Should We Fear The Pickup Artist?

Full time ministry people typically read a lot.  Now I’m not talking about seminary classes here, although those are great.  What I’m talking about is the books we read beyond that.

Christian leaders around the world have embraced a whole lot of books that aren’t officially (or in some cases even remotely) “Christian”.  I see people reading countless books on leadership, team building, good communication and business practices. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Good To Great for sure come to mind.  As I was going through leadership stuff with my church, my pastor had me read The Starfish And The Spider. This was a book about decentralization of an organization.  All good books. But not exactly theologically profound.

Do you know why all these Christian leaders read all these books?  Because they are helpful.  Duh.

Running a church or ministry has a business and organizational piece to it.  We can wish it didn’t but it does.  And while theological training can help with that, it’s not usually enough.

Now there’s some people reading this right now thinking, “Hey wait a minute.  Isn’t this part of the problem with the Western Church today?  Too much business?”  Fair thought, but hear me out.

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How The Church Is Helping Kill Marriage

When I was right out of college I attended a conference with several people I looked up to and their spouses.  They did an incredible job of including me which was a real blessing as we went to meetings and theme parks.  One vivid memory was hanging out with a couple of the guys in the hot tub at the resort when all of a sudden one guy said, “Hey Justin, sorry bro, but I’m gonna go have some sex with my wife.”  To which I said, “No apology needed, go now!”  We both laughed.

It was one of my first times being around a bunch of married Christian people and it was inspiring.  We joked with the guys about how every one of them had married up (which was for sure true!).  I saw how they were a team and yet each couple was completely different in how that looked day to day.  It was awesome.  And it made me want to be married.

We need more of this, and a lot less of what the Church has fallen into over the last 20 years.

God bless the Christian culture in this country but man we tend to overreact.  We have been reacting to decline of the family for some time now.  But in a attempt to save marriage, we are actually often adding to it’s demise.

We somehow believe that if we can make every marriage a good one from the beginning, then all will be well.  But, in a culture that is already hesitant to get married, we have often made them more hesitant.

For starters we have attempted to kill the marriage idol. This is the idea that if I get married then everything will be ok.  It is centered on romance and getting my needs met.  It puts unrealistic expectations on the marriage.  So we tell people how marriage is not about romance.  We spend an inordinate amount of time from the pulpit and in books talking about how hard marriage is.

While this is true, it needs to be balanced out. Where’s the joy?  Where’s the fun?  What if pastors stood up in the pulpit and said, “Sex with my wife is awesome!”  If the Church is so concerned that everyone get married, we should quit accidentally talking everyone out of it.

The second thing we’ve done is create an impossible standard for getting married.  We lift up Ephesians 5 and of course the Proverbs 31 woman. Holy smokes!  Who lives this out perfectly?  Can you even be an Ephesians 5 guy if you aren’t married?  We basically have said, “Whatever you do, don’t settle.  You’re looking for a strong, spiritual person, equally yoked to you, who has it all together and is a perfect grown up.  Don’t settle!”

Along with this is the idea that it used to be easier to find this.  Really?!  COME ON!  Let’s talk about Biblical marriage.  You married who your parents picked for you – if you were lucky.  You had to stay in your caste.  They didn’t typically do a spiritual maturity test first. What a joke.  Have these people read the Bible?

In the “religious right” church there is even this idea that somehow there is a previous magical time where everyone in America was a Jesus follower.  Although I’m not quite sure, I think this is the supposed to be the 1950’s.  Just because everyone went to church and didn’t get divorced doesn’t make it “right”.  The revisionist history needs to end.

Finally, we have completely over spiritualized the entire thing.  If I’m single it means that I just need to be patient and do right because God has a plan.  He will “bring me someone when the time is right.”  Keep praying.  Keep waiting on God.  This sort of “help you sleep at night theology” is killing us.  It makes God the “Great Withholder” and leaves us waiting for our Christian Soulmate that isn’t coming.

Now obviously I’m not suggesting we soft sell marriage or tell people to just go out and marry whoever.  But if we are going to help the next generation we need to stop trying to scare people away from the wrong marriage.  They are already terrified.  They already know marriage is hard – they need to know it is good.  They need to know about the joy of true oneness, the benefits of being in it with someone.  They need to be told about the intimacy available with being with one person for a lifetime more than they need to know about the cost of a one night stand.  They need to be invited to something more awesome. They need to know that they need to pursue it, not just wait on it.

Most of all, they need to see it because most of them haven’t.  We need to give them hope of what it can be, not just tell them what it isn’t.

Would Jesus Snuggle?

The other day one of my friends posted a link on facebook that just stopped me.  I wasn’t even sure exactly what to do with it – it’s just dumbfounding.  And yet . . . it’s not.  Which is why she posted it.

There is a new place called The Snuggery.  Basically the idea is that we all need physical touch and intimacy.  It brings healing and comfort.  But sense most people don’t have it, this lady has started a business.  I’m not making this up.  For $50 you can have a 45 minute snuggling session.  There are two professional snugglers.  You can snuggle with both for $100.  Again, I’m not kidding.

It’s not to be sexual and it must be fully clothed (pajamas are ok though).  Just wear what you are comfortable in.  You can talk or not talk.  Whatever you want.  You just snuggle. You get to be touched.

I’m literally not sure whether to laugh or cry.  Seriously.  In a way it breaks my heart.  This is where we are at as a society.  We are this alone.

Now I guarantee there are some married people who haven’t snuggled at home in a while, which is tragic.  But as a single person this is a huge issue.

I mentioned this in one of my first blogs.  One of the absolutely hardest things as a single is the lack of touch.  And the older you get, the more this is true. What these ladies have right is that touch matters.  Under the heading of WHY SNUGGLE they list out the benefits of intimate, nonsexual touch.  They aren’t wrong about any of it.  And as their lead sentence says, “Why Snuggle? Quite simply because it makes us feel good.”

But if you are single what do you do with this?  If it is true that we need touch, what do we do?

The problem is exasperated by several things.  First off we have had a lot of bad physical touch in our culture.  Over the course of their lifetime 28% of kids age 14-17 have been sexually violated in some way.  This doesn’t even begin to include physical abuse or physical neglect.  That is the world we are growing up in.

Secondly, we have a much more isolated world.  We are way more likely to work alone, and 28% of us live alone. (Now if half of us are married that means that 50% of single people live by themselves.)  That does not lead to good touch.  It leads to isolation.

Finally, partly in response to all of the above and the sexually immoral culture that we live in, the Church has told us not to touch anyone.  Kiss dating goodbye.  Don’t touch or it could lead to sex.  I get it, I really do, but man, if we don’t touch at all, that can’t be good.  We can’t live in fear and call it religion.

I can speak from personal experience here.  I went 10 years without kissing anyone (age 25-35).  Most of that was spent with very little touch.  There were lots of reasons.  But to be honest as I turned the corner of 30 I was messed up, and I’d say lack of touch contributed to that.  I remember feeling awkward even hugging sometimes.

I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure how to fix all this.  I’m not suggesting the Church start establishing Christian Snuggeries.  But I know that we need an answer.  We need something different than “don’t have sex” and “don’t go to far”.  Why should two women be addressing this while we stand on the sidelines?

Appropriate touch is vital.  I can’t remember where I saw it but there is a video of nuns in a poor country taking in dying children.  You know the first thing they did?  They hugged them and held them for extended periods.

In Mark 2 a leper approaches Jesus.  Back then, lepers were separated out and seen as unclean.  They were to avoid contact with the “clean” people at all costs.  In fact there was a six foot rule that said no one was supposed to be within six feet of them.

But as this guy approaches Jesus, he doesn’t move out of the way.  Now Jesus could have said the word and this man would have been healed of leprosy.  But he still would have been untouched, and maybe people would have wondered, “is he really well?”

In one of the most simple, powerful moments in Jesus’ ministry, he reached out and touched the man.  He knew he needed more than a physical healing – he needed to know he was touchable.

Somehow we have to rescue this.  We have to know that not only are we “Christian” or “Saved” but that we are touchable.  Whatever message we send the single person, that has to be part of it.

Have you ever suffered from lack of touch? Where do you go for appropriate touch?

Religion And Dating Don’t Mix

When I look back at my twenties and dating I just kind of cringe.  I think a lot of people probably do.  But the reason I cringe isn’t because I slept around, or dated all the wrong people.  It’s because I was too religious.  Religious dating can really screw us up.

Here’s what I mean.  First of all there is this idea that there is a “Biblical” way to date.  As I’ve mentioned in a different post, this is utter nonsense.  No where in the Bible is there any sort of guide of how to get married, let alone date.  Nothing.  Nada.  Zero. Ok, moving on.

There is also the idea that because you should only date to get married that you shouldn’t go on a date unless you know you will marry them.  Which again makes no sense. First off there is a big difference between going on a date and “dating” someone.  I agree that main reason to date is to try to get married, especially the older you get.  But the idea that you should only go on a date with someone you know you can marry is crazy.  It can be paralyzing.  Especially when you pair it with the next religious dating ideal.

There is the idea that we need to guard the other person’s heart.  This one isn’t even possible.  It starts with the right idea of not leading someone on.  I want to talk more about this later but I agree we need to be careful.  If we aren’t interested we shouldn’t date them. We shouldn’t make promises that we aren’t ready to be committed to.  We should never lie.  All those things do guard everybody’s heart but thats just called honesty.  But the idea that I don’t want to ask someone out in case it doesn’t work out and they get hurt is delusional and probably a little arrogant.  It assumes I’m the one controlling the relationship.  I’d be the one to end it.  I don’t want them to like me too much in case I change my mind.  Really?!

The truth is even if my intentions are great, I can’t guarantee that if I ask someone out that it will go somewhere.  And I think we need to give our ladies a little more credit.  Adult women are capable of dealing with hurt.  They can handle it.  I once had a woman flat out tell me, “Hey, it’s my job to guard my own heart.  We can’t find out if it goes somewhere if we don’t go forward.  I’m ok with the risk.”  She was exactly right.  Really, if she wasn’t mature enough to be ok with the risk, then it probably wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

The final problem is if you do go out with different people you can get labeled as a serial dater.  Now I’m certainly not suggesting using no discernment and just dating anyone at any time.  I’m also not suggesting dating just to date or asking out anyone just to get a rush or because you need approval of women.  Motive is everything here.  I’d also say that if you have lots of fairly long relationships that always fail, you need to check yourself and what’s going on.  There could be a fear of commitment.

But it can be a double standard.  Why aren’t you dating anyone?  Why aren’t you married?  There are lots of great women in our church – but you’d better only ask out one, because if you ask out more than one, everyone will think that you just want to serial date our church.

I big timed lived in this stuff in my twenties.  I WAY over thought potential dates.  I’m not talking about people that I didn’t really want to date, I’m talking about people I thought I could be interested in but wasn’t sure.  How the heck were you supposed to find out?

In an effort help people date right (or court or whatever), Christians have unintentionally made it harder to get married.  We are helping to paralyze people from actually pursuing relationships.  We end up over thinking, over analyzing, and over spiritualizing the whole thing.  We end up with guys who have no idea how to actually pursue someone when they DO want to because they can never be sure if they SHOULD.

Non-Christians make it way less complicated.  Like someone – ask them out. We could learn some from that.

We can’t date constantly worried about choosing wrong, trying to protect everyone, worried about what everyone thinks.  We can’t date in a context that says, don’t try, don’t risk, don’t touch, don’t mess up, don’t hurt anybody.  God’s grace is bigger than that.  We need to walk with Jesus but we need to free ourselves from a made up “Christian Dating” culture.

Has “Religious Dating” held you back?  Has it stifled your path?  Has it messed you up.

To Kiss Or Not To Kiss

My first kiss from anyone other than a relative came in first grade.  It was right after school and this girl named Lori came up on the playground, grabbed me and kissed me. . . ON THE LIPS.  It was scandalous but it wasn’t sex.

I want to write today about kissing.  I want to say up front that I’m not expecting everyone to agree with what I say here today and that’s ok.  I’ve been on every side of this in my 20 years of singleness.  I’ve messed it up on both sides. So let’s get real.

First a brief Justin kissing history.  In high school, I kissed exactly one person.  Not because I didn’t want to, or because I thought it wrong, but because I didn’t know how to go about it and I was not super popular with the ladies.  When I got to college that all changed and I kissed pretty much every girl I went out with, usually on the first date.  It was fun.  I didn’t fool around with them, and I didn’t have sex with any of them.  I don’t think it scarred anybody.

Then came my 20s and what I call the religious dating revolution of the 90’s.  This was led by I Kissed Dating Good Bye and other such books.  As I shared in an earlier post, I dated (courted, talked with, whatever she called it) a girl who went by a book with a chart.  No kissing allowed.  Now a lot of this made sense to me.  I’d seen a lot of people fall into temptation.  Then and now I get the argument.

I went ten years without kissing anyone.  TEN years.  

Now this started out as a religious “date right” decision.  Then there was a time when there just wasn’t many options and my head was buried in ministry.  But when I looked up after about five years I was in a new city, 31 years old, and had no confidence in this area of my life (not to mention no physical intimacy).  I had new reasons for not kissing.  In the back of my head was still the religious reasons, including “guarding the girl’s heart” (which mostly guarded her heart from liking me – ha) and frankly it had been a long time – could I deliver? I think it hurt me and helped keep me single.

Then I went on a date with a girl who pretty much did what Lori did in first grade – except in a car.  It was still scandalous, and it still wasn’t sex.

Sense then I’ve been on a lot of dates and God has walked me through a lot of stuff.  I’ve maybe kissed a couple of people I shouldn’t have and maybe even missed it when I should have.  But here’s what I’ve come to believe.

I think kissing is ok.

In fact I think if you haven’t kissed by the third or fourth date you are in trouble.  You are quickly approaching the no chemistry zone.  Now the exception might be if you have both talked about it and said you don’t want to – that’s totally fine – your call. But I’m saying I think kissing is fine, in fact I think it’s good.  I don’t think it’s sex or has to lead to it.

I’ve already talked about not having sex outside of marriage and I want to talk more later about having some healthy physical boundaries but when it comes to kissing I say yes please.

But. . . some important parameters.

First off, if you are not interested in the girl, then don’t kiss her.  For the love do I need to type that?  We’ve all had dates we just weren’t into. But here is where the third date thing comes into play.  If by the third date you don’t want to kiss her, then probably it’s time to not date her.  Sometimes we are passive about ending stuff.  More on that soon.

This brings us to point two.  This all assumes that the reason you are dating is to find someone to marry.  I’m not talking here about running around kissing different random people.  That is definitely not ok.  I’m talking about you are trying to find a spouse and you meet someone you like and it is progressing.  I think it is ok, good in fact, to kiss that person.

There are lots of traps that you can fall into, for example kissing all the time and never actually talking.  But there are traps with being so religious that you don’t have any physical contact.

So, what do you think?  When is it ok to kiss?  Is it good, bad, or does it even matter? What does a kiss mean to you?