

True love is soul deep. You want the kind of love that still stirs at old wrinkles. You want to clasp hands in the nursing home with a committed believer who has lived vigorously for the glory of God. An unbeliever doesn’t have what it takes to keep cultivating long term attraction to their wrinkles. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is fleeting, but a man or woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

 

 

Dating isn’t the place for darkness.

 

God is the author of romance and to be in a romantic relationship is to involved in how God created this world. God is the fiercest lover of all and his love is the purest we can possible imagine. Romance is one of the most intimate pursuits we can know as humans. Since it is so deeply personal and life altering, there should be no room for darkness in our dating life. What do light and darkness have in common? Nothing. Light is designed to put away darkness. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

We are called to be lights to the world, but we are not called to let darkness into our lives – particularly in the areas in which we covenant together. To date an unbeliever is to invite darkness into a room in which only light is meant to dwell.

It is one thing to share a meal with an unbelieving friend, but it is a completely different matter to contemplate swapping vows of marriage together. The believer has nothing in common with the unbeliever regarding the most important reality in the universe. Dating an unbeliever brings shadows and dimness where there should be brightness and clarity. This leads to the final point to consider.

 

Romance isn’t offensive  

 

Flirting to convert ultimately fails because it is not offensive enough. The Apostle Paul says the cross is offensive (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). The cross is gruesome because it calls the world to forsake all and treasure God first and foremost. The cross requires repentance on our part – this is offensive to our selfish desires.

But Holding hands is not hideous. Red roses are not repulsive. Whispering “sweet nothings” is not offensive.

Dating an unbeliever is actually one of the most unloving acts we can do towards them. It is actually the opposite of evangelism. It says, I value you more than I value what Christ says. It brings confusion where there should be a clear call to repentance. I am not saying that God cannot use romance to bring about the salvation of a soul. Our God is in the heaven and he does whatever he pleases (Psalm 115:3).  But for every person who is saved through an intentional dating relationship, it is in spite of it and not because of it.

Evangelistic dating is dangerous because it can exalt the gift over the Giver. Who wouldn’t want to convert in order to marry the person they are crazy about? Who wouldn’t want to say “yes” to Jesus in order for their significant other to say “yes” to them?

God doesn’t want to be a carrot on a stick. He wants people to come and die at his feet in order to find life. (Luke 14:26)

 

What should you do if you are in a relationship with an unbeliever?

 

I highly recommend seeking advice from your local church in how to best end the relationship. The call of the hour is to speak the truth in love to the one you care about (Ephesians 4:15). The call of repentance must be clear and you must not be the prize if they turn from sin. You will need to spend time explaining the gospel and pointing out the deep chasm of worldviews between the two of you. They need to know how different you think on the most important issues in life and why it is a deal breaker. Ending a relationship does not mean ending a friendship, but it does mean ending all romance. It will serve them best to point them to Christ instead of continuing to kindle feelings for each other.

Who knows? This obedience to God may be the means Christ uses to revolutionize their life for the gospel. If so, praise God and don’t immediately move back into the romantic relationship. Growth requires time and baby trees need more than one night to bear fruit.

That is all I can write for now, I look forward to hearing more from you soon.

 

Until then,

Sean

 

The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

 

 

Dear Young Engaged Man: Don’t Swallow The Pill

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

 

Dear Young Engaged Man,

 

As your marriage approaches, it is completely appropriate for you to begin seeking counsel about contraceptives. I am thankful for your commitment to avoid abortion and your question about which contraceptives truly protect life.

As you know, God alone is the giver and taker of human life (1 Samuel 2:6). Scripture clearly teaches that life begins before birth. In the book of Psalms, David recognized that his personhood began at the moment of conception. Biblical texts include verses like Psalm 51:5, Psalm 139, Genesis 25:22, and Luke 1:41. The Bible teaches that life begins at the moment of conception.

 

In God’s eyes, a blastocyst is just as human as a seventy year old man. Therefore, when a person considers birth control, it is imperative that they do not use methods which destroy life after the woman’s egg has been fertilized.

Following up on that discussion, I wanted to be sure to write to you about my findings regarding “The Pill”. The Pill was one of the main drives of the sexual revolution back in the days of volkswagens and large tie-dye shirts. Baby-free sex became a possibility for women and the popularity of the Pill even surpassed that of Lava Lamps. Society has not been the same since.

 

Presently, over 100 million women are on the Birth Control Pill. Many women take the Pill for purely medical reasons and are not sexually active. Certainly this is more than fine. No complaints here.

But there is a powerful misconception about this “contraceptive.” It is prescribed by both Christian and non-Christian doctors as an ethically legitimate way to keep from having children. In these situations, it is not women seeking help for medical treatment, but women seeking to prevent pregnancy.

 

The Pill is a very effective means of pregnancy prevention. It is rather rare that someone becomes pregnant while on the Pill. Statistics range from 1%-4.7% of women who become pregnant even though they consistently and accurately used the Pill. While this seems like a successful method to the Pill’s manufacturers, this statistic is a startling and horrifying fact. 

Many people, including sincere pro-life Christians, are unaware that the Pill uses three types of birth control mechanisms. The Physicians Desk Reference explains the different functions of the Pill which can be found in this more detailed article.

 

Medical jargon aside, the Pill does three things:

  1. Prevents eggs from being released and thereby prevents fertilization
  2. Increases mucus which does not permit the sperm and egg to unite
  3. Thins the lining of the uterus which can prevent a fertilized egg from living

 

The first two mechanisms of the Pill are contraceptive. If this was all that the Pill accomplished, then there would be no moral controversy. However, the third mechanism of the Pill is abortive in its function. The third function of the Pill is to weaken the uterine wall and reduce the chances of an already fertilized egg (human life) from implanting on the wall. If the fertilized egg cannot implant, it will die.

 

I would most definitely affirm the Pill if it was only a contraceptive. A contraceptive prevents the sperm and the egg from uniting. An abortifacient kills the fertilized egg after it is already conceived. This is literally a life and death difference. God is explicit that murder is not morally permissible (Exodus 20:13).

 

In light of this evidence, the question must be asked “How often do the first two mechanisms fail and the third succeed?”

To answer this question we must know that every year 420,000 babies are born despite their mothers taking the Pill. In order for someone to become pregnant while on the Pill, it means that all three mechanisms of birth prevention have failed. The troubling reality is that we do not know how many times the first two contraceptive mechanisms failed and the third abortive mechanism worked. We simply do not know how many times the third mechanism snuffs out lives.

 

Randy Alcorn asks the question, “How many children failed to implant in that inhospitable environment who would have implanted in a nurturing environment unhindered by the Pill?” (Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?).  He then postulates that if the number of deaths was twice the number of Babies born then there would be 840,000 deaths a year because of the Pill.

But what if there were only 100,000 deaths a year due to the third mechanism of the Pill? Or what if there were only 10 deaths a year? Would this be morally justifiable?

A husband and wife cannot play Russian Roulette with a child’s life every time they have sex.

 

I realize you may be hearing this information for the first time. I don’t write these things to condemn or burden you. I want to encourage you to begin researching the things discussed in this blog post. Begin researching and discuss this with your mentors in your local church. 

I know you are passionate about the Sanctity of Life and I am confident you and your bride will strive to be consistently pro-life in your marriage. Lives are at stake and we cannot sacrifice them for sexual leisure.  People will think you are crazy, but please don’t drink the kool-aid by swallowing the Pill.

Believers must strive to glorify the Lord in every area of life. This includes even our most personal and intimate matters. Nothing is off limits to God.

We have received forgiveness at the great cost of Calvary. We been bought with a price; therefore let us glorify God in our bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:20)

 

Until then,

Sean

 

 

This post was adapted from an essay by Sean Perron on the ethics of birth control. See the resource page.

 

 

Good Discipleship: A Real Relevant Solution on Sex

 

Photo Credit: Jessica McIntosh

 

By Sean Perron 

 

I recently stumbled across a blog post from Relevant Magazine called 4 Lies the Church Taught Me About Sex. I was intrigued because I too am burdened about how the church communicates to it’s members about such an important issue. I agree with the overall intention of the post that “the evangelical church has a lot of work to do correcting the distorted ways we talk about sex and sexuality, especially to our youth.” In the midst of a confused sexual culture, my soul yearns jealously for the church to talk about sex in a way that is consistent with the Scripture and offers wise biblical counsel. To my chagrin, the Relevant article missed the mark.

I readily admit that many presentations of sexual purity in the church today are well-intended but poorly delivered. Once I was asked to speak at a purity banquet. I preached my heart out about how everyone is a prostitute at heart and in need of forgiveness. I then talked about the need for grace-motivated purity from Ephesians chapter 5. I was followed by the minister who unfortunately proceeded to lay the legalism on thick. It felt as if my message was in vain.

The church desperately needs help in holding high the bar of purity while reaching out boldly to those who have been burdened with sexual sin. This is what was disappointing to me in the Relevant article.

 

The First “Lie”

Not everything in the Relevant article was unhelpful, but the response to the first “Lie” was harmful at best. The first lie addressed was: Any and all physical contact is like a gateway drug to sex.”  The following paragraphs in the post communicate that this is a crazy idea that should surely be discarded.

Once in high school I attended a big Christian youth conference. One night, one of the chaperones addressed the girls: “Girls, we have noticed some very inappropriate touching going on…”

The inappropriate touching she meant turned out to be two high school couples in the youth group holding hands. This woman was deadly serious. “I know it may not seem like a big deal to you,” she said. “But hand-holding leads to OTHER THINGS!”

I heard similar things from parents, teachers, church leaders and books. In my church it was not unusual for people to pledge not only to save sex until marriage, but even to save their first kiss for their wedding day. “Don’t start the engine if you aren’t ready to drive the car,” and other similar metaphors warned me that any physical contact was a slippery slope straight into the jaws of fornication.

On this side of things, I can honestly say that there are SO many conscious decisions you have to make between kissing and having sex. Despite what Hollywood says, clothes do not take themselves off and bodies do not magically and effortlessly fit together.

If you are committed to waiting until you’re married to have sex, there are many valid reasons to set boundaries on your physical relationship, but the fear of accidentally having sex shouldn’t be one of them.

 

First, I know of no one who says that “any” physical contact leads to sex. (For instance, few frown upon a side hug.)

Second, no solution is going to be found in criticism. I find it perplexing that a believer would mock a high standard of purity and then proceed to offer no practical advice for boundaries. If you are going to dismiss someone who is holding high the bar of purity for the sake of Christ, you must offer a biblical alternative.

Holding hands is not a gateway drug, but it should not be left as candy to suck on throughout the day. That helps no one – especially the diabetics.

Third, I know of no one who is worried about accidentally having sex. If you are committed to waiting until you’re married to have sex, there are many valid reasons to set boundaries on your physical relationship, but the fear of accidentally having sex shouldn’t be one of them.” Perhaps I have my head in the sand, but this is not the problem I encounter when discipling others. Most people are spring-loaded for sex… and they are trigger happy.

I have briefly written elsewhere about some considerations couples should ponder before kissing before marriage. I understand it is a bold claim to refrain from physical affection. It is certainly audacious to the world. But I am offering it with a heart full of love for the joy of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am fully convinced that purity brings pleasure. I think Jesus will have much joy in his heart when he presents his bride spotless before the throne. Jesus went through a bloody cross to obtain purity for his bride. I believe couples should beat their bodies into submission for their future spouses. Holiness is a beautiful thing that should cause the world to ask us about the hope within us.

I had a good friend recently get married. While dating, he did not hold hands with his girlfriend. They also waited to kiss each other until they were at the alter. Their kiss was electric. The whole room cheered and their faces were glowing. They would not have traded that moment for anything and neither would I. I’m so thankful they didn’t take the advice of Relevant Magazine. I’m so thankful they held the bar of purity high for the sake of joy.

Does that kind of electric kiss happen for everyone? I’m not a prophet nor the son of one. But that question misses the point altogether.

Kisses and honeymoons aren’t going to be perfect because we live in an imperfect world. The article by Relevant definitely highlights the fact that our bodies will fail and past sin can crouch at the door. But there is grace for that. Much grace. God can take any broken couple and sanctify them for his glory and their joy. This is the trumpet we should blow.

 

The Need for Biblical Discipleship on Sex

I agree that there are problems in how the church talks about sex. But I honestly think all of the “lies” mentioned in the Relevant article can be solved with good discipleship.

If someone has a fantasy view of the marriage bed, the Bible addresses this and can reorient someone towards selfless love. If someone is struggling with past sin, the power of Christ can help them and their spouse. If someone has a guilty view of sex, the Scriptures can renew their minds to view it as a glorious, delightful gift from God. The Bible is ready to provide practical wisdom for all areas of life and godliness. Properly discipled through the Scriptures, every Christian couple can look forward to their honeymoon and a lifetime of marriage.

So I plead with you: have a high standard of purity and seek out godly discipleship when it comes to sex. Don’t settle for shallow holiness and ignorance. Pursue practical wisdom from the Scriptures in your local church. The church can have a real relevant answer.

 

 

Related articles:

Letters to a Young Engaged Man: Should We Kiss?

Letters to a Young Engaged Man: The Marriage Bed

Blame after a Breakup

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

 

“I am not attractive.” “I am not godly enough.” “I only deserve bad relationships.”

 

Perhaps you have had these thoughts? The Serpent can bite after a breakup. Satan is the serpent of slander and he often whispers lies and deceit. Self deprecation is a real temptation for many who have been broken up with. Perhaps this describes your current experience. You might blame yourself and have spent hours cross-examining every conversation from your previous relationship.

You may think you are not godly enough for the relationship to have continued. You may wonder if he or she ended the relationship because you are not physically attractive. You might even think you only deserve trashy relationships and this one was “just too good to be true.”

The call of the hour is for the Spirit to align all our thinking into conformity with the Scriptures.

 

I didn’t deserve to be with him anyway

The reality is that everyone deserves eternal damnation and no one deserves to date a godly person. But the greater reality of the gospel is that God grants eternal life in Christ and that he can always satisfy the broken heart. Those who have been dumped need to realize they are not trash in God’s eyes. The good news is that Jesus never forsakes his children and he never has the final “we need to talk” conversation. The steadfast love of the Lord never fails and it can be trusted the moment before a relationship begins and the moment after a relationship ends.

Take comfort in the truth that God withholds no good thing from his people. God never gives bad gifts to his people. Period. He has given us his Son and we can be sure that he will graciously give us all things to conform us into his image (Romans 8:32).

 

If had been more godly and this would not have happened

The Scriptures tell us to have an honest assessment of our lives and that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. There will always be areas in our walk with God that we should be growing. Perhaps someone says they broke up with you because of a character flaw or an area that needed maturing. The Bible wants us to learn from hard conversations and to grow in godliness. We should examine all criticism in light of the Scriptures and align ourselves with the revealed word of God. If there an area of our character needs attention, the proper response is to ask Christ for grace and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). It is true that we reap what we sow, but for the Christian this falls under the category of discipline and not punishment. We must be sober minded and realize that God does not punish his children. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1). God never punishes his elect in this life or in the life to come. God is only for his people (Romans 8:28).  The condemning lies of Satan must be combated with the believer’s spotless identity in Christ.

 

Breakups are a time for honest examination and then a total affirmation of the righteousness found in Christ. If there is room for spiritual growth after a relationship has ended, don’t despair! Christ will give more grace. If sin was not involved, don’t blame yourself. You have been saved by grace. But we must beware of assuming every breakup is because of sin. Job’s suffering was not a result of sin and not every breakups should be equated with bad living.

 

I must not be attractive

This is perhaps the sneakiest of all the slanderous accusations of Satan. This lie snares many. The most damaging part of this lie is how people respond to it. If a someone feels unattractive, he or she may seek fleshly solutions. Once this apple is bitten, it is often followed by  depression and then sexual immorality of some kind. Or it may result in sinful eating habits or an obsession with exercise. The ripple effect of this lie can leave a wake of misery.

The good news is that Jesus provides a glorious solution to this slander. Jesus takes this one head on and offers truth which brings lasting joy.

Paul tells us not to let our adorning be external but to put on imperishable beauty. A gentle tone glistens more than a golden gem. And a quiet spirit sparkles more than a smooth sapphire. In God’s sight, the inner person is very precious. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that beholder is the Creator. We should have a category for keeping up physical appearances, but this should be in the back of our briefcase. As Christians, the inner person of our heart should be our business card.

 

Next time Satan tempts you to dwell upon your eternal appearance, remind him that you are created in the image of God and you are being conformed into the glorious image of Christ. Remind yourself that you are pursuing holiness and this is very precious in the sight of the Lord. If you are tempted to despair in this area, remind yourself of the true standard of beauty. The true standard of beauty stands upright from the grave with open arms that welcome you. Run toward Christ and his righteousness. Spend your days at his feet instead of the mirror. As you continue to look into Christ’s radiant face, your face will glow in his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

 

Image
Photo credit: Todd Balsley

by Spencer Harmon

 

Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated.  I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.

This isn’t my dream – it’s better.

Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and I together.  In high school, we probably would not have been friends.  She probably would have thought that I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought that she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl that guys like me are supposed to stay away from.  People like us, with our backgrounds and histories are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.

But everything changes when people meet Jesus.  Jesus takes people like rebellious teenage partiers, and goody-two-shoe homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own hand-crafted, perfectly planned love-story.

Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life, and she believed in him and he transformed her.  The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born.  A new person with new desires, and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasured Jesus Christ above all other pleasure.

And this is how I see Taylor.  She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean.  This is not because she became a part of a helpful program, or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her as white as a snow.  He took all of her sins on placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfect white wedding dress.

In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well.  As Taylor walks towards me today, I will be reminded of how much I do not deserve the precious gift she is to me.  I have spent much of my life singing a self-centered siren song.  Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever.  Yet, God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.

I love Taylor with all that I am.  She is gentle, kind, patient, joyful, beautiful, and loving.  I don’t deserve to marry someone like her.  I didn’t plan for this, but I’m so glad I am not getting what I planned for.

So, today when she walks down the aisle to me, I will be reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges that sin of our past in exchange for the perfect righteousness of his Son.  Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day is not our wedding day; it is the display of the most stunning reality in the universe: that God sent his Son to die to redeem a people for Himself made clean the blood of his Son.

God’s ultimate plan in putting Taylor and I together is that he wants to uniquely put his grace on display so that other people will praise him (Ephesians 1:5-6).  That’s his purpose for our marriage, and that’s his purpose in the world at large, and Taylor and I are taking part in that, and hope you will too.

 

The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released September 29th, 2017 by P&R Publishing. Spencer Harmon is also the co-author of the forthcoming book Letters to a Romantic: On Dating.

Four Chemicals for Christian Chemistry: How do you know who you should marry?

 

by Sean Perron
by Sean Perron

 

How should a Christian think about another Christian when it comes to a potential romance? Perhaps you are considering pursuing someone or allowing someone to pursue you. Although these categories are probably not exhaustive, they may be helpful as you think about a potential mate.

 

Four Chemicals for Christian Chemistry:

 

1. Character

It need not go without saying. When it comes to marriage, godly character is not just a deal breaker; it is what the game is all about. This is first on the list because without it nothing else matters. This is the sun all planets orbit around. The rings of Saturn don’t matter without Saturn. Without a deep love for Jesus, marriage will be miserable. The potential wife should be maturing into a Proverbs 31 woman and the potential husband should be a Psalm 112 man. It also should be noted that there is a difference between potential godliness and actual godliness. A wise man pointed out to me that potential godliness does not exist. It is simply “potential.” The person you are considering for marriage must have real visible godly character in order to qualify for the picking.

If you are a woman, you need a husband who is maturing in the faith in order to lead you closer to Jesus. Perfection is not required, but pursuit of holiness is mandatory. If you are a man, you should be seeking a woman who is already exhibiting love, compassion, wisdom and gentleness. Look for the girl who is already serving in your church and washing the feet of the saints. She will be a keeper. Questions to ask include the following: Do I want this man to teach my children the Scriptures? Do I want this woman to raise my children to love the Lord? Is this man a role model I want to follow? Is this lady someone who can show me more of God’s heart and push me closer to Christ?

 

2. Personality

Not everyone is meant to get along all the time. It is a sin to have ungodly character (1 Timothy 3) but it is not a sin to be socially incompatible. Perhaps you are an extrovert and can’t help but be the life of the party. You may or may not mesh with the introvert who loves to study instead of playing Quelf. If wakeboarding gives you a high and you are the president of the local rock climbing club, you might jump off a cliff if you marry someone who is content to never see sunlight. Then again, that kind of thing just might stoke your fire. To each his own. The point is that you need to marry someone you can have a happy conversation with and that enjoys at least some of the things you do. Not all the pistons need to fire, but you at least have to have a motor that runs. Marriage is not meant to be miserable. You should marry someone who compliments your personality. The best way to figure out if your personalities mesh well together is to spend time together in as many appropriate settings as possible.

 

3. Trajectory

It is not just enough to be godly and personable. You need to be on the same tarmac. The man needs to have a plan. What will you be doing in the next 5 – 10 years? You need to be seeking the Lord and know the direction you are traveling. How are you going to turn the world upside down with the message of the gospel? How are you going to bring glory to Jesus with the days he has given you? This does not have to be anything spectacular – it can actually be rather simple. But it needs to be there. And it needs to be going some where.

 

A woman should not marry a man who is simply blowing in the wind. As a woman, do you want to follow the man you are interested in? Do you want to submit to his leadership and pursue magnifying Jesus together? If he wants to be a construction worker that shares the gospel while on a forklift, are you okay with raising his hard hat family? If he wants to be a missionary to Alaska, are you kosher with seal blubber boots?

If a potential wife wants to be a CEO of Google and a potential husband wants to make farm in Pennsylvania, these lovers need to chat before sailing off into the romantic sunset. These are conversations that need to be had and they can be determinative. Do your visions of life align with each other? (Philippians 1:17)

 

4. Attraction

Your future spouse will be your best friend on the planet. But they need to be more than this. If you come home from work and only want to play checkers together, we have a problem. The Bible commands spouses to delight sexually in each other and this requires a level of physical attraction (Proverbs 5:18-19).

Notice that attraction is last on this list. I place it last because attraction can be automatic or it can be cultivated. You may be interested in someone simply because they caught your eye. No problem here necessarily. However, don’t underestimated the reality that physical attraction can also be cultivated. Its funny how this works. Attraction can blind people to ungodly character, yet godly character can open eyes to see beauty. That beauty can spill over into physical interest. You may not be swooning over someone the first time you see them, but after you notice their character, personality and trajectory in life… you might be surprised to find yourself growing in affection for them. Perhaps they are a rare gem in the rocks that need a closer examination to see its value. Perhaps we all need to die to self and acknowledge true beauty.

You may be wondering how these things practically work themselves out. How can you actually use these four criteria? The church is essential. To quote one of my good friends:

 

Dating is a team sport. It is hard to determine this for yourself.  The heart is deceitful above all things.  And there’s hormones.  And emotions.  And social pressure to get married.  Or at least date.  When you get to be older, people start wondering if there’s extra marshmallows in your lucky charms if you’re not dating anyone.

 

Courtship is a community event. Invite your church into your life and don’t be afraid to ask them whether or not you are concocting the right chemicals in your Christian chemistry.

 

The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.