My Challenges (timed)


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Completed 8 of 9



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Completed 2 of 3



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Completed 2 of 4



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Completed 71 of 81



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Completed 9 of 10


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Completed 34 of 50



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Completed 1 of 2



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Completed 1 of 2



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Completed 1 of 5



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Completed 3 of 5



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Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

100 SHOTS OF SHORT
See my list of stories read here

CHECKIN’ OFF THE CHEKHOV
See my list of stories read here

THE COMPLETE BOOKER
See my list of books read here

MARTEL-HARPER CHALLENGE
See my list of books read here

MODERN LIBRARY'S 100 BEST NOVELS

See my list of books read here

NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS
See my list of books read here

THE PULITZER PROJECT
See my list of books read here

TAMMY'S BEYOND BOOKS CHALLENGE

New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My book bucket list


I read about this on Bibliophile by the Sea and loved it! The original idea from Pam at Bookalicio.us was to list your top 10 books that others should read before they die. Lilly at Reading Extravaganza amended it to list the top 10 books that you haven't read but think you should before you die. I like this better because I cannot limit myself to 10 when it comes to recommending books to others, but I think I can manage just 10 for myself.

My list (three of these are on my Fill in the Gaps project list):

1. The Bible
2. Ulysses by James Joyce
3. the complete works of Shakespeare
4. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
5. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
6. Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
7. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
8. The Histories by Herodotus
9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
10. John Updike's Rabbit omnibus

Monday, September 28, 2009

What are you reading on Mondays? - September 28

I still haven't had time to write my review for The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis, but I got a couple of comments last week about it and wanted to say that I liked it tremendously. I highly recommend it.

Recent completions:

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones -- I haven't written my review yet, but I enjoyed this one very much.

No Greater Love by Mother Theresa -- review

Reading this week:


Up next:

Nana by Emile Zola


Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 8/10
A to Z Challenge: 24/26
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 1/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Decades '09: 7/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 4/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Orbis Terrarum: 9/10
Support Your Local Library: 32/50
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 67/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 5/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 8/9

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 9/9 ***complete

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

Friday, September 25, 2009

Books available on PaperBackSwap


In an ongoing effort to clean off some badly-needed shelf space, I listed a bunch more books to my PaperBackSwap account today. If you've noticed a book on this blog and thought you'd like to read it, check out my bookshelf at PaperBackSwap.com and request it. My nickname is florida-fan.

Here's what I listed:

All I Know About Animal Behavior I learned in Loehmann's Dressing Room by Erma Bombeck

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller

The Duchess of Windsor by Michael

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

A Fez of the Heart: Travels in Turkey in Search of a Hat by Jeremy Seal

Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels - from Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe by Anthony Arthur

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre

Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener

What Southern Women Know (The Every Woman Should): Timeless Secrets to Get Everything You Want in Love, Life, and Work by Ronda Rich

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Greater Love by Mother Teresa

Title: No Greater Love

Author: Mother Teresa

First Published: 1995

No. of Pages: 206

Synopsis (from B&N): "No Greater Love is the essential wisdom of Mother Teresa — the most accessible, intimate, and inspiring book of her teachings. Thematically arranged to present her revolutionary vision of Christianity in its graceful simplicity, the book features her thoughts on love, generosity, forgiveness, prayer, service, and what it means to be a Christian. A passionate testament to deep hope and abiding faith in God, No Greater Love celebrates the life and work of one of the world’s most revered spiritual teachers."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: Mother Teresa was truly one of the most humble people in our world. This is evidenced throughout this book, beginning with the first line.

I don't think there is anyone who needs God's help and grace as much as I do.
Imagine Mother Teresa, felt throughout the world to be a saint, feeling that! In some ways, it makes me feel better about myself to know she felt that, but then I must also acknowledge that her feeling differs from mine. I'm not nearly humble enough and when I think or say "I'm so weak, why doesn't God help me?" it's really self-pity working and not true reliance on the Lord. But Mother really meant it. It was never about her, always about God, which is obvious throughout her writing.

Rather than give a more traditional type of review, I thought I'd share some lines from the book that really stood out for me and why.

Perfect prayer does not consist in many words, but in the fervor of the desire which raises the heart to Jesus.
I've always had a problem with prayer, never feeling that I was doing it "right." This statement from someone who knew so much about prayer makes me feel that maybe my desire to pray counts for something, even if I can't come up with the words.

You will learn humility only by accepting humiliations. And you will meet humiliation all through your life. The greatest humiliation is to know that you are nothing.
The greatest mistake is to think you are too strong to fall into temptation. Put your finger in the fire and it will burn. So we have to go through the fire. The temptations are allowed by God. The only thing we have to do is to refuse to give in.
These are two of the hardest for me. I say I want to be humble, but I sure don't like it when I have the experiences necessary to make me that way!

We do not need to carry out grand things in order to show a great love for God and for our neighbors. It is the intensity of love we put into our gestures that makes them into something wonderful for God.
It is easy to love those who live far away. It is not always easy to love those who live right next to us.
The first quote is so important to remember. The big actions we perform are worthwhile, but how we live our daily life is so much more so. For the second quote, how true this can be! I think this is because loving and showing our love for those closest to us makes us much more vulnerable. Also, it can be so much easier to think positively about those far away, while we view those up close much harsher.

We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him right now, to be happy with Him at this very moment.
How many of us say we want to go to heaven, to be with God, but are unwilling to do what's necessary to be with Him today? I know I do. To be with Him now and everyday means giving up my will, my wants, my plans. That's so hard to do!

Challenges: 999 ("Catholicism"); Support Your Local Library

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two giveaways

Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time currently has 2 fabulous giveaways going.

First, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 through October 15), Hatchette Book Group is giving up to 5 winners a set of 5 books:

Zumba® by Beto Perez with Maggie Greenwood-Robinson
Evenings at the Argentine Club by Julia Amante
Tell Me Something True by Leila Cobo
Damas, Dramas, and Ana Ruiz by Belinda Acosta
Amigoland by Oscar Casares

Second, Hatchette Book Group is also giving away up to 5 copies of Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley.

Both giveaways end October 15 and are limited to U.S. and Canadian addresses only. No post office boxes. Check out Teddy's blog to enter.

What Makes Us Catholic by Thomas Groome

Title: What Makes Us Catholic

Author: Thomas Groome

First Published: 2002

No. of Pages: 299

Synopsis (from B&N): "What makes a Catholic a Catholic? According to Thomas Groome, an expert on the essential ingredients of Catholic Christianity, Catholics share certain vital features of life and identity. What Makes Us Catholic explains and illuminates that character, and invites Catholics of all kinds to connect more deeply and imaginatively with their own culture and spirituality."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I found this book a bit boring at first, but about chapter 4 or 5 it started to pick up and offered a number of beautiful, soul-affirming sentiments. A major theme of the author is that humans are meant to follow God's will and that His will is for us to love Him and one another. Everything else proceeds from love. The author takes that theme and applies it across human relationships - with our family, friends, coworkers, and the world in general. Each chapter discusses a particular concept and then provides three spiritual practices to help the reader develop more fully in that area. All can be adapted to the individual or replaced with your own.

I found this book uplifting and inspiring, and I felt good both while reading it and after. I'll be keeping my copy to use as a reference in the future.

Challenges: 999 ("Catholicism")

Monday, September 21, 2009

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge


This challenge is a great idea! It's being hosted by S. Krishna at S. Krishna's Books. Here's the scoop straight from the source:

This is a challenge that is aimed at getting through those books that have been sitting on your shelves for months, even years!

What?

Any non-review books that are on your shelves and/or review copies that have been on your shelves for over six months. This means that recent review copies and library books are not eligible for this challenge! However, that doesn’t mean the book has to have been out for six months in order for the review copy to be eligible.

For example, say a book came out in July, but you received the review copy in January. That review copy would be eligible for the challenge since it’s been on your shelves for over six months.

EDIT: I want to clarify, because it seems like I haven't been clear on this - only review copies have the 6 month shelf life requirement. Books you have purchased/traded for/etc. and are NOT review copies can be from anytime - even from during the challenge!

Crossover with other challenges is welcomed, even encouraged!

When?

This challenge will run from October 1, 2009 – November 30, 2009. This means that it does coincide with Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, and any books that qualify for this challenge that you read during the Read-a-thon are eligible!

How?

This challenge will work a little differently than other challenges. Instead of picking a set number of books to read during this time period, you will pick a percentage. This means that a certain percentage of the books you read during these two months will have to qualify for this challenge. For example, let’s say you pick 40% and you end up reading 10 books in October and November. 4 of those books would have to qualify for this challenge in order for you to complete it. I am setting a minimum percentage of 20%.

As a result, there is no need to make a list of books prior to starting the challenge, though please feel free to do so if you want to! Your wrap-up post should have a list of the books you read for the challenge, though, so please do keep track of what you read!

I'm choosing 50% as my percentage. Hopefully this will give me an extra nudge on some of my challenges!

What are you reading on Mondays? - September 21

I've been absent the last couple of weeks, trying hard to finish most of the challenges I'm in, although I'm determined not to sign up for so many in the future. I've managed to finish up 4 challenges since my last Monday post, woohoo!

I'm also behind in my reviews -- I was doing well at writing them as soon as I finished a book, but the thought of the last couple felt too much like an English assignment.

Recent completions:

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul -- review

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Morality Play by Barry Unsworth -- review

Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration by Antonia Fraser -- review

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle -- review

What Makes Us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life by Thomas Groome


Reading this week:


Up next:



Challenge progress:

1% Well-Read: 8/10
18th and 19th Century Women Writers: 5/5 ***COMPLETE
A to Z Challenge: 23/26
Baker Street Challenge: 2/4
Book Awards 3: 0/5
Chunkster: 2/3
Classics Challenge: 6/6 ***COMPLETE
Decades '09: 7/9
Elizabeth Gaskell: 1/2
Fill in the Gaps 100 Books: 4/100
George Eliot: 1/2
Guardian's 1000 Best Novels: 8/10
Nonfiction 5: 5/5 ***COMPLETE
Orbis Terrarum: 8/10
Support Your Local Library: 31/50
TBR Lite: 6/6 ***COMPLETE
Well-Rounded Challenge: 2/5
What's in a Name 2: 4/6

999 Challenge (overall): 65/81

999 Subcategories:
  • 1001 Books: 7/9

  • Booker/National Awards: 4/9

  • Through the Decades: 7/9

  • Dewey's Books: 8/9

  • C.S. Lewis: 5/9

  • Biographies: 8/9

  • Travel: 9/9 ***complete

  • Catholicism: 8/9

  • Dewey Decimal: 9/9 ***complete

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Morality Play by Barry Unsworth

Title: Morality Play

Author: Barry Unsworth

First Published: 1995

No. of Pages: 206

Synopsis (from B&N): "A medieval murder mystery full of the wonders of the time — and lessons for our own time — by a master storyteller. The author of the Booker Prize-winning Sacred Hunger turns to 14th-century England with a novel of foul doings. Fearing reprisals by his bishop after he breaks his vow of chastity, a young monk joins a troupe of traveling players. But when they come to a small town in the dead of winter to stage a morality play, the group is soon caught up in a drama of a different kind - one that involves murder."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: I couldn't put this book down. I got so caught up in the story that I finished the entire thing in one day. The author does a superb job of bringing the medieval setting to life, down to the smells one would have found in a common village of the time. The characters are completely believable, even though we're not given much backstory to flesh out most of them. By choosing to set the story in a period so long ago, the reader can't bring as many preconceived notions to it as one can to a modern story; while at the same time, the setting is so different from our own as to be almost a character in itself. The plot is also believable and the author has the acting troupe play the part (no pun intended) of unintentional detective, a way of presenting the story that is both unique and inspired. For one who enjoys murder mysteries, this one is definitely outside the genre norm, while the excellence of the writing will win over even those that would not normally enjoy a mystery.

Challenges: 999 ("Booker/National Award"); A to Z (author "U"); Complete Booker (shortlist, 1995); Support Your Local Library

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Nonfiction 5 Challenge complete


Trish from Trish's Reading Nook hosted this challenge. I thought I might not complete this one, but I managed to finish the final book just in time. Here's what I read:

Josephine: A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson -- completed 5/21/09; review here

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert -- completed 7/5/09; review here

Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa and Sarah Lennox, 1750-1832 by Stella Tillyard -- completed 5/12/09; review here

Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration by Antonia Fraser -- completed 9/19/09; review

Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle -- completed 7/25/09; review here

Royal Charles by Antonia Fraser

Title: Royal Charles: Charles II and the Restoration

Author: Antonia Fraser

First Published: 1979

No. of Pages: 524

Synopsis: Charles II of England (1630-1685) was the eldest son of Charles I, who had been overthrown and eventually executed in the English Civil War. Following the death of his father, the country was ruled by Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate until Charles was restored to his throne in 1660. During the Protectorate years, Charles and most of his family were forced to live in exile, virtually penniless and with no guarantee of ever being able to return home. Following the death of Cromwell, the English Parliament requested Charles to return. He did so and continued to reign over the country until his death.

Charles married Catharine of Braganza, daughter of the Portuguese King. The couple had no children. Charles had a number of mistresses over the years who presented him with a total of twelve illegitimate children, all of whom he accepted as his own and cared for, including presenting them with titles. Due to their illegitimacy, none of these children were eligible to succeed the king. Since the king had no legitimate children, the throne would rightfully pass to his brother, James. This, however, presented a problem, as James was Catholic. The country had been beset by internal religious struggles since Henry VIII had broken with the Catholic Church, and discrimination against Catholics (occasionally culminating in hysteria and death) continued throughout Charles's reign. The idea of a Catholic King was anathema to many, and combined with the lack of legitimate children, led to questions of the rightful succession throughout the king's reign.

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: This book was both interesting and in-depth. The author does an excellent job of presenting both the public and private man. On the public side, the book goes into great detail to explain the political situation of the time and the actions of the various important individuals. On the private, the king's relationships with his family, girlfriends, and friends is explored in equal detail. Both his virtues and failings are presented objectively and a well-rounded portrait of a real person results.

Challenges: 999 ("Biography"); Nonfiction 5

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BBAW



It's one of the most wonderful times of the year -- Book Blogger Appreciation Week!!

There's currently some 140+ giveaways happening through BBAW. Here's just a couple:

J.T. Oldfield at Bibliofreak is giving away 5 prize packs of book-related goodies, one per day.

Alyce at At Home with Books has 6 different book giveaways happening, including The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose and a combo of Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen, both by Michelle Moran (one winner for each book).

Julie at My Own Little Corner of the World is also giving away copies of Cleopatra's Daughter and The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran.

Lesley at Falling Into Words is giving away My Name is Will by Jess Winfield.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

If God Were Real by John Avant

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


If God Were Real: A Journey into a Faith That Matters

Howard Books (July 7, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



John Avant is the author of Passion Promise and Authentic Power, as well as numerous national articles. A pastor of a 7000-member Baptist church, he has served as vice president of the North American Mission Board and has been deeply involved in missions and church development around the world.

Visit the author's website.



Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Publisher: Howard Books (July 7, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416587799
ISBN-13: 978-1416587798

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:




1

If God Were Real ... the Illusions of Ordinary life Would Be Shattered

We all need illusions. That's why we love movies.

Monica Bellucci

Shattering the Illusion That Christian Life Is Boring

Who doesn't love a great movie? All of the most exciting and wonderful parts oflife are right there on the screen to be enjoyed. Romance? Just come to my house anytime my wife, Donna, is watching television, and there's a pretty good chance she'll be watching Sleepless in Seattle. I thought the movie was kind of touching the first time I saw it. But Donna still cries, even now that she has the lines memorized.

As for me, I'll take a movie with raw, masculine courage every time. Nothing beats Gladiator or Braveheart for making you glad to be a man. Or how about pure adventure, like the Indiana Jones films? What could be more cool than watching Indiana get out of every trap-and along the way eat monkey brains, defeat evil, and get the girl?

Yes, movies are one of life's pleasures-even though we know that what they show us are just illusions. Could it be that we love movies because they allow us to experience, if only for a little while, what we'll never really have? Or what we aren't sure we can ever really be?

But what if life is meant to exceed even the best of what we see on film?

What if we are meant to live out the greatest romance of all?

What if we are designed to be powerful and courageous?

What if life could actually be filled with suspense and adventure and we really could live happily ever after?

Well, shouldn't we expect all these things to be true if God is real? If the One who created this vast universe with a word really did come and live as one of us, die and rise again for us, and promise to fill us with his Spirit, why would we not expect all that and more? Especially since Jesus himself said he carne so that we "may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).

Yes, things don't always go smoothly in the movies. In fact, a movie with no tension is boring. As Christians, we know that we won't live happily ever after until we get to heaven. In this world we will have pain and difficulties-but not boredom! Not if God is real.

The movies that seem so exciting to us might be boring when compared with the real lives we are meant to live.

If we actually lived as though God is real.

My friend Gary Witherall calls this kind of life "adventuring for God." Gary is one of those Christians who really believes in God. He has definitely traded in practical atheism for authentic faith. Gary and his wife, Bonnie, put their authentic faith into action as missionaries in Sidon, Lebanon. Regardless of the personal risk involved in taking their Christian witness to a place where many are hostile to Christianity in general and especially missionaries, Gary and Bonnie sought to show God's truth through their authentic, caring lives. They deeply loved the Palestinian people they served.

The following was written on the website of Operation Mobilization, the mission agency with which Gary and Bonnie served: "Some people talk about being on the cutting edge; some actually live there. Fewer choose to live on the bleeding edge of humanity, where nothing is humanly certain except great need, where risk defies other definitions, where light shines the brighter for the enveloping darkness. Sidon in Lebanon is such a place, and Bonnie and Gary Witherall were some of those few."

Gary's belief has been tested in the most extreme ways. In fact, Gary and Bonnie's life should be made into a movie. It already has been written as a book. Total Abandon is the story of Bonnie's murder. Bonnie, a nurse, was shot by a terrorist as she entered the clinic where she cared for Muslim women. The authorities quickly got Gary out of Lebanon. Less than a month after Bonnie's murder, Gary wrote the following in his journal: "Nothing remains and yet I have everything. I lost my wife, my ministry, my beautiful apartment overlooking the Mediterranean, my friends there, my Arabic classes, and three classes a week studying Islam. The little Honda we drove on the bumpy roads through the crazy traffic. The warmth of Bonnie lying quietly asleep next to me. I was robbed but have been found today steadfast, strong as a piece of steel yet completely broken. Lord, sustain me."!

Those were not just words in a journal. Since those days of crushing loss, Gary has returned to Lebanon many times, including once with my own daughter. He has stood in front of the place where Bonnie was murdered and preached forgiveness and love to the same culture that killed his wife. And then he sang with my daughter and the others there, ... "Blessed be the name of the Lord ... You give and take away ... My heart will choose to say, ... 'Lord, blessed be Your name.'"

Those who know Gary watch him live in boldness, forgiveness, joy, and service to others-even to those who would kill what he loved most. Who lives like this? Only those who believe God is real!

That's what it's like to believe in God. Gary is living, breathing, weeping, laughing evidence that God is indeed real. If God does not exist, Gary has done an incredible job of inventing God's impact in his life!

I've gotten to know Gary well since Bonnie's death. I have laughed and cried with him, counseled him, and received counsel from him. And I had the privilege to help officiate his wedding to Helena, his beautiful new wife (and the granddaughter of a martyr).

God is real to Gary. This man believes it-and then actually lives as though he does. This has not led to an easy life, but it has led to the adventure of real life. Gary has known passionate love, tragedy and heartbreak, terror and suspense, renewal and new love, courage, danger, and adventure. All of the things we flock to see in the movies are his in real life.

Living for God shouldn't be boring. When we live as though God is real, the true adventure begins. So maybe, after all, living a boring Christian life is a conscious choice, not an inevitable state. Perhaps for most of us the issue is not whether God is real but whether we really want the life that results from living like he is. Perhaps "adventuring for God" is a little too dangerous and risky for most of us. So the question may be, is it worth it to live as though God is real?

Shattering the Illusions of Religion

I've served as a pastor for twenty-seven years and served in a mission agency for two years. I have had the opportunity to see many lives like Gary's-enough to convince me that only God could be responsible for what I have seen in them. But I have to admit that I've also seen a lot of the opposite-lives of those who believe in God, who love Jesus, but who have just settled into lives that are nothing like the adventure of following the real God. Most of these are not bad people. They love their families and friends, try to live decent lives, and serve in their churches. But something is missing. Many of them are just overwhelmed with the stuff oflife. They're too busy trying to figure out how to afford a third car payment or how to get their son's grades up to think much about such "deep" things. They may never have stopped to wonder if there could be something more to their experience of God-something that could dramatically impact those allconsuming daily struggles.






Now, living a life of adventure is not, in itself, evidence that God is real. Some people live lives of reckless adventure without God. But my point is that if God is real, there's no need to live a boring life! We are meant for more. You can live a life of temporary adventure without God, but you cannot be an authentic follower of the real God without adventure. And why would you want to?

Many people do want very much to experience more than what they currently know of God. Every pastor hears regularly from those folks who want to "go deeper." I want a deeper knowledge of God too. In fact, I can't think of anything I want more. But my experience has been that many who want to go deeper are actually afflicted with an insidious spiritual disease I call Deeper-Sleep Syndrome. They make the mistake of thinking that going deeper means getting more knowledge about the Bible, having more Bible studies or worship services, or learning some spiritual mystery that they've somehow missed all these years. But as they dive into these things again and again, they're in danger of going so deep that they end up in a deep spiritual sleep, unconscious of what God really wants. That's DeeperSleep Syndrome.


The cure is actually quite simple. If God is real, surely he wants us to know him and to know him deeply. In fact, he says he has already told us all we need to know. "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). Knowing more about God is a good thing; but acting on what we know is the real answer. James 2: 17 says, "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead."

So if we were to begin to really live out the teachings of Jesus, we would find ourselves in the middle of an incredible spiritual adventure.

Can it be that simple? After all, isn't that what Christians are already doing? Or at least something close to it?

I'm not so sure. When I examine my own life, I wonder how much I'm really seeking to follow Jesus, to do exactly what he said. Am I just a part of a church system that does its best to reinvent the words of Jesus to make what he said more palatable for our modern sensibilities, more in sync with the ways we really want to live? Maybe the nineteenth-century philosopher S0ren Kierkegard had it right: The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. ... My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I get on in the world?

Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.2

Wow. I don't think I would be quite that hard on scholarship, but he has a point. If God is real, he has told us what we need to know and what we need to do. Could it be that it's time to take what we know ... and do it?

I think we need to be prepared for the ramifications of this. We could be talking about a complete reshaping of how we have "done" our faith. But wouldn't that be worthwhile if it resulted in the kind of movement that changed the world, the very course of history, through a little group of peasant nobodies in the first century?

So where do we start? First of all, start with hope-wild, fan-tastic hope that your life could be worthy of the big screen. That all that captivates us while we sit with our popcorn and Cokes may not be just an illusion.

It is time to be "dis-illusioned."

I stumbled upon a website that fascinates me. It's called "The Joy of Disillusionment: A Resource for Those Leaving Christianity,"3 and it chronicles the journey and the thoughts of David P. Crews, who has moved from being a committed Christian, a selfprofessed believer in the God of the Bible, to being an atheist. Crews says, "This site is primarily directed to a select group ofpeople-those who are somewhere in the process of leaving their Christian beliefs behind them and moving forward into an unknown realm of rational, non-theistic thought and life."4 In other words, he writes to those who once lived as though God is real but now are on a journey to live as though he is not. I found that ironic and intriguing, since I'm writing to people who may not live as though God is real but are on a journey to live as though he is.

I find Crews' writings to be honest and fair and even instructive in a strange, backward kind of way. He writes: "For those of us who have come out of a religious life to the acceptance of disbelief and of a rational world view, the word disillusionment is uniquely appropriate, but in a new and positive way. In fact, it is the perfect term for us. When we dissect this word, the root is, of course, 'illusion.' To be 'dis-illusioned,' therefore, is to not be deceived by the illusion. Finally, it is to reject the illusion in favor of what is real."5

Strangely enough, I find this to be a great description of how Christ followers need to live if we believe God is real. We must come out of the current religious life we've been languishing in. We must "disbelieve" it. It is not a rational worldview to live in bland uniformity and creative vacuity if we believe what we say we believe. It is time to leave behind that illusion-to reject it in favor of what is real, the God on whom we have staked everything.

Crews goes on to give us a good prescription for living the "disillusioned" life. "When we replace illusion with reality, we step out of our cavern of myth and take a deep breath of the air outside-brisk and with a tang of scents unknown. It is the real world we are inhaling and it enlivens us to move forward and to value who and what we truly are."6

Yes! This atheist has just about nailed what life as a Christ follower ought to be.

But I don't know what I find sadder, the fact that David Crews has concluded that God is an illusion or the fact that we so often and so tragically live as though he is. It is time for us to step out of our cavern of myth-in which we live as though we were godless-and breathe the air God made in the same awesome, exhilarating way he made us to breathe it. Or else get honest and follow Crews into a life of less hypocrisy that simply discounts God altogether.

If you're ready to be "disillusioned"-if you are determined to live a life that is genuine, a life that embraces the reality of God rather than the illusion we seem to have made him-I affirm your path. I respect David Crews. In fact, I suspect I would like him. But I believe he is wrong, and desperately so. Our hope is valid. It's intellectually defensible. It's philosophically sound. But it's rarely lived.

So let's begin to live! All the romance and adventure of the most thrilling movies may actually be your birthright as a child of God. The curtain could be lifting, and the screenplay of your life could be about to come alive in a way that would make every flick you've ever seen a B film that can't even begin to measure up.

Shattering the Illusion That Hollywood Must Be Our Enemy

If we truly lived adventurous lives that reflect the reality of God, maybe Christ followers would make all the movies. No, I'm not talking about some battle plan to boycott Hollywood until the purveyors of on-screen smut go broke and Christians take over. (The fact that some have tried things like this fits the sad caricature of Christians the world thinks is true of all of us.) I'm saying that if we made movies that resembled the lives we are actually meant to live, the movies would be so good that everyone would want to see them!

All right, I know I'm being naive. We would leave out the sexual content that draws many people, and not everyone would flock to see our films. But the fact is that many of the best movies actually are about spiritual truths. It almost seems that the world is trying to write our stories for us. I am astounded at the prevalence of spiritual searching evident in movies today. Sometimes the world seems more interested in the wonders and possibilities of God than his followers are.

Tom Hanks seems to bring elements of the gospel into just about every film he stars in. He's the one who lays down his life for another in Saving Private Ryan. He's the simple man, Forrest Gump, who just can't get away from the amazing plan and purpose woven throughout his life. Gump is a simpleton, yet he confronts the atheist with a profoundly faith-filled statement: ''I'm going to heaven, Lieutenant Dan." And then he witnesses Dan's transformation. Hanks is the lost man in Cast Away who experiences the worst we might imagine life could offer and, in the end, sees that there's a plan by which all things work together for his good.

You just can't get away from God and his mysteries in the movies. And even when it's not blatant or intentional, many films seem almost like a retelling of the gospel.

I recently saw the blockbuster movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith. When the film ended, I walked out of the theater thinking, Well, they did it again! They just made a film that directly parallels the gospel, and they probably had no idea! (Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the movie and don't want to know the ending, you might want to skip ahead to the next paragraph-or better yet, go see it and then keep reading.) A man-made virus has virtually destroyed humanity. Those not killed by the disease have been devoured by the horrific creatures that those infected by the virus became. Will Smith's character is a doctor, the only survivor in New York City. He spends his days seeking a cure that will transform the monsters mankind has become back into what they were created to be. At the end he sacrifices his life to save others and, ultimately, the entire world. And what is the means of this salvation? Blood.

Hello? Does anyone have any trouble seeing the gospel reflected in this story? A savior comes and sheds his blood to save and transform the human race, which has been infected by sin. It seems that God's plan is so hardwired into our souls that it leaks out everywhere, even when it may not be intentional.

Does it not seem strange and sad to you, though, that many people who claim to be Christians spend most of their time fo-cusing on the internal issues of church life that almost no one outside of the church cates about, i.e., the style of music and minor doctrinal disputes, while the world scrambles to write our story? And when the creative work of a follower of Christ actually does make the screen, most of the time the world flocks to see it! Films based on J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Natnia ate perfect examples.


The bottom line is, followers of Christ have a compelling story to tell. In fact, if we live like God is real, we have the story of all stories to tell! And we are made to tell it. The foundation of all our stories is that we were made in the image of God-in the image of the Creator. So we were designed to create. The spatk that lit the match of the universe ignites our souls.

Yet we seem to think that being a good Christian means pouring water on that spatk so it doesn't flame up and get too wild. After all, we have to be reverent, don't we?

What does that even mean? I've heard the "irreverent" criticism used hundreds of times to justify the squelching of creativity within the church. The critics don't always use the words reverent or irreverent. They may just criticize the music for being too loud or worldly, or the methods of the church too contemporaty. But it all seems to come back to the same thing: they want their Christianity to be neatly packaged, safe and quiet-reverent.

My problem is that Jesus' behavior as recorded in the Bible doesn't seem all that reverent to me. He condemned the teachers of the law and Phatisees-the most reverent of Jews-called them names like snakes and vipers, and chose to spend most of his time among big, loud crowds of peasants. He chose rough fishermen and embezzling tax collectors for his followers. He ran those in the religious business out of the temple with a whip.


Jesus calls us to passion, not boredom. Maybe it is time to reject cold "reverence" and join a "wild" crowd. And tell a "wild" story. My "wild" daughter is a theater actress in New York City. Maybe she can help us understand the story we are meant to tell; the real-life adventure we are meant to live; what the screenplay can look like when we choose to follow Jesus with passion in the real world.

Acting Out God's Love

CHRISTI AVANT WATSON

Rehearsal studios in Manhattan commonly smell of sweat and bare feet-not an altogether appealing aroma, but one I am familiar with nonetheless. Actors file into this pungent building, chatting excitedly. We are in the ensemble of a play going up at a rather prestigious off-Broadway theater. None of us has any lines. We sing only one song in the show. Nevertheless, we are buzzing like honey-starved bees, knOWing that after this production, we can place the name of this theater prominently on our resumes.



We hope the next casting director we see will observe this credit, jump for joy, and call us in for every project he has. Most likely, this will not happen; but we hope. After all, we are a people of crazy hope, illogical dreams, and gritty passion. An average person may go to five or six job interviews in a lifetime; we go to five or six a week. If one produces any results, even a follow-up phone call, we celebrate. Halfway through rehearsal, a presence enters the room, and all eyes turn in her direction. Dressed head to toe in the quintessential New York hue-black-the acclaimed playwright has joined the lowly ensemble players. In the middle of the room, she stands on a chair and warmly greets us. "I grew up in a strict evangelical home/' she says, "then I went to Berkeley, and I began to accept what is so acceptable today-that evangelicals are morons, idiots, and that they are ruining our world. However, after I moved to New York, I began to realize that to lump all of these people together is abit simple-minded. I decided to do an experiment, to write the church service-and the characters in that service-that would interest me as an atheist; and that is the history behind the show you are in." If I was buzzing before, now I was spinning out of control with anticipation. The only thing I love as much as singing or delving into an intriguing character is working with and knowing artists who are aggressively, and in this case publicly, searching for truth. Creative people, whether or not they follow Christ, have tapped into the remnants of God left in every human heart, and I absolutely love surrounding myself with that.


For two years I have been here, pursuing this absurd profession alongside New York's progressive and wonderful culture. I have had the privilege of performing allover the United States, even in Alaska. Every day is not a good day. Some days I feel like I have been thrown into a boxing ring, gloveless and in five-inch heels, and been pitted against a heavyweight champion. On those days I focus on the relationships I have developed that would never have taken root within the walls of a church. Although my friends are very spiritual, they tend to fall somewhere along the playwright's path. Either they have been wounded and are angry or they simply feel that the Christian church is irrelevant.

Often the church has not helped matters. Sometimes the church sings "Just As I Am" and then demands that others be just as she is.

Every day I pray that I can be a part of reversing the tragic flow that has left the state of the Christian church such that this is its impression on the world-or at least that I can follow Jesus Christ closely enough to heal the pain people feel.

Eric Bryant, one of the pastors at a "flow-reversing" church in Los Angeles, says that "Love is the best apologetic." After all, was it not love that drove Jesus Christ to hell and back on our behalf? No other force is powerful enough to turn the tide, and as ambassadors of that love, we have an amazing opportunity to alter the future.

Perhaps I'll never grace a Broadway stage or a big screen. Perhaps I'll never again get paid to do what I know I was born to. These thoughts are paralyzing sometimes, but all adventures come with great risk. In the end, the faces of my friends who have allowed me to share in their spiritual journeys are what matters. It is not the grandiose feats you accomplish but the people you actively and intentionally love who will take you on the great adventure available to every follower of Christ. If you restrict your love to those like you, those you understand, those who make you feel comfortable, you will be pretty bored. If you dare to open your life to one person who needs a friend, you just might find yourself in an adventure of eternal proportions.

Since we have the most compelling and interesting story to tell, and since it seems even those who don't believe our story want to tell it for us, maybe it's time that we actually begin to tell it ourselves-and even more important, to live it ourselves. To live like God is real.


The screenplays of the movies of our lives will be full of emotional ups and downs, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. Like Gary and Bonnie Wither all's missionary service in Lebanon, like my daughter Christi's missionary service in the theater district of New York, authentic life in Christ will not always be easy, pleasant, or predictable.

But it will always be an adventure.


Trading Illusions for a Compelling Faith

I walked past the television the other day and stopped in my tracks when I heard a voice say, "I have been told you will not have a person of faith at your house .... Is that true?" The voice belonged to talk-show host Glenn Beck, and his question was addressed to comedian and illusionist Penn Jillette, who is well known for his controversial atheistic ideas. Jillette confirmed that Beck was correct and went on to explain why he would not allow Christians or other people of faith to visit in his home. He said that he did not use alcohol or drugs and would not allow people who did into his home to influence his children. He also did not want what he had seen in Christianity to influence his children in any way.7



Is it possible that while we Christians have been busy fighting the culture war and protecting our families from evil influences, we have done such a poor job of living out an intelligent, provocative, and compelling faith that people like Jillette now feel they must protect their children from us? Mter almost thirty years of ministry, I'm not sure he has it wrong. I've been fortunate to spend my ministry among loving people who helped my children to grow up seeing much of the good that is the church. But honestly, I've seen more children alienated from God and from the church by the actions of Christians than by anything atheists have done. I've lost count of the number of pastors I know whose children want nothing to do with the God of their parents, because they watched what people who claimed to love God did to those parents. Even I want to protect my children from some Christians.

In a different interview, with NPR, Jillette said, "Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-O, and all other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have."8 Now that's funny. And also profoundly sad. For I believe the responsibility lies squarely at the feet of the church for allowing an illusionist like Penn Jillette to spend his whole life seeing only an illusion of what it means to follow Jesus, never the real thing. For offering so little ofJesus to the world that a man like Jillette can really think that all those things he mentioned, from his family to his Jell-O, are better off without God, without purpose, without hope of anything except utter annihilation, and without any contact from Christians. It's time that we change that, for Jillette's sake and for millions of others'. It's time to become the kind of people everyone wants to have over to his house-if nothing else, just to hear our stories, to explore the mystery of our lives, to try to understand what it is about us that draws them to us, even in their disbelief It's time to get the messed-up movie we've made of Christianity out of the theater and put a new show on the screen.

One that is worthy of the Producer.

So take a step toward that hope's becoming reality. Decide to take the risk of living like God is real, whatever that may mean and wherever that may take you. Perhaps the only way you'll be sure that God is real is to live as if he is and then watch what happens. Get ready, though. In the next chapter we'll see just how enormous that change may be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Religion Saves + Nine Other Misconceptions by Mark Driscoll

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions

Crossway Books (June 30, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and is the author of several books, including Vintage Jesus.

Pastor Mark preaches on Sunday, trains pastors, and writes curriculum. Mark is married to his high school sweetheart, Grace, and they enjoy raising their three sons and two daughters.

Visit the author's blog and church website.

If you wish to view any of the sermons that Mark has done on the subjects of Religion Saves, go HERE.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Crossway Books (June 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433506165
ISBN-13: 978-1433506161

AND NOW...An Excerpt:



QUESTION 3: DATING

How does a Christian date righteously, and what are the physical, emotional, and mentally connecting boundaries a Christian must set while developing an intimate relationship prior to marriage?


The past one hundred years have seen an incredible upheaval in male/female dating relationships.1 In 1896 the word dating was introduced as lower-class slang in reference to prostitution. “Going on a date” was a euphemism for paying for sex. By the early 1900s, “calling” was the primary means of marrying. Calling involved a young man, a potential suitor, scheduling a time to meet a young lady in the parlor of her parents’ home in the presence of her parents. These meetings were carefully overseen by the parents.


Expectations for everything from formality of dress to food served and length of the meeting were spelled out in various books that defined proper courting. Such a process protected young people from danger (e.g., abuse, rape), ensured the involvement of the entire family in the courtship of a young woman, allowed her father to keep away the wrong kinds of young men, minimized opportunity for fornication, and kept marriage as the goal of such relationships rather than such things as cohabitation.


The major downside of calling was the expense, which made it impossible for many people in the middle and lower classes. They simply could not afford a sitting room or parlor designated for calling, complete with a piano, along with formal attire to wear and specific food to eat. In the early 1900s young women were discouraged from going out alone with any male, even relatives, for fear of getting a bad reputation.


That kind of cultural conservatism began to wane as women’s magazines hit the shelf (e.g., Ladies’ Home Journal had over 1 million subscribers by 1900). These women’s magazines began to inform women about men, and an entire industry of beauty products, clothing styles, and social norms was birthed, thereby weakening the influence of parents over young women.


By the 1920s, urbanization provided social outlets for meeting outside the home. Rather than calling at the woman’s home, singles were now able to go out together at places such as restaurants, movie theaters, and dance halls. This began to create new social networks for single people away from their homes and parents and opened up mgreater opportunities for such things as casual dating and inappropriate sexual contact.


Everything changed dramatically in the 1930s. At that time the automobile became widely available, thereby providing a new freedom for younger people to gather away from their parents’ home. This transition took the woman out of the home of her parents and into the world, where she was driven around by the man to places where temptations to msin from drunkenness to fornication were stronger than ever. Not surprisingly, by the 1930s dating overtook calling in prevalence, and money became the means by which a man could pursue a woman, taking her out on expensive dates. This altered the nature of male-female pursuit so that the best men were those with the most money (symbolized by which kind of car they drove) and therefore the most able to afford the nicest dates, and the most prized women were the most outwardly beautiful and sexual who could serve as the best trophy.


By the 1940s the prevalence of dating caused an economic view of male and female dating relationships that was, in principle, akin to prostitution in some ways. Since men were required to make good

money, purchase a car, and treat a woman for a date, men began expecting sexual favors in return for spending money on her. Men often pressured women for sexual favors in exchange for an expensive date. Those women who refused such requests were often no longer asked out on dates, and looser women became more popular dates. The 1960s saw one of the greatest social upheavals in the history of singleness in the Western world. The feminist and sexual revolutions of the day pushed for sexual anarchy of every kind (e.g., orgies, casual sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality) in conjunction with a widespread

drug culture that only fueled recklessness, resulting in increased perversion and disease. In the 1960s Playboy was the first pornographic magazine widely published and was kept behind the counter at select

stores. Also in the 1960s the birth control pill was made widely available, thereby encouraging even more sexual sin without the same levels of fear about out-of-wedlock pregnancy.


By the 1970s Playboy was taken from behind the counter at selected stores and displayed on the shelf alongside Penthouse, which was an even harder version of pornography. In 1973, abortion was legalized

so that those not wanting to assume the responsibility that came with their sexual activity could legally murder their child. In 1974, no-fault divorce was legalized so that some of the legal difficulties and social stigmas associated with divorce were diminished. The result? A cataclysmic alteration of sex, dating, marriage, and children. No longer were these seen as connected, or even related, issues.


COHABITATION

The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s radically altered the sexual landscape of our nation: One of the most important consequences of this revolution in sexual behavior and beliefs is that the institution of marriage is much less likely to govern and guide the expression of sexual intimacy between adolescents and adults. More specifically, abstinence before marriage is now the exception to the behavioral and attitudinal norm when it comes to sex.2 For the first time in America’s history, there are more single adults than married adults, and the number is expected only to rise. Still, more than nine out of ten people will eventually marry. In our culture of hook up, shack up, and break up, the expectation is that they will cohabit prior to marriage. From 1978 to 2008, the number of cohabitors in the U.S. rose from 1 million couples to 5 million couples. By simple definition, living together—or unmarried cohabitation—is the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household.3 Others who are not cohabiting by definition because they have two residences still sleep over enough to qualify, even if the statistics do not count them. It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner, and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner (the data are typically reported for women but not for men).4 Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century. The most likely to cohabit are people aged 20 to 24.5


However, the evidence actually challenges the popular idea that cohabiting ensures greater marital compatibility and thereby promotes stronger and more enduring marriages: “Cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; in fact, it is associated with a higher divorce risk.”6 Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage that was preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage that was not preceded by cohabitation.7 Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with an increased divorce risk, with estimates ranging from as low as a 33 percent increased divorce risk to a 151 percent increased risk of dissolution.8


In addition to missing out on many of the benefits of marriage, cohabitors may face more serious difficulties.9 Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples.10 Women in cohabiting relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse.11 Two studies found that women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times

more likely to be killed by their partner than are women in marital relationships.12


Furthermore, couples who have sex before marriage, especially couples who cohabit, are more likely to experience difficulties in their marriage.13 For instance, a study of 2,034 married adults found that those who had cohabited prior to marriage reported less marital happiness and more marital conflict, compared to similar couples who did not cohabit.14 Conversely, abstinence before marriage is linked to greater marital

stability.15 Studies indicate that men and women who marry as virgins are significantly less likely to divorce.16 For instance, men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce than other men, and women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce than other women.17 Thus, adults who remain abstinent until marriage are more likely to enjoy a satisfying and stable marriage.18


Adults who waited to have sex until they married, and who have remained faithful to their spouses since they married, report higher levels of life satisfaction, compared to adults who engaged in premarital sex or adulterous sex.19 Furthermore, “Those [adults] who have ever had sex outside their marriage also report notably low happiness scores.”20 The reason why all of this is important is that people are prone to think their experience is normative. Singles today were born into a world that is unlike any other time in history, and it is peculiarly perverted. It seems normal to them because it is all they have ever

known, but it must be evaluated in light of history and Scripture for perspective.


The bottom line? Satan is still a liar, and God’s plan is still the best. That plan is chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage.


I pastor a church where about half the people are single, and most of them are walking as Christians with Jesus for the first time in theirlives. I am deeply sympathetic to the pressures and temptations that single Christians face. In a culture where people have “friends with benefits,” where men are into scoring and not marrying, where the entire singles’ scene from clubs to bars is built to oppose a life modeled after Jesus’ singleness, and where Craig’s List and other online portals in cities like mine have fifteen hundred people posting daily for a “casual encounter” (which is code for free sex), those wanting to honor Jesus in their singleness have nothing short of a war on their hands. Add to this the fact that both men and women are waiting later than ever to marry (men around twenty-six to twenty-seven and women around twentyfour to twenty-five), and the opportunities for sexual sin multiply. When you consider that there are between eleven and thirteen million more women in church than men and acknowledge that the average man wants to attract the youngest and hottest wife he can afford, then Christian women—particularly older singles, divorcĂ©es, widows, and single moms—are at a distinct disadvantage and are tempted to settle and sin. My wife, Grace, has a particular heart for women in these situations and, as a result, a quiet aspect of our ministry is trying to help serve these women. I will spend the rest of this chapter sharing with

you what my wife and I tell single men and women whom we love and minister to.


THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS?

First, there must be a biblical understanding of marriage. Biblically, singleness is not ideal,1 marriage should be honored by all,2 and it is demonic to teach against marriage.3 Practically, however, there are seasons and reasons that provide exceptions to the rule of marriage for some people, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7. This section of Scripture is widely misunderstood and has been throughout the history

of the church. Indeed, singleness is not bad, as exemplified by Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul.


Still, singleness is neither normative nor superior to marriage. The too-often popular misconception that singleness is ideal and superior to marriage is in fact rooted in worldly wisdom and not in Scripture.

Ancient non-Christian Greek philosophers such as Plato and the Stoics taught that the physical part of existence is innately evil so our immaterial spirit is purer. The result was a disdain for the body and its pleasures, along with a bizarre asceticism, so that sex was seen as only for procreation, and celibacy was preferred. The early church fathers and mothers were greatly steeped in this kind of thinking. Examples include Tertullian and Ambrose, who preferred extinction of the human race to ongoing sexual intercourse. Origen not only allegorized the Song of Solomon but also castrated himself. Chrysostom taught that Adam and Eve had no sexual relations until sin entered the world. Gregory of Nyssa taught that until sin entered the world, Adam and Eve did not have sex; rather, she was able to conceive through a special kind of vegetation that grew in Eden.


By the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church forbade priests to marry and regulated not only the sexual positions of married couples but also the days on which they could be intimate; eventually half of the year was forbidden for married sex. In the Victorian age, modesty became so extreme that long tablecloths were put over tables to hide the table legs for fear that men would see them and think of women’s legs and

then lust.




My point? In our day of sinful sexuality, there are still many Christians overly influenced by pagan Greek thought who somehow think that only less holy Christians capitulate to marriage and sex rather than live a varsity life as a celibate single. To justify themselves and their viewpoint, such thinkers often take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 out of context.


Be Holy

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”4 Here Paul speaks to singles who were already in sexual sin. Besides, Paul urges them to marry rather than burn in their lust and burn in hell. Today, the consequences of the sexual revolution can be seen in changes in sexual behavior and beliefs about sexual behavior among adults and teens. We have seen almost a complete reversal in sexual behavior and morals.


Therefore, Paul’s words are as true and timely as ever. For those called to singleness for a season, or for a lifetime (desires can and do change), their calling will be accompanied by a diminished sexual appetite so that remaining pure and chaste is not as difficult for them as for the person not called to singleness. Further, since most people are failing to remain chaste and holy in their singleness, most people should put their energies toward the goal of one day being married. I was one of these people, which explains why I married at the age of twenty-one, between my junior and senior years of college.


Be Wise

Now concerning the betrothed [virgins], I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.5


Chaste, single virgins were encouraged to remain single because of the “present distress,” which may have included the coming bloody persecution at the hands of Nero and/or a deadly famine that had been prophesied in Acts 11:28. Singleness is often preferable in some seasons (e.g., persecution, famine, grave illness, war). Those who are able to refrain from marriage until a crisis has ended will save themselves and any children they might have birthed many heartaches and hardships. But if someone is married, Paul says, such a crisis is no excuse for a divorce, and if someone is married, he or she has not sinned. It is important to remember that Paul is not elevating singleness as generally preferable, but preferable only for some people and some circumstances. In this way, some people are called to remain single to serve Jesus in ministry; still others are called to be married, and their marriage is their ministry for Jesus. Anyone who is married will tell you that while it does restrict some ministry opportunities, it is in itself among the most difficult and important ministries.


Good reasons for remaining single in our day include living in a season of life when pursuing a potential spouse is unwise, such as experiencing personal illness, unemployment or underemployment, suffering through a traumatic life event such as the death of a parent, or undertaking education, work, or ministry in which the demands upon one’s time are so severe that a relationship is not practically possible.


Be Devoted

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.6


In typical times, when there is not a major crisis, many of the issues in a church are best dealt with by married leaders.7 This is because many of people’s issues are related to marriage and parenting, and people with experience in those areas are generally best suited to serve as models and mentors. But in times of crisis or when ministry results in danger, single people are able to do more ministry work because their time and possessions are more easily freed up. Ministry is, in comparison, more complicating for, say, a pregnant woman or a man who is the sole provider for a large family. Therefore, in the circumstances Paul is addressing, singles are being called upon for vital ministry, though this call is not a restriction.


Obviously, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of someone who remained single for the purposes of living in poverty and suffering for the cause of ministry in a way that he could not have if he were a husband and father. In this way, those gifted with singleness, like Paul and Jesus, also often have a particular ministry calling that requires poverty or danger. A friend of mine who is working as a quiet evangelist in a closed Muslim country believes he will die for his faith and has not married as a result. Those who are simply selfish or irresponsible and therefore choose not to marry are not whom Paul is speaking of in the

context of his words and life’s example.


Be Considerate

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.8


With the “distress” of that day, men who were engaged to older virgins were considering backing out of their wedding. Paul counseled that men are free to do as they wish but must consider all the theological and practical variables surrounding their potential marriage.


IDOLS IN SINGLENESS

Having now cleared up some of the confusion around Paul’s words, we can establish a biblical foundation for marriage. The first thing God called “not good,” even before sin entered the world, was Adam’s solitary state.9 God’s answer was to create Eve as his wife, lover, fellow worshiper, helper, and friend. In so doing, God established that a marriage is one man and one woman10 in a covenant11 that is sexually consummated12 and is intended to last a lifetime.13 There are two opposite errors about marriage into which a Christian single can fall. Idols that serve as functional saviors underlie these errors.


The first idol is independence. When the idol of independence is worshiped, committed relationships, in general, and marriage, in particular, are dismissed or even disdained. Underlying this idol can be fear from a past hurt, the unhealed trauma of suffering through a parental divorce, or simply good old-fashioned selfishness, whereby someone does not want to make any life adjustments to accommodate another person. When heaven is conceived of as independence, and hell is conceived of as interdependence, then singleness is worshiped as a functional savior.


The second idol is dependence. When the idol of dependence is worshiped, then having someone to date is essential, being single is a crisis to be averted, and marriage is worshiped as the central guiding principle of life in which the longings for identity, joy, and relationship are to be satisfied. Underlying this idol can be a fear of being alone, a codependence that needs someone to lean on to an unhealthy degree, or a weak relationship with God so that it is not the primary defining and satisfying relationship in one’s life. When heaven is conceived of as a couple, and hell is conceived of as being single, then a dating partner or spouse invariably becomes the functional savior that is worshiped to get us out of our hell and into our heaven.


A FEW THINGS TO PONDER

Before we discuss the various ways in which a Christian can date, it is important for us first to repent of any sins and idols that are guiding our desires. In this way we can then be open to what God has for us, which is always best. Therefore, a few questions are worthy of pondering here.


First, how is your relationship with Jesus? Is that relationship strong, maturing, and growing, and is it your first priority above all other relationships? Do you need to wait to date someone until a time when your relationship with Jesus is stronger? Is your goal to meet someone with whom you can grow in your relationship with Jesus?


Second, are you believing cultural lies? Are you taking your cues not from Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and godly friends but from magazines, talk shows, the media, pornography, and godless acquaintances? Are you feeding sinful thoughts and desires that need to be repented of fully before you are fit for any serious Christian relationship?


Third, do you accept that marriage is for holiness before happiness? People who believe that marriage is meant to complete them or make them happy are invariably depressed in marriage. Why? Because when

two sinners marry there will be struggles and pain. Those who rightly understand that marriage does have happiness but is first for our sanctification and holiness are in a much better theological frame of mind to marry and be able to lovingly serve their spouse and think more about we than me.


Once our relationship with Jesus is healthy and our view of marriage is biblical, we are ready to consider principles that are intended to guide Christian dating relationships.


SIXTEEN CHRISTIAN DATING PRINCIPLES FOR BOTH MEN AND WOMEN


1) Maximize your singleness for God.

While you are single, accept that you are in a season of life that affords some freedoms and benefits you will not have if and when you marry. It is a good season to finish your education, increase your theological knowledge, travel to serve in missions, give time to your church, work long hours to establish your career, and pay off any debt you may have accrued. In short, invest your single years in a way that they later pay a

great return. Do not waste them.


2) Do not pursue a serious relationship until you are ready to marry.

There are many reasons why people should, for a season, devote their energies to something other than finding a spouse. Getting biblical counseling to overcome a habitual sin such as pornography or substance abuse, maturing as a Christian if they are a new or immature convert, or simply moving out of their parents’ home and taking on adult responsibilities are all good reasons to delay a serious relationship until a better season of life. Basically, until people are mature enough to marry, they should not be in a serious romantic relationship but should use their energies to mature.


3) Be reasonable.

Do not set your expectations too high or too low. If you set your expectations too low, you may marry and be miserable, having made the biggest mistake of your life. If you set your expectations too high, you may never marry, or you may marry the person you think you want but who may not be the one God would consider best for you. As a practical matter, I discourage Christian singles from having too long a list of what they are looking for in a spouse. The truth is that most of these lists are simply idolatrous because they are comprised of the seekers’ resume and what they like and do, as if the goal of marriage is to find someone just like them rather than someone different from them so that together they can learn to love and serve one another.


Few men are looking for a widowed, broke, and homeless gal from a family noted for incest who is a recent convert with a bitter mother-in-law in tow. But her name is Ruth, and Boaz was blessed to marry her, and through her came Jesus.


4) Do not be legalistic about dating.

There is a difference between a date and dating. A date can be two people spending time together, going out for a meal or coffee after church to get to know one another in a non-sexual manner. Dating as is practiced by non-Christians is not acceptable for Christians. Still, the word dating is not worth quibbling over, as Paul tells us not to quarrel over words.14


Whether we call it “a date” or something else, time together does not need to be considered a dating relationship. In 1 Timothy 5:1–2, Paul tells Christian single men to treat Christian single women like sisters. Thus, since adult brothers and sisters talk to one another, enjoy one another’s company, and occasionally enjoy a meal together, it is not a sin for two single Christians to enjoy time together, getting to know one another, so that they can see if there is the possibility of a more serious relationship that leads to courtship and marriage.


5) Do not have any romantic relationship with someone who is a non-Christian.15

The reasons here are almost limitless. Since you cannot marry a non- Christian, getting emotionally involved is pointless and only leads to sin and/or heartache. Since Jesus is at the center of your life, a non- Christian will not even understand who you are. Because you submit to Scripture and unbelievers do not, your relationship with one has no court of arbitration in which to resolve your differences. An unbeliever is not in covenant with Jesus, so he or she has no covenantal framework for any relationship with you. If he or she is not a Christian, you have no means of dealing with sin that will come between the two of you, because you do not both believe in the gospel of Jesus’ death for sin.


Indeed, you can have non-romantic evangelistic relationships with non-Christians, but if the parties involved are single, the odds of attraction are high, and it is usually best to introduce the non-Christians to

your Christian friends of the opposite gender so that an evangelistic relationship can form.


6) You should be in a romantic relationship with only one person at a time.

Ultimately, the goal of a Christian not called to singleness is not to have a boyfriend or girlfriend but to have a spouse. It is cruel to date multiple people at one time, having them compete for your affections.

Furthermore, it is better preparation for adultery than it is for covenant marriage.


7) He should initiate and she should respond.

Because the Bible repeatedly states that the husband is to be the loving and leading head of the family,16 any romantic relationship should begin with the man taking initiative to kindly and respectfully request

an opportunity to get to know the woman better. Too many Christian men are too timid and need to have more courage to risk rejection in their pursuit of a wife. Any woman who is not interested in, say, a group outing or a cup of coffee need simply say no, and the man should respect that answer.


8) You need to look at who God puts in front of you.

Too many singles are looking over people in their church and life who do love God in pursuit of a mythical person, who does not exist. Yet, in God’s providence, good potential spouses are right in front of them. Furthermore, while a woman should not chase a man, she can wisely put herself in front of him. This is precisely what happened in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Although God providentially put Ruth at work gleaning for food in the field of Boaz, Boaz did not consider her a potential wife until Ruth took the counsel of the older woman Naomi and got dressed up and went to the same big party as Boaz, where she did not chase him but did get in his way. The result? One of the greatest love stories in the Bible.


9) Feel free to use technology wisely.

While a Christian single should be careful not to troll Web sites and chat rooms where sexual sin is encouraged, there is nothing wrong with using online dating services. In the world of social networking, it

is simply a new way for God’s providence to bring people together. Some Christians retain a stigma about compatibility surveys and Internet Christian-dating sites, but they should not. Many singles attend churches where there are few possible spouses, and with the confusion and perversion that persists in the greater culture, they should not feel bad for using technology to find someone who loves Jesus and with whom they are compatible. As a pastor, I could tell you of dozens and dozens of wonderful marriages that began online at a Christian dating Web site.


10) Invest in a romantic relationship only with someone you are entirely attracted to.

This means more than the usual goal of finding someone rich and hot; attraction must be to the whole person. Are you sufficiently physically attracted to envision marriage to that person? Are you mentally attracted to him and enjoy talking with and learning from him? Are you spiritually attracted to her and her love for Jesus? Are you financially attracted to him so that you both agree on what lifestyle you will have? Are you “integrity attracted” to her and can see the Holy Spirit at work through her character? Are you “ministry attracted” to him and appreciate how he serves God in his ministry?


11) Only date someone who agrees with you on primary theological issues.

It is not enough simply to marry a Christian; for the sake of peace and unity in your home, you need to have the same theological convictions on primary issues. For Grace and me, this means we agree on the Bible as God’s Word and our highest authority; we agree that God is Trinity and that Jesus died as our sinless God in our place for our sins; we agree on a Reformed Protestant view of the gospel. Our agreement extends to gender and family roles, and without this we would have an acrimonious marriage. We both believe that the husband is called to lovingly and sacrificially lead the family, that children are a blessing, that the wife should stay home with the children when they are young, and that solely qualified male elders should govern a church. If we disagreed on these things, even though we are Christians, we would not be able to build a life together, because we would disagree on the blueprint and spend our time fighting over which one of us is right. As it is, there is great peace, unity, and cooperation in our home because we agree on primary and secondary theological issues, and as a result we are allies, not enemies.


12) Guard your heart.17

Getting to know someone takes time. If you give your heart away too quickly, you will find yourself either pushing to make the relationship work or being heartbroken when it falls apart. It is good to want to give your whole heart away. However, you must wait until you are in the covenant of marriage to do so, or you risk lots of heartache and trouble.


13) Be careful of legalism and libertinism.

Legalists love to make lots of rules in addition to what’s found in Scripture to govern male-female relationships, but they are simply man-made and unnecessary. I know a dating legalist, a woman, who

would date only in groups, and as a result no man ever got to speak with her one-on-one, which explains, in part, why she is still single. I know a man who considers the purpose of every conversation with every Christian woman to be courtship, so that he comes off way too strong way too early and likewise remains single.


Libertines love to make themselves the exception to God’s rules that govern male-female relationships, and in so doing act like their own god. Examples of dating libertines include those who cross physical

boundaries, those who will date anyone who believes in some nebulous “god,” those who fail to care about finding evidences of spiritual maturity, such as regular church attendance and Bible study participation, in a potential mate, and those who have snuggle sleepovers that they swear include no sexual activity but are beyond the scriptural bounds of the Song of Solomon, which repeatedly tells us not to arouse or awaken love until the time of marriage.


14) Marry someone who will be a fit for every season of the life that awaits you together.

As I’ve mentioned before, Grace and I met in high school, married in college, and then graduated to start Mars Hill Church together a few years later. She then quit work to stay at home and be a mother to our now five children, and we recently celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary and a total of over twenty years together including dating.


So far, together we have been through high school, college, ministry, and parenting. One day our five children will be grown, and we will grow old together. Grace does not get to travel with me often, but when she does, we talk frequently about how great our current season of life is but also how fun it will be when the kids are grown and we can travel together for ministry and also enjoy our grandkids. Marriage is about getting old and serving one another in every season of life. So marry someone with every season in mind.


Too often, Christians marry only with children in mind and do not consider that one day the kids will be gone, but the couple will be together all the time; as a result, when the kids leave home, crisis hits the marriage because the kids were the glue that held things together. We love our children, but we also love being together and growing old together.


15) Pursue only someone you love.

The Bible says that husbands should love their wives18 and that wives should love their husbands.19 It is grievous when people marry who are not truly in love or willing to work on safeguarding and growing their

love. Proverbs 30:21–23 says that the world cannot hold up under the weight of despair that is wrought by a married woman who is unloved. If a man and woman do not love one another and are not radically devoted to that love lasting a lifetime, then they should not marry.


16) Do not have any sexual contact until marriage.

As noted earlier, single Christians are prone to ask where the line is. That question is sinful because it is asking how to get closer to sin rather than closer to Jesus. The Bible says, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.”20 Paul says elsewhere that a single man should not touch any woman in any sexual way.21 The issue is not where the line is, but, as Song of Solomon often says, when the time is. That time is the covenant of marriage. Until then, the New Testament repeatedly says to avoid porneia, that junk-drawer term for all kinds of sexual sin. As my friend John Piper often says, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power, “theology can conquer biology.” A marriage must be built on the worship of God so that spiritual intimacy can enable all other intimacy, such as mental, emotional, physical, and sexual, without shame and without sin.




SEVEN CHRISTIAN DATING QUESTIONS FOR MEN

1) Are you overlooking good women?


Examples include single mothers, widows, shy women, and those divorced on biblical grounds. Sometimes a woman’s character is so sanctified and shaped through hardship that she is, in fact, more prepared than the average woman to be a devoted, faithful, resilient, and thankful wife.


2) Do you enjoy her?

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun.” Much of your life will be spent working your job, cutting your grass, paying your bills, and dealing with sin and the curse. But if you have a wife you enjoy, life is better. I praise God that I enjoy my wife. I enjoy being at home with her, I enjoy traveling with her, and more than anyone else she is the friend with whom I enjoy having fun. This one fact has made my life satisfying.


3) Is she modest? 22

An immodest woman may be fun to look at, but do you really want awife who dresses immodestly so that everyone else can lust after her? Do you really want your daughters to grow up and be immodest?

Sometimes a single man is attracted to a woman because she is immodest; meanwhile, more godly and modest women do not catch his eye as readily. A wise man knows that there is a difference between a good time and a good life with a good wife and patiently waits for the latter.


4) Will she follow your leadership?

Since the Bible calls you to lovingly and sacrificially lead your family, you need to have a wife who follows your leadership. This means she agrees with your theology, trusts your decision-making, appreciates the other men you surround yourself with for counsel, and also respects the way you seek her input and invite her counsel as you make decisions. If she does not naturally follow your leadership, you can be sure that if you marry, there will be frequent conflict.


5) Does she have noble character? 23

Is she a woman whom you want your daughters to be like (because they will be)? Is she the kind of woman you want your sons to marry (because they will)? Would you consider yourself honored to be with her because of how she speaks, carries herself, prays, worships God, makes decisions, serves others, works, and interacts with other men?


6) Can you provide for the lifestyle she expects? 24

If you meet a woman who will not be satisfied with the level of income and lifestyle that you can provide, then she is not the woman for you. Since it is your responsibility to provide for the material and financial needs of your family, you must have a woman who will not grudgingly live at the level of provision you can give. So long as you work hard, tithe well, invest smartly, and save prudently, you need not feel guilty for not making a great deal of money. You will want a wife who appreciates how you can provide rather than one who is continually dissatisfied and, therefore, discouraging.


7) As you stand back and objectively consider her, is she like any of the women that Proverbs warns against?

Is she a nagging woman, likened to a dripping faucet?25 Is she a loud and overbearing woman who would be exhausting at home and embarrassing in public?26 Is she the kind of temperamental and quarrelsome

woman that makes it better for you to camp on the roof alone than share a home with her?27 Is she a gossip?28 Is she an unfaithful woman prone to flirt with other men and likely to be an adulteress?29 Is she disgraceful?30 If so, quickly but graciously extricate yourself from any relationship with her.



SEVEN CHRISTIAN DATING QUESTIONS FOR WOMEN

1) Do you want to help him and join his course of life? 31

Since you are made to be the equal and complementing helper to your husband, you must share the direction in life he is going and be willing to join it if he is to be your husband. If he wants a career in sales or the military, where he is gone much or most of the time, and you are not okay with that, then he needs another career or you need another man to marry. Any woman who marries a man hoping to fix him, change him, or redirect his life course is with the wrong man. If she likes who he is and where he is going and wants to be a good life partner helping him to be and do what God has for him, then she may have found a man she is suited for.


2) Is he tough enough to remain strong in tough times? 32

I am talking about a man who is tender with you, but tough for you. If you marry him and have children, will he be the kind of steady rock the family needs when times are tough? If hard economic times come, will he, for example, work two jobs to care for his family? If you have a hard pregnancy and find yourself bedridden, will he step up to do what is needed to care for his family? Too many men wilt under pressure or cave under crisis, and if you marry a man and entrust yourself and your children to him, you need to be certain that he will be there to lovingly lead the family in God’s purposes, no matter what.


3) Will he take responsibility for you and your children? 33

As the head of the home, a man must take responsibility for his family. This is what Jesus does by involving himself to help us in our life and with our sin. Any man who does not want to take responsibility to ensure that his wife and children are well loved, encouraged, and served is not going to be a good husband and father. In particular, if you are dating a man and you have to push him to take responsibility for himself nor look after him as if you were his mother, he is nowhere near ready for marriage, and you should move on from being serious with him.

4) Is he considerate and gentle with you? 34

Any man who does not consult with you, make decisions with you, ask what you think, and inquire how you feel is a selfish and inconsiderate man. Furthermore, any man who is harsh or in any way abusive (verbally, emotionally, sexually, physically), will only get worse once you are married. Do not kid yourself—when you are dating a man, he is on his best behavior, and if he is inconsiderate or harsh with you then, any future with him will be very painful.


5) Will he be a good father? 35

A man might look at you as more than just a baby machine, but does he love children? Does he consider children a blessing, as Scripture says? The only way a man can be a good father is by being unselfish.

If he is into his buddies, his hobbies, his activities, and the like, he will be a terrible father. Why? Because once a man decides to walk with Jesus as a faithful church member, to love his wife as Christ loves the church, to raise his kids as pastor-dad, and to work his job wholeheartedly unto the Lord, he will have little time for much of anything else. Yet he will be happy if the deepest desires of his heart are the things that are taking his time and energy. If you want to be a mom who stays home with the children, then you must have a man who will be a great daddy and longs for that role. Further, since your daughters will marry men like their daddy, and your sons will grow up to be men like their daddy, make sure to marry a man whom you want imitated for generations.


6) Is he a one-woman man? 36

Church elders are to set the pattern as one-woman men for all God’s men. Therefore, he should not be the porn guy, the flirt guy, the haslots- of-female-friends-he-calls-buddies guy, the cheats-on-you-when-

you-are-dating guy, the dates-multiple-women-at-a-time guy, or the compares-you-to-other-women guy. If he is to be your husband, his heart, hands, mind, eyes, wallet, and life need to be solely devoted to you. If you have to keep trying to make him faithful or if you question his loyalty, he is not fit for marriage.


7) How valuable are you to him?

As a pastor I often see men who want to marry called to overcome some obstacle that, in God’s providence, separates them from union with the woman they love. I believe God does this to test the man’s devotion and to reveal to the woman how devoted he is to her. Too many women make it too easy for a man to catch them and, while not playing hard-to-get, a woman should not go out of her way to make it easy for a man to have her; he needs to earn her hand. I had to work two jobs from 5 pm to 9 am nearly every day for the entire summer before I married Grace. I often slept in my truck just to make enough money so that we could finish college without her having to work and go to school at the same time. One friend of mine had to wait a few years for his wife to be able to move legally to the U.S., and he faithfully waited for her because he treasured her. In Genesis 29:20 we read that Jacob worked fourteen long years (seven for Leah and another seven for Rachel) for the cruel and crooked Laban for the right to marry Rachel, “and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” A woman needs to know that she is valuable, cherished, and treasured, and if a man does not labor to marry her, it is doubtless he will labor to keep her.


DATING METHODS

In this final section, we will examine two dating methods that Scripture permits for Christians. Some people will find it curious that I speak of methods instead of a method. There is quite a conflict between various Christians on this issue, and I find that each position has biblical merit for certain people. There is simply no one correct way for people to work toward marriage, although, as I have tried to explain in this chapter, there are principles that guide all Christians in their romantic relationships prior to marriage.


1) Prearranged Marriage

Many of the marriages in the Old Testament were prearranged by the parents. It was not uncommon in Old Testament times for women to marry in their early to mid teens. This process is described but never prescribed in the Old Testament as the way all God’s people for all time in all cultures should be married.


Today in the Western world this form of marriage is not likely to catch on for a multitude of reasons. However, in some parts of the world it remains a common means of marriage. To be honest, I was incredibly skeptical of this method until I developed a close friendship with a very godly pastor from India. He and his wife were in a prearranged marriage that had been established by their parents with their approval.


Having spent time in their home in India and knowing them for over a decade, I can attest to the fact that they are one of the most loving and beautiful Christian couples I have ever known. When I asked my friend

why his prearranged marriage worked, he said that in our culture we choose our love, but in his culture they love their choice. Admittedly, I am not arguing for a movement of prearranged marriages. Still, with the devastating statistics in our own culture regarding adultery, abuse, and divorce, we certainly have no moral high ground to criticize parents in other cultures who know and love their children well and, as a result, help to direct their spousal choice.


2) Courtship

Courtship is similar to calling in that a man pursues a woman under the oversight of her family. Biblically, the repeated refrain is that a man takes a wife, and a woman is given in marriage.37 This principle of a man pursuing a wife under the loving oversight of the woman’s father and family is illustrated in the traditional marriage custom where a father walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her in marriage. This is illustrated in the Old Testament. One example is given in Deuteronomy 22:13–21 where a father is held legally responsible for the chastity of his daughter until marriage. If she was found guilty of being sexually active prior to marriage and lying to her husband about it, she was to be put to death on the doorsteps of her father’s home because he was held legally responsible for her virginity. While this was rarely practiced,

it illustrates the importance of a daddy taking responsibility for the life of his single daughter in that culture. Another example is given in Numbers 30:3–5. There we see that if a young woman tells her suitor that she will marry him but her father does not approve, the father has the legal right to nullify the engagement and protect his daughter from a marriage he does not believe is good for her.


In addition to the oversight of the father and mother, the Old Testament also speaks of the role of other family members in overseeing the courtship of a young woman. In the Song of Solomon the woman’s

father is never mentioned, which might indicate that she was raised by a single mother.


In Song of Solomon 8:8–10 we discover that there are two kinds of young women. Some are “doors” that welcome boys in, and others are “walls” that keep them away. The woman in that book was a wall, and her brothers said that because she was a wall, they would help to preserve her chastity, but had she been a door they would have stepped in to be proverbial walls and keep the wrong guys away from her. The principle is that even brothers can be helpful in looking out for their sister(s) and should help ensure she is not romantically ensnared with the wrong guy. Similarly, there is an extreme example in Genesis 34 in which Dinah is raped by her boyfriend, and in response her brothers murder not only him but also the entire city of men of which he is a part and plunder everything.


Fathers and Daughters

I am the very happy father of two beautiful daughters and three sons. In our home there will be courtship. Any male wanting to spend time pursuing my daughters will do so only with my approval, under my

oversight, by my rules, and most often in my home. I adore my daughters and, as the pastor of maybe a few thousand women who were sexually abused, I want to do all I can to ensure the safety and sanctity of my lovely daughters.


I began taking my daughters on daddy dates when they were little. I get lots of time one-on-one to love and cherish them. I snuggle with them. I read the Bible with them. I pray with them. I escort them to the car. I open doors for them. I treat them as priceless treasures because they are. Grace and I often talk with them about boys, men, marriage, and what we and Jesus want for their future.


As I write this chapter, God brings to mind two memorable experiences with my oldest daughter, Ashley. The first happened when she was perhaps three or four years old. We were at Disney World, and although it was her bedtime she wanted me to take her swimming in the Mickey Mouse pool. So we went swimming. When we returned to our hotel room, I stood her up on the bed to dry her hair with a white towel. She took the ends of the towel in her tiny hands and held it like a white veil, looked me in the eye, and asked me if I would marry her. I lost it and started tearing up at the thought of the day when I would officiate the wedding of my little girl. I vowed to her that day that one day she would marry a man who loves Jesus and her, and I prayed over her and her future husband.


The second memory concerns an event that occurred some years later when I was in another pool during a summer vacation having fun with my five children. A teenage girl showed up at the pool with two boys. She jumped in the pool and shared a passionate kiss with one of the boys, and then swam to the other end of the pool where she passionately kissed the other boy. Ashley was perhaps ten years old, and Alexie

was perhaps three years old, and they both saw what happened, made eye contact with me, and swam over to discuss it with me. Ashley asked me, “Daddy, did you see that girl kiss two boys?” I said, “Yes. What do

you think of that?” She said, “I think she has a very bad daddy.”


Too many daddies take too little responsibility to lovingly remain connected to their daughters as they mature into women. Too many ill-intentioned young men have access to such young women because daddies, as well as mommies, are not doing all they can to lovingly walk with their children through the rough waters of hormones, dating, and marriage.


So at our home my daughters will be courted. My sons will court by respectfully pursuing their future wives in the context of honoring their families, particularly the women’s fathers.

I have seen some families become extreme and legalistic in their application of this principle. I am not advocating that kind of abusive application, where a father rules over his daughter at a distance rather than lovingly leading her through a close relationship built over years in which she trusts him and speaks to him from her heart because he has won her affection by being what my girls call a “poppa-daddy.”


Of course, this kind of arrangement works only when both the courting man and woman are from godly Christian homes that agree on how marriage should be pursued. In my church, where there are a few thousand singles, very few have Christian families with any wisdom to offer. Tragically, I have often seen women who desire godly oversight of their dating relationships be counseled by their so-called Christian father to just live with the guy and not be so worried about getting married.


There is hope for those couples in which one or both lack godly families. They can lean on biblical wisdom for counsel and support. First, in a practical way, the church is a sort of additional family by new birth in

which older men are to be like fathers and older women like mothers. This means that a healthy and biblical church should have godly older Christians, including pastors and their wives, who can lovingly help younger couples wisely make the important decision of whether to marry. For example, we now have a thorough premarital process for the few hundred couples who marry each year at Mars Hill Church, and our goal is to help ensure people are marrying the right person in the right way at the right time for the right reasons and then help them keep their covenant vows after the marriage.


I need to stress that courtship becomes abusive and legalistic when it is imposed on people apart from loving relationship, such as when some system is put in place so that spiritual mothers and fathers are forcibly assigned over adult couples. Grace and I have served many young couples at their request simply by giving them ongoing, specific counsel regarding their courtship and have greatly enjoyed serving in this way. In the end, this is all I’m advocating.


Second, throughout the Song of Solomon the woman’s friends repeatedly give their opinion of her relationship.38 Likewise, in the book of Ruth it is Ruth’s older godly friend, Naomi, who gives her counsel regarding her relationship with Boaz and also gives her approval of their love. Therefore, godly friends should be involved in the courtship process. Any time a dating relationship causes one of the two involved to disappear from godly fellowship, there is reason for concern. If a dating person has godly friends, those friends have every right to get to know the person their friend is dating and give their opinion of him or her out of love for their friend. Too many Christians say too little until it’s too late.


OLDER SINGLES

The first two methods of Christian dating are generally designed to serve younger women. What about a godly older woman, established in her career, who has lived on her own for many years and has family that lives far away or is not Christian or is deceased? Does she need to be courted in her father’s home or in the home of some man assigned to her in a fatherly role? No.


Speaking of an older single woman, 1 Corinthians 7:39 says, “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” The principle here is that the circumstances of some older women are exceptions to the guidelines given to younger women. The basic requirement is that if a man who loves Jesus also loves a woman and wants to marry her, she can marry him if she wants to; the decision is hers to make.


One of my wife’s dear friends, a godly virgin woman in her forties, was successful in her career. She served others in ministry and deeply loved Jesus, and she had always wanted to be married but was never

pursued by a godly man. Then she met a godly man through a Christian Internet dating service. Wisely, she had him meet her friends and family and sought counsel, but in the end she chose to marry him, and they are doing great, by God’s grace.


Ultimately, it is the heart and the principles that matter. The methods are important, but without hearts that are devoted to Jesus above all and lives that follow the principles of Scripture, it does not matter which method is used for dating; things will not go as well as God would desire.


1Gen. 2:18; Matt. 19:4–6.

2Heb. 13:4.

31 Tim. 4:1–3.

41 Cor. 7:8–9.

51 Cor. 7:25–31

61 Cor. 7:32–35.

71 Tim. 3:4–5; Titus 1:6; 2:3–5.

81 Cor. 7:36–38.

9Gen. 2:18.

10Matt. 19:4–6.

11Prov. 2:17.

12Gen. 2:24–25; 1 Cor. 7:3–4.

13Mal. 2:16a.

141 Tim. 6:4.

152 Cor. 6:14.

16Eph. 5:22–32; Col. 3:18–21; 1 Pet. 3:1–7.

17Prov. 4:23.

18Eph. 5:25.

19Titus 2:3–4.

20Eph. 5:3 (niv).

211 Cor. 7:1.

221 Tim. 2:9.

23Prov. 31:10–31.

241 Tim. 5:8.

25Prov. 27:15.

26Prov. 7:11; 9:13.

27Prov. 21:9; 25:24.

28Prov. 11:13; 16:28.

29Prov. 2:16–19; 5; 7; 11:22.

30Prov. 12:4.

31Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:9.

322 Tim. 2:3.

331 Cor. 11:3.

37Num. 10:30; 13:25; Judg. 21:1, 2, 7; 1 Sam. 18:17, 20, 27; 25:44; 1 Chron. 2:34–35; Ezra 9:2, 12;

Ps. 78:63; Prov. 18:22; Jer. 16:2; 29:6; Dan. 11:17; Matt. 24:38; Luke 20:34.

341 Pet. 3:7.

35Ps. 127:3–5; Eph. 6:4.

361 Tim. 3:2.

38Song 1:4b, 8; 5:1a, 9; 6:1, 13; 8:5, 8–9.