12 Tips for Keeping It Clean In Your Dating Relationship

awkward dateSo, I work with college students. Sometimes they like to date each other. Being human, with normal, God-given (but fallen) physical desires they also want to do stuff together while they’re dating. You know–sexy stuff. Of course, most of them who’ve been around long enough have learned that the Bible says the sexy stuff is God’s good, beautiful, and pleasurable idea for knitting a man and a woman together in marriage. In the meantime then, I’ll have couples approach me wondering if there are ways that they can continue to build their relationships in holy, appropriate ways, and avoid temptation.

Now, I remind them that it’s not just about not breaking rules–it’s an issue of the heart. I remind them of the grace of the Gospel for any past or future failure, and that this is not the one, irrevocable sin.  I encourage them to look to Christ, develop their relationship with him, and all the good spiritual, foundational stuff. But then, well, I get “practical” and offer them a few (slightly humorous) tips that helped my wife and I during the (four!) years we were dating.

I can’t emphasize enough that these are not laws, but general guidelines that help you obey God’s laws for your good. These are not hard and fast unbreakable rules. They are wisdom, though. Some of them may seem childish or nit-picky. You might think read them, roll your eyes, and think “Really? Come on, I’m not an animal!” True, but you’re not an angel either, and following these can help you honor God in your dating relationship:

  1. Clothes are not optional. But seriously, stay fashionable–in your clothes.
  2. If no one’s home, you’re not home. This might narrow your hang-out options initially, but it forces you to be creative. I really can’t stress this one enough.
  3. Cars are fun when you’re driving. When stationary, you can get in an accident.
  4. Give someone you trust absolute authority to speak into your life and talk to you about this area whenever. Also, don’t lie to them.
  5. Consider the consequences on a regular basis.
  6. Pray at the beginning of your dates.
  7. “Napping” together is stupid. Falling asleep during a movie is one thing, but otherwise…nah.
  8. And God said, “Let there be light…”
  9. Private porn usage always makes a public appearance. Eventually, porn shapes the way you act with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Avoid it at all costs.
  10. Spas are fun group activities.
  11. God gave you legs for a reason. Run when you have to.
  12. Have this conversation often. Re-affirm and re-commit to biblical guidelines and standards for your relationship.

Above all of these, of course, is to constantly be chasing Christ. Tips and rules can help for a while, but it’s the deeper holiness comes through the Spirit of Holiness changing our affections from within through the grace of the Gospel.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Myth of ‘Magic Neutral Time’ (TGC)

BackSoon“The Myth of Magic Neutral Time” is the sort of goofy phrase you come up with in college ministry to make basic concepts of spiritual life stick for your students. Sometimes you can’t just come out and say stuff–it’s like you have to trick the truth into them.

In any case, this particular neologism struck me in a conversation with my friend Katie. We were discussing the frustrating phenomena of future college freshmen who plan on ‘taking a break’ from their faith to just go off and ‘have a little fun for a while.’ Now, this is idiotic for several reasons. But to see why, let’s first explain the myth of Neutral Time.

The Myth of Neutral Time - I always tell my students that they need to be aware of the myths, the stories, that they tell themselves about reality because the story you think you’re in determines the character you become. Neutral time is a particularly popular story. It goes something like this:

“I’ve been a good kid in high school. I’ve done my homework, been to Bible study, and didn’t screw around too much or anything. Now though, now I really want to go out and enjoy myself a bit. The ‘college experience’ is calling and I can’t be expected to go to college and not let loose a little bit. I mean, I really love Jesus and my faith will always be a big part of my life, but you know, I’ll just go off for a bit, maybe a semester or two, have my fun, and then be back around. You’ll see.”

There are number of assumptions underlying this story, but the main one seems to be that faith is this unchanging, timeless, perennial thing. Your walk with Jesus is something you can just leave alone for a while, and then, once you’ve done your own thing for a bit, you can just pick up again. No big deal. Calling ‘neutral time’ is like calling time-out so you can go the restroom or take a break in the middle of the game—when you come back the score, time, and possession is just like where you left of last.

You can read about the foolishness of this approach by clicking on The Gospel Coalition.

Some Perspective on God’s Gifts and God’s Call to Hospitality (Guest Post)

This is not Caroline's house. Do not try and come visit her here.

This is not Caroline’s house. Do not try and come visit her here.

Today I had a great talk with my friend Caroline, the Director of Children’s Ministries at my church. A couple of her kids are students of mine and so we were talking about the funny things that happen when they bring their friends over to hang out. In the middle of it she shared what I thought was an important realization about God’s gifts and the nature of hospitality. I’ve asked her if I could share it with my blog readers and so she kindly wrote it up for me.

I had a revelation a few weeks back.  You see my family and I live in a small (under 1400 square feet) home in Santa Ana.  I have loved and been thankful for our house of 3 years since day one–but I have not been proud of it–apologetic may have been a better word for how I felt when friends (who literally live in the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog) would stop by.  And if I were to be totally honest, I avoided anyone coming to my house and have even been known for waiting at the gate when expecting someone to stop by to pick me up.

Then a few weeks ago my daughter invited several of her friends over for dinner and an evening of games and movies.  Each of these amazing young adults has quite a story of redemption–coming out of many unhealthy and ungodly situations and clearly and dramatically saved for God’s purpose and God’s glory.  They grew up in houses that included drugs, gangs, and a lot of darkness.  That evening each one blessed me by complementing our home–my favorite was when one young woman exclaimed, “it’s just like a page from a Target catalog!”  Laughing I looked at her and then around at my miss-matched furniture (everything bought second-hand or given to us by friends), the tiny kitchen, dusty shelves, stacks of papers and said “thank you.”  I truly appreciated that she was speaking from her heart–I wondered what her home growing up had been like, and I recognized all that God had blessed our family with.  My sense of pride grew in what God had given us–in a house and the atmosphere inside it.

-Caroline Elias, Director of Children’s Ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian

Caroline’s basically said it all, but I just want to make a couple of points clear:

  1. Hospitality can happen anywhere–even your home. You don’t need to have a massive, showroom style house to have people over and bless them. That can happen anywhere. In fact, two of the most hospitable people I know are a couple of newly-weds who live in a back-house the size of an apartment who have over 10-15 young adults for dinner every week.
  2. As a rule we tend to compare ourselves to those with more, rather than to those with less.  This doesn’t necessarily make us ungrateful or resentful. Sometimes it just robs of the joy of realizing how truly blessed and fortunate we really are. Having a Target house is a joy from the Lord, just as much as a Pottery Barn house. 

Soli Deo Gloria

P.S. Bonus point because I’m a college pastor: there is a blessing that comes with college ministry. Sure there’s a blessing with every ministry, but honestly, sometimes it’s as easy as having a couple of students from your church over for dinner and listening to their stories. 

Guest Post: Learning to Pray With Martin Luther

One of my college students worked up a piece for the rest of my college group analyzing and summarizing Martin Luther’s instructions on prayer to his barber, Master Peter. I figured I’d post it here for easy access and to bless the blog-readers as well. Also, I’m really proud of him.

Learning Prayer through a Letter from Martin Luther to His Barber

By Matt Poblenz

            Many people think that liturgy stifles spiritual growth, but Martin Luther believed differently. In Luther’s letter to his barber (Peter), we see how he views liturgy and bible reading in conjunction to, what he deems one of the most important disciplines, prayer. Luther starts off his letter with a quick prayer for his recipient, that “our dear Lord grant to you and everybody to do it (prayer) better than I!” This petition not only shows the importance of prayer to Luther, but this transitions him into his opening statements about prayer.

Before, Luther walks Peter (and us) through prayer step by step, he has some remarks about prayer. The main subject, in these opening remarks is the importance of prayer. Luther believes “it is a good thing to let prayer be the first business of the morning and the last at night.” He also instructs to guard yourself from business or ideas that can cause us to be distracted from prayer. Furthermore, he offers up two places to prayer: a quiet solitary place (for Luther his room), and a gathering of believers meeting to worship (for Luther Church during service). The places Luther suggests help limit the pacing ideas or business that can distract us from prayer.

luther            Luther does admit that there will be causes of emergency when the Lord’s work may have to come before a chance to pray. But, Luther instructs that in these cases we be mindful of God’s word and turn our action into prayer through the act of blessing. Likewise, Luther encourages us to meditate on our prayer and corresponding scripture through out the day and because “one must unceasingly guard against sin and wrong-doing, something one cannot do unless one fears God and keeps his commandment in mind.” Luther asks that we keep a habit of prayer, because if not, “we become lax and lazy, cool and listless toward prayer.” Furthermore, “the Devil that oppresses us is not lazy or careless, and our flesh is to ready and eager to sin and is disinclined to the spirit of power.”

After his opening statements regarding the importance of prayer Luther begins his break down of prayer. He has a simple four step process for prayer. First, one must humble themselves and acknowledge their place before God; “O Heavenly Father, dear God, I am a poor unworthy sinner.” Your opening may very, but it is important to acknowledge your place and humble yourself because it prepares your heart for the rest of the prayer. You become prepared in multiple ways, because you are reminded of God’s power, beauty, and love. Luther concludes his opening, “I do not deserve to raise my eyes or hands toward you or to pray. But because you have commanded us all to pray and have promised to hear us and through your Son Jesus Christ have taught us both how and what to pray, I come to you in obedience to your word, trusting in your gracious promise.”

Second, Luther recites the passage from the bible. This part can also be a section from a catechism or a hymn, but Luther suggests use of the holy scriptures. He recites the whole passage word for word from the bible ( like the Lord’s Prayer, ten commandments, or a whole psalm). This allows structure and focus as this is what we will be praying from.

Third, Luther states a section of the passage and prays through it by expounding upon it. Luther explains his method of expounding by using the ten commandments; “I divide each commandment into four parts, as I form a garland of four strands.” He continues, “that is I think of each commandment as, first, instruction, which is really what it is intended to be, and consider what the Lord God commands of me so earnestly. Second I turn it into a thanksgiving; third, a confession; and fourth a prayer (petition).”

He gives a more specific example of his expounding methods by using the first commandment:

  1. He firsts states his instruction; “here I consider that God expects and teaches me to trust him sincerely in all things and that it is his most earnest purpose to be my God.”
  2. He then turns the commandment into a thanksgiving; “I give thanks for his infinite compassion by which he has come to me in such a fatherly way and unasked, unbidden, and unmerited, has offered to be my God, to care for me, and to be my comfort, guardian, help and strength in every time of need.”
  3. Luther, then confesses his sins regarding this area; “ I confess and acknowledge my great sin and ingratitude for having so shamefully despised such sublime teachings and such a precious gift throughout my whole life, and for having fearfully provoked his wrath by countless acts of idolatry.”
  4. Finally he petitions to God; “preserve my heart so that I shall never become forgetful and ungrateful, that I may never seek after other gods or other consolation on earth or in any creature, but cling truly and solely to you, my only God.”

After you conclude expounding upon sections of the scripture (as many as time permits or you’d like), you end the prayer with an Amen. However, make sure you speak the Amen firmly. Be confident that God has heard you: “do not leave your prayer without having said or thought, ‘very well, God has heard my prayer; this is certainty and truth.’” Luther reminds us that Amen means “this is truth” and, therefore, our Amens should be said with a conviction that what you have prayed is true.

Soli Deo Gloria