Things from Worship

I had a really great time at Bethel Worship in Lexington last night and I wanted to record some experiences or reflections from it.

First, this song. I’m going to be speaking on grace in a couple weeks and then bam! This song hits me like a brick wall: A quote from “Abba” is: “Grace is the collision on the way back home. With the arms of a Father who won’t let go.” And then, in case I wasn’t getting it, the conviction and the experience of remembering my return to God felt like a fire being set inside my chest: God ran to me. Abba threw his arms around me and I knew his love.

During the pitch for Compassion International, I was listening to this man talk about his family and his encounter with the kids while he was on a mission trip. It was a good story but I wasn’t hyper engaged; I was mostly just looking around at all the people there and feeling excited that my sister was going to get to have a night of worship. I looked back at the picture of this man and his beautiful family that was projected on the screen and for a moment there was silence as these words passed through my mind: “I will give this to you too.” And I was startled. So I prayed a bit, repented a bit, gave thanks for a bit. Those words felt mostly like comfort though, reassurance. As if I was being reminded of something I already knew.

Mid-way through the worship, I felt prompted to kneel. I have felt this often during corporate worship and I have always ignored it because how weird would that be? But I kept feeling the push, so much so that I was a bit distracted. Then I heard the lyrics, “every chain will break…” and it caught my attention. The super crazy thing I had heard during our church journey was that I was a chainbreaker. Then they start singing about every knee bowing. I told some of my friends and they were like, just sit. That’s basically the same thing, but something in me rose against that. “Did you hear sit? Or kneel?” So I knelt. And the words of Luke 16:10 came to me, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.” Then, as I prayed, I recalled a verse I had been talking to God about earlier that week, Romans 8:31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” I had written about this verse in the context of freedom in love, but I had also mentioned my love of the word hupernikao, or “more than conquerors.” And it was like an epiphany: be more faithful in these little things, because they are building the habits that will grow faith and bring freedom from fear. We are not only conquerors of death, we bring new life: we resurrect, we reconcile, we restore, we redeem. We don’t bind people in chains, we break them.

So that was… cool.

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A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

I’d strongly suggest starting at Part 1, it’s probably worth it. We’re diving into “The Talk,” in chapter 8. It’s maybe the talk we should have gotten, but most of us didn’t, and even if we did, most of us didn’t listen.

Sex isn’t just physical. Sex in more than just physical. Way more.” (132) Many of us might feel the truth in this statement, but often don’t act that way. Society doesn’t tell us this either: hook-up culture is rampant. If you’re being safe and it’s consensual, enjoy. Satisfy those physical urges, right? But sex is more because you are more. You are way more than a body. Think this isn’t true? “If sex is just physical, then once any physical damage was healed, that would be the end of it. Granted, there may be some residual trust issues to work through. But every pastor, counselor, and victim knows the flood of emotions associated with sexual abuse goes way beyond trust issues.” (133) Andy Stanley walks through several more examples, including rape, to help highlight the fact that sex goes way beyond the physical.

He then looks at the connection between sexual addiction and alienation from fathers. Having talked to dozens of men with these issues, something else was revealed: “The men I’ve talked to would be quick to tell you their sexuality and their sexual struggles are not just physical. Something other than their male appetite for sex was driving their self-destructive behavior. Many of these men had given up on actual sex.” (136) Consider this, if sex is “just sex,” why the sense of betrayal when someone in a marriage has sex with someone outside a marriage? Why is that one of the deepest cuts you can make to the trust in your relationship? Or why do people care about the sexual history of the person you date? It comes down to our desire for intimacy. “You may find this difficult to believe, but you have an appetite for intimacy… knowing fully and being fully known… There’s a significant and mysterious connection between one’s sexual experience and one’s capacity to experience relational intimacy.” (138)

What does this mean? It means the sexual choices you make now will influence your marriage later. It means that what we do now has an impact on what we can experience later. Pretending something isn’t true (like intimacy being important doesn’t help you, it sets you up for disappointment. “The heartbreaking consequence of our sexually liberated culture is that single men and women are undermining their own potential for sexual fulfillment later in life.” (141) The more partners you have, the more your experience of sexual intimacy decreases. This is the outcome of separating sex from the significance it has to us beyond the physical.

“What is touted as safe for the body is dangerous for the soul. While your body is designed with the capacity to successfully accommodate multiple sex partners with no apparent consequences, you are not.” (143) And this isn’t just your history; it’s the history that will impact and influence your future partner for life. While we can certainly alter our path now, it is worth noting the difference between forgiveness and consequences. The past doesn’t necessarily remain the past: you bring into your bedroom memories, guilt, comparison (or the fear of it), etc. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be with anyone who has a sexual past. It IS saying that you should understand what that was and what repercussions it may have.

“Over 30 percent of the couples that come to us for premarital counseling are already living together. Of the remaining 70 percent, most are already involved sexually. You might assume couples who are living and sleeping together have worked through the sexual challenges created by their sexual histories. Not so.” (144) Why? This goes back to the earlier chapters that mention that adding sex to a relationship stunts the ability to build healthy relationships. Andy Stanley requires those going through premarital counseling to cease sexual activity before marriage, and they have those living together make separate living arrangements as well. Why? Taking sex out of the equation makes talking about issues easier. “Those who comply thank us later. And only 7 percent call off the wedding.” (145) He gives other examples for why this no sex before marriage is a good idea, but I think that the gist of it is pretty clear. Working to preserve your purity now makes a path for deeper intimacy in the future.

You might think abstaining from sex outside of marriage is only for teens. It’s not meant for newly single adults, right? Or maybe you think that if the damage is done, is it really worth stopping at this point? Ask yourself this: “Has sex as a single… made your life better or more complicated? If God is a heavenly Father who loves you and wants the best for you… and he knows sex apart from marriage will complicate your life… what would you expect him to say about it?” (148) The thing is, each time we sexually engage with a person and then it ends, we end up hardening our heart a little more. Insulating ourselves a little more (the opposite of intimacy). We lie to ourselves, we say it was meaningless, that we’re over it. This is true of all of us, if we really look at ourselves. If we look at our choices and the effects it has. If we look at how we relate to people.

“All regret is difficult to live with. Sexual regret may be the most difficult. So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we haven’t done anything wrong. It was his fault. Her fault. You were young. You were drunk. All of which may be true. But you’re still guilty. Nobody wants to feel guilty. So we create narratives we can live with and move on. Or attempt to.” (150) When we acknowledge this (some might call it sin), things shift. When we change our path from sexual encounters to preservation for marriage (let’s call this an act of repentance), things break free. You move towards a healthy understanding of sex and intimacy in relationships. It’s how you engage in that process we’ve been calling becoming.

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

I really didn’t mean for this to be a 14 part series or whatever, but I’ve learned so much from this that it’s super hard to trim it all down. While I recommend starting at Part One and reading through each post (each post hyperlinks to the next), I think you’ll still glean nuggets from this if you don’t.

Chapter 6 is for the male readers, but how do I skip a chapter? So I moved forward with reading “Gentleman’s Club,” whose purpose is not to shame but rather inspire guys to become gentlemen. “And not gentlemen as in the flashing neon sign outside a strip club. Real gentlemen don’t spend their discretionary time and money in strip clubs. Don’t believe me? Ask strippers. They know.” (101) Looking back at previous chapters, this one asks guys to step out of their child-like ways and step into the ways a gentleman views and treats a woman. And guys, this is some premium stuff. Why? “If you get this right, you’ll be in high demand. Become a gentleman and you will be the man most women are looking for.” (102)

Let’s take a few steps back to a time not so long ago when women were seen as commodities (like pork, oil, gold, real estate, cattle, etc.): they were assigned a certain value and then used as a means to procure other things of value. This means they were used the same way money is: sold, bought, traded, used for reward, given away, etc. They didn’t have a say in the matter because they were commodities. Furthermore, “Prostitution was legal, encouraged, and in many places, part of religious tradition. In ancient Rome men used prostitutes as a form of birth control… Once a man had an heir, it was easier and more convenient to withhold sex from his wife and take pleasure elsewhere.” (103) Andy Stanley goes on to say (and stick with me until the end here) that men treated women this way not just because of the culture, but also because of what men are. He says that without social or legal guidance, this is their ‘default,’ if you will. Why? Because in places where social or legal protection isn’t present, this type of treatment continues in our world even today. “Women’s rights have evolved. Men have not. This is why the porn industry is recession proof. In the US it’s illegal for men to own, trade, abuse and discard women. So men can only fantasize about it. And we do. To the tune of about ten billion dollars a year.” (103) Then Andy dives into the sex trade as well as the thousands of women and children fundamentally enslaved for sexual use in our country today.

This unsavory aspect is not hidden in the dark corners of society. Rather, women as a commodity is portrayed in television, movies, music, etc. Why? “It’s the promise of sex that sells. But it’s not just the promise of sex. Let’s be grown-ups about this. It’s the promise that this product will increase a man’s potential for gratifying himself sexually with a sexually attractive woman, with the option of discarding her for another when he chooses.” (104) Where does this leave us? Men continue to act like they did millennia ago and women are often complicit in the view of themselves as a commodity. So what’s a guy to do?

Christianity came in with a whole new game that, when correctly applied, radically transformed the role and status of women in the world: Jesus revealed that God loved the ladies just as much as he loved the guys and this was revolutionary. “Just do a quick mental review of what you know about how other religions allow, and in some cases encourage, men to treat women. We are deceived into thinking that we are simply more sophisticated. Wrong…We’re not more sophisticated, we are more Christian.” (106)

So what’s the big deal? Jesus taught that God would understand our love for him through how we loved others, and others include women. While this might have been challenging for the Jews, this was upside down for the Greek and Roman cultures whose gods didn’t care for humans or their relationships with each other. It’s like when John wrote about Jesus talking to the woman at the well and his disciples were surprised. “The Greek term translated as surprised is translated in other sections of John as amazed. One translation says they marveled. Men didn’t talk to women in public.” (108) While the action Jesus took elicited this response, his interaction with the women drastically elevated her from her previous status. Merely by acknowledging women and engaging with them, he was elevating them in ways that nobody else was in that time.

Furthermore, Jesus was intentional about his inclusion of women. He wove them deeply into his story line in such a way that it would be impossible for them to be edited out. “For example, if it had been possible for the gospel writers to have navigated around the fact that women first discovered and announced the resurrection, I’m sure they would have. But there was no way past the truth that it was Jesus’ female followers who were up before dawn to visit the tomb.”  (109) Even then, and even in the bible, it captures the attitude towards women in that time when it says in Luke 24:11, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense.”

Jesus emphasized again and again our equality with one another before God. The fact that this was not generally believed to be the case is clarified through the reiteration of this in the bible, like in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If people already knew this, lived it, it would be unnecessary to state. Furthermore, sexual expectations were applied in Christianity to both genders. Whereas in all other cultures, faithfulness and purity fell solely on the woman, in Christianity both genders were expected to remain chaste prior to marriage and faithful to one another until death divided them. Why did this need to be called out time and time again in the Bible? Because this was counter cultural. And if you didn’t, women were afforded greater rights than ever before in divorce. Where before, women had no rights but could be divorced without cause. When Jesus was asked if a man divorcing his wife was acceptable, he replied in Matthew 19:4-6 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus called them all to a higher standard. What was the response of all the male disciples to this new standard? They told Jesus that if this were true, than it was best to not marry at all. 

So, alright, women are valued by God just as much as men are, and we’ve got Jesus saying that the only reason any person can dip out on a marriage is infidelity, but what about how we treat each other? Ephesians 5:28 says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” I Peter 3:7 states, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” Again, consider why this even had to be stated: Jesus was elevating women above the station socially accepted by the culture at that time. And ladies ought not get fired up about that weaker partner stuff. There were violent, oppressive times, and often that violence was directed against that who had less strength physically, legally, socially, etc.

Today, in the United States, women have improved substantially on the rights they possess, but guys are still being guys. “By now men should have adopted the Golden Rule as it relates to sexual expression: do unto women the way you want men to do unto your daughters and sisters.” (114) A man applies this attitude to his life not because laws command it, but because he chooses to act in a way that will empower him to have a healthy sexual relationship that lasts a lifetime. “So guys, do you want to become the person the person you are looking for is looking for? Or are you content to get by with whatever you can with whomever will allow you to treat her that way?” (115)

Chapter 7 (The Way Forward) starts by reminding you that this isn’t just for your mother, sister and the women you date. Being a gentleman means that every woman is given the same dignity that you would show someone who made in God’s image. He challenges guys to examine their entertainment: music, movies, television shows, venues. You can’t escape the suggestive but you are able to eliminate exploitative. How do you tell the difference? “Exploitive (sp) is when you feel compelled to tackle your mom before she sees what’s on the screen.” (120)

Music? If you have a song that calls women bitches, whores, etc. delete it. There’s plenty of arguments for why this is okay (it’s cultural, I already paid for it, I don’t agree with it, etc.) but it comes down to this: “Words matter. Words are not only an expression of culture; they shape culture. They have the power to direct culture.” (120) If you turn a person into an adjective, it becomes easier to treat that person as an adjective than a person. Andy Stanley uses the example of what he read and witnessed in Rwanda and how Jews were labeled in Germany leading up to WWII. I could present similar examples in America when we look at the history of black people in this country, the Japanese during WWII, the labeling of Native Americas prior to their systemic eradication, etc. “If I can convince myself that you are less than human, I can treat you as such. Words matter. Labels are powerful. Adjectives are empowering. So do yourself and your future a favor and drop the derogatory adjectives. Especially toward women… A culture that degrades women is a culture that should be abandoned…not defended.” (122) Andy Stanley says that eventually, you’ll give yourself permission to degrade them and suggests that if you disagree, you go back and re-examine your last pornographic experience.

Erotic images, from Netflix to Showtime and HBO to porn, teaches us three lessons:

  1. One body isn’t enough.
  2. A real body isn’t enough.
  3. Your future wife’s body won’t be enough. (122)

Some guys might think that their hunger for this will go away when they meet the right person, but it doesn’t. He’s stuck because would never marry the kind of woman he watches in porn and other sexual content, but he can only find sexual gratification with the “bitches” and “whores” he consumes through that media. Furthermore, his hunger for other women and for the bodies he sees on the screen subtly (or not so subtly) pushes his spouse to feel insecure and inadequate. “Now if you think I’m making this up….ask said counselor if the scenario I’m describing sounds familiar. What you’ll quickly discover is that this is not a scenario the counselor hears occasionally, but weekly. Porn is job security for marriage counselors and divorce attorneys.” (123)

It comes down to this: if you want a healthy, happy, sexually-satisfying relationship, you’ll leave other women out of it. Google the effects that porn has on your brain. No bueno, my friend. “Internet porn takes advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to create new pathways. This is what gives Internet porn its addictive quality… The more porn a man consumes, the more severe the changes to the brain.” (124) Which ends up meaning that a real-life body won’t be able to stimulate you the way porn does. Crazy, right? You’d think that there’s nothing like the real thing but every time, porn will win and you’ll end up disappointed. “This is why more and more men need porn as a stimulant for sex. One body doesn’t do it for them. Their wives’ bodies don’t do it for them…In their efforts to experience the same high they find through porn, men crush the romance right out of their marriages.” (124-125) You’re creating competition for your wife’s body, and she’ll lose every time. Not because she isn’t beautiful, or she isn’t amazing, but because your brain isn’t wired to deal with what porn is.

To finish this part up, his last parting words to men on this topic is to be honest. If pornography is something that you’re going to bring into the relationship and keep, then she deserves to know what she will be competing with. That as lovely as she is, that she will never be enough to satisfy you sexually so you’ll be pleasuring yourself to other women. This isn’t sarcasm but sincerity. This issue is as important to know as debt, diseases, etc. She’s not a commodity being consumed on the screen after all, but a real person seeking real connection with someone who loves her faithfully. “You may get a little credit for being transparent if you tell her up-front. But you ain’t gonna get nothing but couch time if she discovers the truth later. You have something to fear either way.” So do the right thing and don’t head into marriage with this kind of secret. The other option is to accept, right now, that erotic imagery is destructive and to walk away from it, because that’s part of the preparation we keep talking about. Prepare now so you are ready then. You need time for recovery. Using pornography is an addiction (if you didn’t google the effect of porn on your brain and don’t believe me go google it) and addictions take time to recover from. Start now to prepare the future you for success.

Andy Stanley ends this chapter with a really big ask for anyone whose been consuming porn consistently for even a couple years: take a year off from dating, hooking up, meeting up, staying over, etc. For 365 days. Why? “You may hate me for this. In your current state you are incapable of treating a woman with the respect she is due. Incapable. I’m not saying you don’t know how. I’m saying you can’t do it… Your behavioral patterns have worn deep ruts. Your mind just goes there, doesn’t it?” (128) So he’s saying take time to heal. To renew yourself and create new patterns. Unsubscribe. Filter. Find new friends. Do not believe the lie that this is a sacrifice; it is an investment. Staying in a pattern of consuming erotic imagery is the sacrifice: the sacrifice of a healthy sex life, a healthy relationship and a happy future. Just think about it.

Want more? A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

I’m clearly getting a lot from this since we are in Part 4. I encourage anyone reading this to start at the beginning with Part 1.

Chapter 5 is called ‘Love Is,’ but I think the best way to describe this chapter would be, ‘Love Does.’ When you think about all the Disney stories, fairy tales and (again) romantic comedies that are ever so popular, the understanding is (whether stated or not) that everyone lives happily ever after. Those who scoff might be called realists, or skeptics, perhaps even cynics. But one thing that is abundant in life is trials and tribulations: generally only children believe that happily ever after happens in this life. Paul wrote on love in I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” In order to be a man (or an adult), you must put away your childish understanding of what and how to love.

“Think about it. Aren’t you amazed at how immature adults can be when it comes to love and relationships? Immature, as in childish. Childlike. Why is that? When it comes to their relationships with women, why do grown men revert to acting like teenaged boys? And why do grown women play along? …We all know that approach to romance never ends well. So why is it repeated so often?” (74)

But if that doesn’t work, what does? How do we love as mature adults? If we seek the answer within the bible, Paul provides the context of love as a verb. And verbs, being actions, naturally have effects. In other words, “When both people are willing to do a little causing, both experience a little effecting. Perhaps affection would be a better word. When two people choose to put the other first, powerful things transpire.” (76) What exactly are those verbs? Check out I Corinthians 13:4-8. This, in essence, ought to be our “Become List.” Find someone that has mastered these or is at minimum actively working at them on their “Become List.” Why? Because impatient people don’t suddenly become patient when they fall in love; it is a skill that is built over time. But on to the list.

  1. Patient: Rather than a means to an end, “Patience is the decision to move at someone else’s pace rather than pressure him or her to match yours.” (78) Counter to idea that life is about getting ahead and being first, this calls us to match pace. “It is a decision to pause rather than push.” (78) Impatience, on the other hand, is an emotional response that you feel. So patience is a choice, impatience is a feeling. What effect do they have? Patience, unnaturally shifting your pace to that of another, isn’t natural but it is an act of submission, of putting another first. It is an expression of love. Meanwhile, being impatiently pushed by someone you love can cause you to feel less loved (because they aren’t showing love).
  2. Kind: I am a BIG fan of kindness. Kindness is at the top of my list for desirable traits in a man. Super attractive. Kindness isn’t soft or weak: “To be kind is to leverage one’s strength on behalf of another. When we’re kind, we put our strength, abilities, and resources on loan to someone who lacks them… Kindness is love’s response to weakness.” (80) It is a choice and in it’s highest form, it is unconditional. Andy Stanley notes that it is likely the most important attribute in any romantic relationship! Conversely, unkindness brings death to romance: consistent acts of unkindness will end any relationship. Like patience, it is not a means to an end. Paying attention to how a person reacts to people either in a difficult situation or to whom they are under no obligation to be kind to will be a strong indicator of how they will end up treating you.
  3.  Doesn’t Envy, Boast, and is not Proud: Manifestations of insecurity, these three are expressed through sarcasm, criticism and public disrespect and they also kill romance. Think of relationships where one person could hardly say a nice or kind thing about the other person. Rather than celebrate the successes and strengths, they celebrate failures and cut their teeth on one another’s weaknesses. Envy is not rooted in the relationship; it’s roots spread deeper and farther than the expanses of any one relationship. Envy establishes it’s roots in a person and influences all relationships; envy is a problem smuggled in. “Is your initial response to celebrate or denigrate? To add or subtract from? Are you comfortable allowing the spotlight to remain on other people? …Envy is next to impossible to see in the mirror. But if you pay attention, you may see it mirrored in your relationships… you’ve got to own it and dethrone it.” (83) How? Celebrate, lift up, encourage. Instead of you telling a better story, you celebrate theirs. Lastly, pride prevents celebration because rather than pouring praise and encouragement, we remain silent.
  4. Doesn’t Dishonor: A rarely used term, some might think that honor is antiquated. “But honor is at the heart of every great relationship. In fact, if you fall in love with someone who has prepared to, and is committed to, honoring you, you are one lucky individual. In some ways, honor is the epicenter of a satisfying relationship.” (84) Picture your most prized possession, the thing you would choose save if there was a fire. How do you treat that possession? How do you care for it? How would you feel if it was mishandled by another person? Your instinct is to protect those things which you value. “Protecting is an expression of honor… Honor defers. Honor yields. Honor gives way… Interesting thing, Paul doesn’t present honor as something to aspire to. He presents it as something we should never deviate from.” (86) Why? Because love is choosing to give honor to another. Honor is, in a way, also an act of submission. Conversely, dishonor is dangerously comfortable. Treated that way long enough, one can begin to believe that is their truth. Resting in the fact that we are all created in the image of God, we must recall that our honor is not reliant on what we have done but on that which we innately are: created and loved by God.
  5. Not Self-Seeking: If love is about putting another before yourself, than it is a necessity that you not put yourself first, and it’s also a great test. “If you give and give and give and the other person takes and takes and takes, then you’ll know to run and run and run. But if you choose not to be self-seeking and your love interest returns the favor, then you’ve made a valuable discovery.” (87-88)
  6. Not Provocative: Modern translations have this as “not easily angered,” but Paul was likely referring to being ‘fired up,’ if you will. It’s having a short fuse, assigning blame. “…you may be tempted to respond, ‘That’s easy for you to say because you don’t know (name of person who stirs you up).’ That’s true. Here’s something equally true. Stir-ees always blame the stir-ers.” (88) This doesn’t change the dynamic though. If you provoke others, you are not acting in a loving manner. If you allow yourself to be provoked, you are equally not responding in a loving way. It is best to seek one who is not easily provoked, and doesn’t thrive on provoking others.
  7. Not a Record Keeper: While they can totally be into vinyl (the sound quality is better, right?), NASB translates this part as “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” We all know people who, in the midst of a disagreement, pull up past sins to be used against the other person. If someone is a record keeper with others, undoubtedly that tendency will eventually turn towards you. This can bring the same reaction out in you as a means of defense with an increasing likelihood to continue responding in the same manner. “The challenge for record keepers is that they are right… The problem isn’t their accuracy. The problem is the damage it does to a relationship.” (91) Why? It doesn’t foster love; forgiveness does. Even if you can’t forget, the best option is to pretend you have until you do. Keeping records is about keeping others down. Love is about lifting others up. This is often justified through the fact that it’s truth, but this kind of truth is best left to friends, counselors, etc. Truth served up by a record keeper will just lead to isolation and pain.
  8. “Love chooses to see the best and believe the best while choosing to overlook the rest.” (94) This summary from Andy Stanley is based on I Corinthians 13:6-7 which says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Always. Sound impossible? It is making the choice to always trust that they are putting you first. It is to always hope. And it is choosing to persevere in the face of things which could drive you apart. “Every time your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or friend-friend makes a promise or sets an expectation and doesn’t come through, he or she creates a gap. Whether you realize it or not, you choose what goes in the gap. And there are only two choices: trust or suspicion… when there’s a gap, love does everything possible to protect the integrity of the relationship rather than undermine it with suspicion.” (96) It is choosing love, when everything says otherwise. This inspires the other person to be their best self. If we always believe the best, they carry that with them. If we always believe the worst, it can end up leading them to believe that is who they are. It is, in a way, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s it. None of this comes naturally, they are all something we choose, something we cultivate, and according to Paul, they’re all non-negotiable when it comes to the love Christ calls us into. The question is, are we ready to put our childish view of love away and focus on becoming the person God calls us to be?

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Chapter 4 looks at ‘becoming,’ and that doesn’t mean that this transforms into one of the many self-help books that Americans seem to love to read, talk about and then move on to the next book. It’s about becoming the you that you are meant to be, because that is a necessary element to a successful relationship. Why? “Truth is, your relationships will never be any healthier than you. Here’s why. And this is important. Relationships are never stronger than the weakest link…The stronger, more mature, more secure person in a relationship is always forced to make up for, defer to, or fill in the gaps created by the weaker person.” (57) I know, I know, this sounds uber harsh. But it’s also accurate. Think about the relationship problems you hear couples talk about. Is the issue really their relationship?

Let’s back this up a little. I think we all recognize that our lives are often richer, fuller, more joyful lives because of the relationships we have. And it doesn’t stop at the emotional, social and spiritual support that these relationships provide. It gets physical. God also gave us sex. Sex that feels really great. “If God created and gave us the capacity for satisfying relationships, it’s reasonable to assume God knows a thing or two about how to prepare for and operate one.” (59) This makes sense, right? Who knows how to operate something better than the designer, the creator, the originator of that thing? God actually teaches us this in the New Testament, and it lines up with what Andy Stanley writes about with regards to focusing on ‘you becoming’ versus ‘you finding.’ “…if you approach the New Testament asking, ‘How do I find the right person?’ the text is silent. But once you muster the courage to ask, ‘How do I become the right person?’ the text comes alive.” (61)

Ask yourself what happens to the ‘right person myth,’ after marriage. Does it dissipate? Or does it linger? Do people with that attitude, upon facing challenges and difficulties, end up questioning if they are with the ‘right person’ because things aren’t all good? It’s stunning how often we see people insistent on changing the person they are with. “‘If I could get my spouse to act right, everything would be all right.‘ Odd thing, these are the very couples who married assuming that they had met the right person to begin with. Turns out, the right person doesn’t always act right.” (62) This is another reason to focus on ‘becoming.’ If you are a person who just searches for the right person, your focus will always be on making them right, and not on yourself. Conversely, if you marry someone who believes in the right person myth, then any issues that arise would rest on the idea that you are not, in fact, the right person.

Depending on the circles you run in, there’s a lot of talk about love as a verb.  This means that rather than love being driven by feeling or chemistry, love is demonstrative action. This is found all over the New Testament, but not so often in our romantic comedies, which tell us that action is driven by the feeling of love. As an example from the New Testament, consider Matthew 5:44, where we are asked to love our enemies. Certainly if they are an enemy, you’re unlikely to find emotion to be a driver to act loving. Rather, we are being asked to demonstrate love for those who come against us! What this tells us is that relationships are built on choice rather than chemistry. “Great relationships are built on good decisions, not strong emotions. Again, falling in love is easy; it requires a pulse. Staying in love requires more. Specifically, embracing love as a verb.” (63) Remember, again, that this is not what society tells us. It says that you get what you give, it demands people to ‘get what they deserve,’ as long as you do your part I’ll probably do mine (unless something better comes along).

Where does this land us? Many of us (ahem) have experienced it firsthand: “The results are fragile relational contracts built on conditional agreements that leave both parties focused on the behavior of their partner…they are relationships built on ‘mutual distrust.'” (64) The end result of this is that each person expects the other person to carry the weight of the relationship and the expectations in it; failure to do so is a failure to meet the contractual requirements and confirmation that the other person is not, indeed, the right person. Disappointment, blame, and moving onto someone else become a continuous cycle for all parties. But then there’s this alternate path available to us:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 “The Greek term translated new in our English Bibles connotes strange or remarkable.” (65) Something about what we’re being called to in love is remarkable from what love was before! We’re supposed to love like Christ did: sacrificially. What does this look like? Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yeah, I know. Submitting. This can be a hot topic but I want you to hang with me here, okay? Let’s really understand what’s being said.

Paul is writing about what Andy Stanley calls mutual submission. “…Paul wasn’t calling for an unequivocal unilateral abandonment of personal independence. This is a one another thing…mutual submission doesn’t work unless it’s mutual. It only works when both parties work it.” (67) This is not the way the vast majority of people operate, and that’s why Paul points us back to our reverence for Christ. Why? Because we are meant to be inspired by Jesus’ example and use it as a model for our own relationships. Ephesians 5:22-5:25 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The emphasis is added to highlight the mutual submission that is inherent in this verse. This is the kind of relationship we are called to, but it might all just sound a little too good, right?

“The alternative is to invite fear into future relationships… While your reservation is perfectly understandable, it’s entirely unnecessary and counterproductive. You were created for more than guarded relationships and ‘I will as long as you will’ love. Truth is, you hope that’s true, even if you’ve never seen it or experienced it.” (68) I John 4;18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Don’t we want that? Aren’t we called to that?

At one point Andy Stanley was fundamentally asked if he believed that having a two-headed home (instead of the man being the head of the household) was like a two-headed monster; if he believed the man should basically be the head of the household. He replied:

“Before I answer your question, imagine you’re married to a man who genuinely believes you are the most fascinating person on the planet. He’s crazy about you. You have no doubt that your happiness is his top priority. He listens when you talk. He honors you in public. To use the old-fashioned term, he ‘cherishes’ you. He’s not afraid to make a decision. He values your opinions. He leads, but he listens. He’s responsible. He’s not argumentative. You have no doubt that he would give his life for you if the need arose. You never worry about him being unfaithful. In fact, to quote an old Flamingos’ song, he only has eyes for you… Would either of you have trouble following a man like that?” (70)

And if you read that, you’re answer was probably no, I wouldn’t. In fact, you probably said, “Where do I find that guy?” Why? Because that sounds like a really amazing guy, a man that is easy to follow because you are confident that they have your best interests at heart. You don’t have to fear it or fight it. “Stand-alone submission is dangerous. But mutual submission? That’s different. A relationship characterized by mutual submission is the best of all possible relationships. It is a relationship worth preparing for. It is a relationship worth waiting for.” (71)

I also thought, as I read Andy’s description, am I a person that ALWAYS listens when other people talk? Do I honor those I love in public and cherish them? Am I responsible and not argumentative? Faithful? I think that the answer to most of these are yes, but there are certainly ways I could grow in order to make these characteristics stronger and more frequently demonstrated. I believe that taking those steps will help me prepare for whatever it is I’m waiting for.

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Two)

First, if you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest you read that first. Chapter 2 is titled, “Commitment is Overrated,” which at first felt like a huge red flag.  How could commitment be overrated? Isn’t commitment a big part of what makes things work? “In the realm of relationships, unlike any other arena of life, we operate from the premise that a promise replaces the need for preparation. That a couple can promise, vow, or commit themselves into a successful future.” (p. 36) This sounds like a pretty ludicrous idea when it’s framed this way by society does this and we have that expectation all the time. It’s like in the episode of Friends when Joey finds out about his father’s infidelity and is fearful that he’ll struggle with fidelity when he’s married.  Chandler reassures him that when he finds the right woman, that won’t be an issue.  But do we really believe that? How often do we see this scenario playing out well? Like Andy Stanley says, “Coaches know that you don’t promise to win games; you prepare to win… Very few people prepare. Most people are content to commit.” (36) He points out that this belief makes people accountable without making them capable, and the end result is misery.

Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” In the context of this book, it’s understanding the value of prudence: that what we choose to do today will impact our tomorrow. You can see the trajectory of many things if you learn to start looking at what has happened in the past. It’s not saying that people don’t change but it is acknowledging that change is a process, and it is recognizable. “Discount the promises but pay attention to the dots, the patterns. Again, the paths people choose trump the commitments they make…The past is a better indicator than a promise.” (40) This might SOUND unforgiving or lacking in grace but it isn’t. It doesn’t DENY that people can change (some of us call that repentance), but what it says it that you know what people are about when you look at what they do.

Consider this when you date someone who has a questionable record relationally, financially, morally, etc. but are promising that things are going to be different in the future. For yourself, recall the biggest, most positive change that you’ve made in your life. Really think about what it took to make that change and identify what the greatest contributor to that positive change was. “…in the end, wasn’t it your decision to act, to engage, to move forward, to move out, that brought about the change you celebrate? …You shook something off. You moved on with your life. You chose a way forward. Others may have cheered you on. But the change came about because of something you did for you.” (42) Now think about your greatest regret that YOU had influence over (not something that happened to you, something that was the result of a decision or decisions that you made). What was the biggest contributor to that regret? “Chances are someone else was involved. Perhaps a group of people. People you liked. People you trusted… You believed that moving in his or her direction would make your life better, richer. But in the end, it wasn’t so.” (41) What does this tell us?

We change when we make the choice to, and if you’re dating someone who leans on others instead of being self-driven, as hard as it might be, that’s where you need to give them the time and space to change. “…no one depends his or her way to change. Change requires fierce in-dependence that should eventually lead to inter-dependence with other healthy people.” (43) If they aren’t there, they won’t get there by you or anyone else being a crutch. Those are people who are not being prudent, who are behaving (according to Proverbs 14:15) as if they are simple. They aren’t thinking about their steps. Maybe you’re one of these people. Life seems to “happen” to you a lot, you don’t necessarily consider the consequences, your yes isn’t your yes. “Commit now to preparing to keep your commitments later. That’s the goal, what you should focus on. If you do, when you say ‘I do,’ you’ll be prepared to follow-through.” (46)

Chapter 3, titled “Becoming the Right Person,” is summed up in this: “Become the right person. Becoming the right person is how you prepare to commit. Becoming the right person dramatically increases your odds of sustained relational success when you finally meet the right person.” (47) My brain didn’t explode the first time I read this a while back, but it may as well have with how eye-opening it was for me. We’ve already established that the right person doesn’t make everything great and that committing without preparing is pretty much guaranteed failure. This calls for some serious introspection, some honest evaluation, to make you ask yourself if you would be attractive to the type of person you’re trying to attract.

“If you are as intentional about becoming the right person as you are about meeting the right person, you will position yourself to bypass a boatload of unnecessary pain, regret and wasted time.” (47-48) This makes complete sense, doesn’t it? But we never really think about it. It’s not the plot of most romantic comedies, because the idea doesn’t come off as funny or particularly romantic on paper. But to me, I find the idea that a man began preparing for marriage before he even met me deeply attractive, and I think that kind of guy might want the same thing from me.

We have to ask the hard questions: “Are you the person the person you’re looking for is looking for? If not…are you willing to begin the process of becoming the person the person you’re looking for is looking for? If you made a list of what you are looking for in someone (which isn’t a bad idea), would that person be looking for someone like you? If the other person’s list matched your list, how would you measure up?” (50) I suggest you read through that paragraph a couple times. Maybe take a break and make a list of what you are looking for and what you bring to the table (both good and bad). Be really honest. This isn’t about shame, guilt or tearing you down. It’s about honest evaluation and being Proverbs prudent: where are you, where do you want to go, what steps are needed to get there? And do we see a hypocrisy in wanting in others what you refuse to develop in yourself? “Bottom line: it’s not enough to look; you must become. You must become intentional about becoming the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.” (51)

You might be feeling like nobody does this, or almost nobody. So why should you? But that reasoning doesn’t really take us anywhere, and the argument made in our becoming is a worthwhile one.  What do we lose in this preparation other than becoming the person we want to be? Plus, as Andy Stanley writes, “If you commit to prepare before your promise, it will dramatically increase your chances of crossing paths with someone who is preparing as well. Why? Because preparing for anything sensitizes you to people who share your passion and direction.” (51) It makes it more likely for you both to not only recognize one another, but to engage with each other over a shared passion.

Think about when you get a new (or new to you) car. You begin to notice the number of times you see someone else with your car on the highway or in a parking lot. Or what about you find a TV show that you then binge-watch on Netflix; don’t you become more aware of the number of fans and references made to that show? “Don’t ever forget: We see what we’re looking for. We see whom we’re looking for as well.” (52) In the book he uses the example of Jenny and Shane meeting through online dating.  Shane, because of his age and success, was a bit of a commodity online. He attracted a lot of women, but they weren’t the kind of women he was looking for. He updated his profile to be more reflective of his morals and values which caught Jenny’s attention but wasn’t enough to hook her. It wasn’t until he spelled out these things in his profile (which he thought would seal his online-dating fate) that Jenny decided to take a chance on him. “Funny thing about Jenny and Shane, they really don’t have much in common on paper. Their common ground, as is so often the case with successful relationships, was more directional than recreational… Their common direction quickly blossomed into mutual affection.” (54-55)

So if you’re spending a lot of time looking, but not a lot of time finding, it’s certainly worthwhile to investigate why. In the story of Denise (not shared here), it was that she wasn’t the person the guy she wanted would want when she shifted from her faith to a life of partying and hooking up. In the story of Shane, it was a matter of clarifying what mattered to him and what direction he was heading. “Someone who is merely looking for the right person usually winds up with someone merely looking for the right person. But people committed to becoming the right people are usually attracted to and notice individuals who are the same.” (55) This leaves us with asking ourselves where we want to end up (and with whom), and determine what steps it will take to arrive there.

Want more? Continue to A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

Sharing: Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?

Warning: The content below contains graphic images. “Were you There” is a notorious hymn sung throughout Christian churches during Holy Week. The lyrics repeat a series of questions, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the […]

via Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? — Daily Theology