Ahh The Man Problem

We have a man problem!  How many times have you heard that in the Church in the last 10 years?

I want to respond some more to a piece from the SBTS that quotes Al Mohler talking about this.  This isn’t personal by the way.  All Mohler is doing is putting words to what so many in the Church think about singleness and marriage.

As Mohler is discussing the “sin” of delaying marriage (what length of delay equals sin is unclear of course) he says,

“This is a problem shared by men and women.  But it is primarily of men.  We have established a boy culture in which boys are not growing up into men.

Guys, the reality is that God has given us a responsibility to lead, to take responsibility as a man, to be the man in every way before God that we are called to be . . . It means taking the leadership to find a godly wife and to marry her and to be faithful to her in every way and to grow up to be a man who is defined as a husband, and by Gods grace we pray eventually, as father.”

I just . . . I mean. . .

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A “Big” Christian Singles Problem We’re Ignoring

In the late 1960’s 60% of those 19-29 were married.  That number now is only 20%. That’s a whole different ballgame.  Half of America is unmarried.

There are a whole lot of reasons for this.  We’ve talked about it many times here in one way or another.  Lack of ability to interact with the opposite sex, fulfilling sexual desire outside of marriage, creating false spiritual platitudes, and over spiritualizing the whole thing, just to name a few.

But there is one thing that I haven’t talked about here.  And this is going to probably make some people uncomfortable and possibly even mad.  But to not talk about it at all, seems to me to be a cop out and if you read here at all, you know I’m not usually willing to do that.  So here goes.

I think one of the unnamed reasons we have less marriage comes from one of the sins and addictions that we don’t like to talk about in the Church.  That is our bad relationship with food and the sin of gluttony.

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Two Lies About Marriage You Don’t Have To Believe

A couple of years ago right after I got engaged I was at a retreat of sorts with a bunch of men.  One night we were on the back porch enjoying a beverage and a cigar when a gentlemen I knew started to talk to me about marriage.

Now as we who have been unmarried for any amount of time know, usually this sets off the “Crap, here comes the platitudes” warning sirens.  In this case I was pretty ready for that conversation but instead it went a different direction.  This guy and I know each other moderately well and he’s probably 15-20 years older than me.  He asked me if I was excited which I said that I was.

Then he did what almost no one does – he told me marriage was worth it.  He said that he and his wife have had their struggles (I knew this, which was why I was ready for the platitudes about marriage being hard, enjoying my singleness etc.).  But then he said basically this, “You know what though, I wouldn’t trade any of it.  Marriage is good.  I mean even after all these years, I go to bed and she’s there, next to me, that’s what its all about!”  Amen brother, Amen.

A lot of people, including – and maybe particularly – in the Christian community have sort of created a bunch of general statements about marriage that frankly are just sort of false. I think it happens for lots of reasons.  Part of it is an attempt to knock down the marriage idol. (One of the funny things is that you and I need to give up the marriage idol but the Church doesn’t have to apparently).  Also, just to be honest, what a lot of Christian married people remember about being single is being 23 and single – not being 33 and single.  I mean yeah, 23 was fun.  Not better, but way easier.

I’ve talked about some of the big falsehoods such as the Marriage is Hard Movement and how singles should take advantage of their singleness, do more ministry and focus on God. You can click the link and check those out.  Today I want to talk about two simple lies that if you are single, you can feel free to let go of.

First is the idea that marriage doesn’t really answer any of life’s questions.  I remember talking with friend who got married in her early 30s.  She told me of a conversation she had with her mom while she was engaged where she, trying to sound holy, said, “I know that it doesn’t change everything and that I still have a lot to work on.” Her mom responded, “Actually it changes a lot and it answers one of the biggest questions you’ve ever asked.”

While it is true that marriage doesn’t answer all of life’s questions or solve all of your problems, it does answer some big ones.  For example, “Will I get married?”  “Who will I marry?” Those are some pretty dang big questions that most people ask a lot.  They can dominate your thoughts.  “What will she/he be like?”  There are some bonus questions too.  Who will I live with next year?  Will I ever have sex?

The point is, marriage actually settles a lot – and that’s a good thing.

A second one that especially as a guy I heard all the time was, “Just because you get married doesn’t mean that you won’t look at other women.”  I bought into that one all the way up until I met my wife.

Here’s the scoop.  Might you notice an attractive lady that walks into the room?  Yes you are not now blind because you are married.  But you know what is awesome?  It doesn’t matter.  Know why? – You’re Married!  Do you know what the means?  No more having to size everyone you meet up to see if they might be someone you could pursue – or if they might like you.  No more, “Hey she’s cute – I wonder if she’s a Christian?”  No more trying to figure out if they are hot enough, fun enough, smart enough, Christian enough or any other enoughs.  It doesn’t matter.  At all.

After over 20 years of asking those questions I can honestly tell you that I’ve never once thought about it.  Now you say, “Justin you’re just in newlywed bliss and so on.”  Whatever.  Let me tell you, not having to deal with that is awesome.  The question of who I’m with has been answered.  Yes I could go out and screw that up – but that’s a different deal.  That’s called open rebellion, not looking for a mate.  Two different things.

The affair question is a separate one.  Sexual sin can still happen.  That has to do with sexual desire, temptation and how marriage plays into that.  That is a different blog post. But as someone who has spent too much time trying to determine if I could date this or that person, it is awesome to have that answered. I was constantly looking and sizing stuff up.  Then I met my wife, and that was that.  The decision has been made.  It’s totally different.  Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t.

Marriage won’t answer all of your core questions.  God answers those.  It won’t solve all of your problems.  You’re still you.  You still have a lot of your problems.  Haha.  But it does answer some of them and you don’t have to pretend that it doesn’t.  In fact you can trust that it will.  You can even go ahead and want it to happen.

 

 

When “Staying You” Is A Bad Idea

When I was about 27 or so I had been dating a woman for a several months when she decided that I wasn’t for her and that someone else was.  It was a hard thing for me to take for a couple of reasons.  I had waited what felt like a long time already to get married and I really, really thought she could be “the one“.

As I was processing through the “breakup” I was fortunate to have some good friends and mentors who really came along side me.  But one of the weirdest conversations I had was with a woman maybe 20 years older than me said something like, “Wow it’s hard.  All these years you’ve been single.  How do you keep from blaming yourself?  How do you keep from thinking you’re the problem?”

I gave some sort of answer to that.  I don’t really remember what, but I’m sure it was good. But here’s what is interesting.  In many ways I’d like to have that conversation back.

While I think that this woman was honestly just trying to be encouraging and telling me that, “Hey, don’t worry – it’s not you” maybe what I needed to hear was, “So what part of this is you?”

The reality was in that particular case, it really wasn’t me.  But the fact that I made it to 41 and single – a lot of that was indeed me.

Do you remember when you were in school and you would get the school yearbook? There’d be a few pages or an insert or some other place where you would get notes from classmates. Have you ever read back over those?  It’s mostly generic stuff like, “Hey bro – great time rockin’ with you in English this year,” or “J Man – thanks for keeping me sane in Chemistry.”  But often we gave each other the worst advice of all – “Stay you.”  “Don’t ever change.”  Umm yeah – don’t grow or develop – good idea.

If I look back on mine, I could sum up the what every girl I was attracted to wrote – “J – you’re such a good friend.  Couldn’t have made it without you.  Don’t ever change.”  I’ll come back to this in a post soon – but that right there sums up far more guys’ lives than would want to admit it.

But for today, what I want to focus on is this idea that we don’t need to change who we are, what we do, how we act, think, or live.  I’m not saying people who espouse it don’t mean well, they typically do.  But when it comes to most things in life, and for sure dating and marriage – it’s just simply terrible advice.

In Christianese terms it usually means that God “has someone else for you” or if you stay true to yourself, then for sure God will bring someone at the right time. It could also be that every person you’ve ever been interested in had it wrong.  But the bottom line is, there is someone out there for you.  And you need to just stay strong and be “who you are” and then the “right person” will love you for “who you are”.

It all sounds nice, but I’m not sure how helpful it really is.

Without even getting into the dating/single/marriage stuff, we are not called to be who we are currently.  One could make a case that we are called to become who we are created to be.  But that is different.  Who I am right now is a flawed, broken by sin (my own and others’) individual.  I’m in Jesus and He is changing me over time to become who He meant for me to be.  But until I’m there – I should be changing, aka growing.

We all have stuff that we need to grow in and change.  Now to be clear, I’m not saying that you have to first get all your stuff together before you get married.  That’s part of the reason we have the problems we do, this false idea that i have to be “ready” to get married.

When it comes to dating, if the same stuff keeps happening over and over again, we need to look inward and ask what part of that is us.  What can we do different?  I think when it comes to dating, especially as a Christian guy, this seems to get skipped over.

Stuck in the friend zone over and over again?  That could be you.  In a new relationship every six months?  Maybe you.  Can’t seem to ever talk to or approach someone you are really attracted to?  Might be worth thinking about.

Look at this way.  In other practical areas of your life you grow.  When you were a kid, you got better at sports or math, or a band instrument.  You didn’t stay the same.  When you get a job – hopefully over time you get better at it.  Are your current friendships the same type as you had in high school? (If so, that might be a problem as well).

Relating to the opposite sex is no different.  If you’re stuck, maybe it’s time to change.  Maybe that means getting help -be it friends, counseling, books – you name it.

Most of the time in life, we know when change is necessary. We just don’t like it.  It’s easier to say, “it’s not me” than to say, “Maybe it is me”.

Final thought and clarification.  Am I saying be fake?  No.  Am I saying go out and misrepresent yourself? No – that’s called lying.  What I’m saying is it’s ok to grow in how you relate to the opposite sex.  In fact, I would suggest that if you are over 26 and single, it might be necessary.  It was for me.

 

When In Doubt, Blame The Men

One of the problems in our evangelical culture today when it comes to singleness and marriage is the message that is sent over and over again that men are less spiritual, more sinful, and less mature than women.  It is said from pulpits, in interviews on tv, and of course in books.  It’s all part of the Christian “Man Up” industry.  It assumes women are innocent and men are not.

In case you don’t believe me read the following quote from one of the biggest names in evangelical culture today.  At the end of a blog post to single women he writes,

To my single sisters wanting to marry, I do not want to discourage you in any way. But, the truth is that it is harder to be a single woman than a single man as a Christian. Every poll I have ever seen says that single women are generally more mature and responsible than single men. Men are waiting until around 30 years old to marry for the first time, if they ever do. And, they are going for younger women, according to the statistics. Across Christianity, there are far more single women than single men, which means that the odds are not in the favor of godly single women. In addition, for theological reasons, many Christian women do not want to be the dating initiator, asking guys out and taking the lead in the relationship.

All of this together means that godly single women live in a complex world that is increasingly more difficult for those who want to marry and have children with a godly man. Love, prayer, friendship, support, counsel, and community are needed more than ever.

This is complete and total nonsense.

First of all, let me be honest in the interest of full disclosure.  There was a time where I would have agreed with this statement.  I would have said that if men did what they were supposed to do then women would be set.  I was a part of the “man up” group.  But I was wrong.

Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are a lot of men that need to step up and become better men.  Are there men that need to learn to lead, initiate and get past their own selfishness, idols, and insecurities?  Uh. . . yeah. . . all of us, including me.  But to lay the problem of increased singleness in the church at the feet of men and say, “hey it’s all your fault” is extremely short sighted, only addresses half the equation and does both men and women a lot of harm.

There are three main ideas that I believe are completely false and/or overblown.

For starters the idea that there are more Christian women than men is complete garbage.  I’ve been working in full time ministry for the last 20 years mainly with people aged 15-35.  I’ve worked with literally thousands of people in that age range.  I’ve been in church that whole time, have helped lead small groups, and even helped plant a church. Here’s what I would say.  There are indeed more women who go to church.  There may be more women who say they want a godly marriage. But that means about jack squat when it comes to how people act and what they do with their lives.

Which leads into the second idea that women in their twenties are more “mature” than men.  What exactly constitutes this maturity?  I know that the statistics on college and church attendance lean female.  But I’m not so sure that equals maturity. Been on a college campus lately?

But most egregious to me is the idea that men are more sinful.  Especially when it comes to sex, dating and marriage.  This idea that men are just about sex and women are some sort of “victims” is wrong.  Women are obviously having sex.  How do I know? Because men are.  It takes two to tango so to speak.   Amazingly, women also sin.

This whole line of thinking has a profound effect on singles in our churches (and frankly marriages).  For starters (the list is much longer and deeper):

  • It fails to address why men are not going to church, getting married, or even finishing college (or other “mature” things).
  • It fails to address women’s sin in any way
  • Completely ignores attraction and choices involving it.
  • It makes women the helpless victims and absolves them of their choices
  • Embarrasses the men in church who women don’t date – of which there are many
  • Doesn’t help any of those men learn anything that will help them get married
  • And most of all, creates more disrespect of men within the body of Christ.

Think you aren’t affected by this?  When a man says he can’t meet a Christian woman what do you think vs. what you think if a woman says the same thing?  What’s the first thing you think when you meet a divorced woman vs man?  When you see an unwed mom – whose fault is it?  When a woman can’t get a date vs when a man can’t?

I’m not suggesting we switch gears and put all the blame on women. The truth is there are a lot of reasons for the rise in singleness and the decline of marriage. But it’s everybody’s fault – not just men’s.  Plenty of blame to go around.

I’m also not saying any of this from some sort of whiny, mad place.  It’s just a fact.  If you keep telling men it’s all their fault, you’re sending the wrong message to everybody.  Maybe some nice men who your women won’t date will jump on board.  Maybe women will cheer you and feel better that Sunday.  Maybe you will be the hero to women in your congregation.  But mostly it will just create more of the same and we can’t afford that.

 

Flee Means Get Out Now

If you’ve grown up in the evangelical world at all, then you’ve heard the following advice: “flee from sexual immorality”.  I remember reading this in 1st Corinthians 6 back when I was a teenager and always referring back to it.  It was of course easiest to agree with when I wasn’t dating anyone.  Haha.

This is actually an important idea, even if we can sometimes become legalistic about it or use it to beat up on people.  But at it’s core it is right.  Paul himself writes that sexual immorality is to be fled from because all other sins are outside the body while this has to do with not just the physical and doesn’t just hurt someone else, but against your own body, which should be a temple for God.

But if we are going to understand this idea we need to realize what this really looks like. And to do that we need to define some ideas.

To begin with, we need to define what sexual immorality actually is.  I mean if we are going to flee from something it might be a good idea to know what it is we are fleeing from. There are of course a lot of ways to look at this question.  Some people will point out that in the bible the term usually refers to sex, prostitution, and the like.  In other words, they would say, the bible is silent about oral sex, masturbation etc.

Other people leave the physical all together and jump to what Jesus said about lust in Matthew 5.  They would argue that having feelings of lust in any way or context is sexual immorality.  I’ve already discussed this verse here.

In reality we have to look at the bible as a whole in the contexts of the writers and then ask what would count in our society now as sexually immoral.  But for a simple definition for today let’s say this:  Sexual immorality is the fulfillment of sexual desire outside of a heterosexual marriage relationship.  

Assuming that definition the question becomes how do we flee from that.  This is where I think we mess up.

We need to actually be committed to it.  This is why our definition of sexual immorality is so important.  Am I just committed to not having sex (which is easy if I’m not dating someone) or am I committed to avoiding all sexual immorality?  This is why this is not only a single person question but for everyone.

Secondly we need to get into our heads that flee means just that.  Paul doesn’t say to endure sexual immorality, or work through your sexual immorality, or even to overcome sexual immorality.  He says basically, get the hell away from it.  So what does that look like?

Flee means avoid the situation to begin with.  Now I get how this can be taken to the extreme.  Never be alone with the opposite sex or don’t go dancing are examples.  I’m not suggesting that.  I mean I guess almost anything can lead to immorality if we let it.  But I think there are some common sense things here that we can do.

Fleeing is not, let’s get naked and then not have sex.  It’s not having a secret life online that no one knows about.  It’s not traveling alone and having a girl over to your hotel room.  It’s not drinking a lot and then hoping nothing bad happens.  We could go on and on, and create a nice comfortable list.

These are indeed important to flee from.  We can set ourselves up by having people who know what we are doing when dating someone, setting up online accountability, and generally not having a secret life.  We should live in the light, not in the dark.

But the number one way to flee sexual immorality?  Don’t date the wrong people. Now again that always sounds easy when we aren’t dating anyone.  And yet so many of date the wrong people over and over.

Here’s the kicker you need to flee from it early on.  I think that guys fall into sexual immorality most of the time through their eyes.  Women fall into it through their emotions.  I understand that these are general truths, but I think it’s pretty fair.

Here’s what I mean, guys chase the hot girl, and women give in to the guy that gives them the butterflies so to speak.  This puts us in the position to give in.  Once we are in we start tossing all of our qualifiers out the window.

You need to flee early.  I’ve seen it again and again over the years (and I’ve done it).  It starts out with “She’s hot but not really that deep spiritually.  She’s exploring it though”. “We’re not dating, he’s not a Christian.  We’re just friends” (followed by smile). This soon turns into, “I know I shouldn’t be with him, but I can’t help what I feel.” This is followed by sexual immorality.

The longer you go down the road with someone you “shouldn’t be with”, the harder it is to turn around.  Once you are emotionally invested it gets harder to leave.  Instead we rationalize and justify more.  If we “feel attraction” to someone we know isn’t right, then fleeing sexual immorality means not dating them – not just hoping we don’t sleep with them.

Fleeing is a choice and while we always have the chance to flee, the earlier we make it the better chance we have of following through.  Fleeing means getting out early, not running up to the line and then trying to stop last second.

What does it mean to you to flee from sexual immorality?  Do you flee early or late?

 

 

 

Must You Lust?

Many years ago I was at a men’s weekend golf outing.  It was an incredible time where we spent time golfing, getting to know each other and talking about Jesus.  Every morning and night we would circle up and someone would lead with a thought about Jesus.  But before that at each meeting one or two men would share their story.  They could share whatever they wanted about their life, usually a little of their past and then where they are now.

One night as one man in his late twenties was sharing, he shared a shocking secret with the group.  He said that he had never masturbated.  Now of course I knew from my evangelical training in avoiding all things sex that this was impossible.  After all, 99% of men masturbated, and the other 1% lied about it.

The problem was I believed him.  He wasn’t bragging about it, and no he wasn’t a teen groom and he didn’t even have the call of celibacy.  He just hadn’t done it.  What in the world would we hold him accountable for.  What promise could he keep?  Hahaha.  Man we are messed up.

There is so much that goes into the assumptions we make about men and singleness/marriage/sex that has been perpetuated by both our culture and the church that I can’t even begin to get into it all.

Let me begin with this.  I get that Christians are trying to help.  I respect the heck out of the desire to have men who live virtuous lives.  I agree we need that.  But how we go at that makes a huge difference in whether we actually help men achieve it.

Here’s the basic message to young men.

You WILL want sex.  All the time. While not exactly wrong, you must do everything you can to not think about it.  But you will.  Looking at a woman and wanting to sleep with her is wrong and pretty much the same as doing it.  But you will pretty much walk around doing that exact thing, forever, no matter what.  Victory over this is not really possible.  But you should be held accountable for it.  Women are holy and only give in because men demand it.  If it weren’t for men being controlled by lust, women would basically never sin. Therefore it is your job to be nice, not want sex until you are married and then be “the man sexually“, all the while knowing that you will still lust after every other hot woman that you see.

What kind of plan is this?

First, the desire for sex is not wrong.  In fact it is a huge part of why we get married.  We are created to be sexual beings.  We will desire sex.  We will be attracted.  None of that in and of itself is sin.  Read that again.

The bible does not say, “don’t desire sex”.  It does say, don’t be controlled by that desire. (OR ANY OTHER DESIRE).

Second.  Looking at a woman and thinking about sex is not the same as having sex with her.

People love to point at Matthew 5:28 and say that Jesus is saying that if you desire sex with a woman, that is the same as sleeping with her.  Well not exactly.  I don’t have space here to go into the whole thing although it’s for sure worthy of a post in and of itself.  But we need to stop using this as a way to beat the crap out of Christian men.

To begin with we need to understand that Jesus is giving a whole message (the sermon on the mount) that goes all together.  He has just stated that you need to be more righteous than the Pharisees.  In other words, they were following the letter of the law and Jesus is saying, “let’s get at the heart of it”.  He then basically says, “Here are some examples.” Take out the subtitles – It’s one sermon.  (Notice how we don’t have a bunch of messages about anger, oaths, fasting/religious activities etc. and we don’t suggest cutting body parts off.)

Jesus is also not equating looking at a woman with sleeping with her.  Without going into all of the Greek here, He is saying the sin of adultery starts before sex.  It has more to do with coveting the woman and actually considering how to be with her.  In other words, looking at her with the intent to engage in that activity.

Lust is actually not a sexual term per se.  It is a term of desire – where it becomes more of coveting of something.  I can lust after a lot of things.  James clearly writes that desire is not sin.  Even sexual desire.  Sin can come from evil desire.  But it doesn’t have to. The question is, where is your heart.  If a person’s heart is not right, that is when the desire (lust) grows into sin.

Jesus is saying it starts in the heart, not that every temptation or thought is equal to committing the sin.  This is why Paul writes to take every thought captive.  The battle starts in the heart.

Bottom line is – we don’t have to do it.  We’ve confused the idea that we will always struggle with SIN with the idea that we will always struggle with a particular sin.  But in truth we can grow and have victory over certain sins through Jesus.

So how do we get victory?  I will share more about that.  But the point here today is that we are not destined to give in to the lusts of our flesh.

What have you been taught about men and sexual desire, lust and sexual sin?