Love Month Revisited

Years ago, I started posting almost yearly rants in February–pushback against the yearly “Love Month” I endured in youth group, first as a student, then as a sponsor.

My first post (in 2007) took issue with the message to single teens that “God has a perfect mate out there for you.”

I continue to think that promising teens a mate is unwise and anti-Scriptural. God doesn’t promise all of us a spouse. But, with a few years under my belt (and a month to go before I marry), I have a new beef with that statement.

There is no such thing as a perfect mate.

Marriage is a union of two sinners, people who even at their best are imperfect and unloving. God may have a spouse for you, but that spouse will not be perfect. Rather, that spouse will be an imperfect agent by which God makes you perfect (sanctifies you).

In 2008, I complained about the content of my youth group Love Month, and gave a short list of suggestions for talking with singles:

  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Redirect their focus back to what God has made clear is their calling right now
  • Be willing to speak frankly, and listen openly about the many issues they’re dealing with.
  • Above all, work to keep the focus on God–and their relationship with God.

My rant was probably over the top–but I think my suggestions are still worth listening to.

In 2010, I had a full blown extravaganza, posting daily on “Love” related issues.

I wrote extensively about recognizing God’s pursuit of us, about learning contentment in singleness, about living a productive single life. I stand by all those things. The years I have spent as a single woman have been years God has used to conform me into His image. I would not be the woman I am now, or be able to experience the joy that I now experience to the same degree had I not had these years of singleness.

I would add a few words to the advice I’ve given before.

Enthrone Christ.

Marriage should be esteemed. It is a good thing. But Christ is to be esteemed above all. Yes, you may need to dethrone marriage–but, far above that, we all need to enthrone Christ still more and more in our hearts.

I also said a bit about intimacy and dating. Re-reading what I’d written, I have a couple of comments:

  • On levels of intimacy
    I am pretty committed to this paradigm. I am amazed as I see how my relationship with Daniel progressed through each of these stages–and how my affection for him grew as we shared first our interests, then our opinions, then our hearts, then finally (and thus far, in a limited way) our bodies with each other.
  • On No-Regret Relationships
    I gave some general principles for no-regret relationships, which I still believe are sound. Then I gave specific tips for men and for women in relationships. If you will, please allow me to brag a bit on my beloved: Daniel did a fantastic job of leading with wisdom, defining the relationship, guarding my heart, and being chivalrous. I couldn’t ask for a better man to follow–first through our dating season and now as we (shortly) embark on marriage.

Thank you, dear readers, for being patient with my many rants and raves and occasionally reasoned arguments regarding this topic. Thank you for affirming me as a single woman and for praying that God would bring me a husband. God has used you to bless me immeasurably during my season of singleness.

I’ve LOVED it

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Thank you for sharing this Love Month with me.

This has been cathartic.

I’ve written over 25,000 words on the topic of love and purity and relationships and dating this month. The sad part is, this has only been the tip of the iceberg.

I appreciate your willingness to jump into my head for a while and to get a one-sided response to the one-sided messages I abhorred growing up.

For those of you who agreed with what I said and want to hear the rest of the iceberg–come chat with me, stop back in next year, and buy my book when it comes out. After all, with 25,000 words already written, I might as well just finish the book. (Okay, so the last two of those were a joke. Okay not really. No really. Well, I don’t know. Stick around, at any rate.)

For those of you who disagreed with what I said but didn’t comment–shame on you! We would have loved to have your comments. Actually, I’d still like your comments. So go back and comment, or e-mail me, or tell me about it in person. I’d like to continue to grow in this area–and learn both what’s helpful and what’s totally NOT helpful about what I say.

Is there something I didn’t address that you’d like to see addressed? Something you have expertise in? Something you think I might have expertise in? (Yeah, I doubt it!) Tell me about it. I wasn’t completely kidding about maybe doing it again next year–and I’ll need new topics and new guest bloggers. I wasn’t completely kidding about writing a book either (it’s not like it’d be the first time I toyed with the idea of writing)–and I’d need plenty of feedback.

Love month is over today, but the dialogue about love, purity, and relationships doesn’t need to be.

Instead, we can continue to pursue God in the nitty-gritty of our daily lives–living as singles, as married folk, as individuals, as the church. We can continue to present our whole lives–including our relationships–to Him as a living sacrifice.

I pray that in this upcoming year, you will discover the love of God in a new and glorious way. I pray that you will emerge from this next year more completely satisfied in Him–regardless of where life takes you and with whom.

Once again. Thanks for reading. I’ve enjoyed writing.

In fact, I’ve LOVED it.

Breaking up is hard to do

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I think a common misconception, in the Christian world, about dating is that if you do it right, you end up married.

You’ve been seeking God, He gives you the green light to date. You pray about whether you should date a specific person. You start dating. The goal is marriage. So a successful dating experience means you end up married.

It makes sense. It’s a logical argument. If the goal of dating is marriage, it is logical to say that a successful dating experience means you end up married. The problem is, one of the premises is false. The goal of dating is not marriage. The goal of dating is to determine whether you should be married to one another. As such, a successful dating experience either ends in marriage OR it ends in a decision that you should not be married to one another and a dissolution of the dating relationship.

I bring up this point because I worry that this misconception regarding the goal of dating has created some unhealthy attitudes in the church towards dating couples.

The first unhealthy attitude this engenders is the attitude that dating equals engagement without a ring. The assumption that dating will always end in marriage means that we take liberties we shouldn’t take. We start talking to either member (or both) of the couple about wedding plans and baby plans and how they’re going to rearrange their lives around each other. When we do this, we encourage the couple to skip right to marriage. But dating isn’t the time for that. They haven’t decided to marry one another yet. They’re in the process of deciding whether they should marry one another. We need to recognize this and encourage dating couples to spend the time they need in this important season of their life–and to use that time wisely instead of jumping ahead to the next season.

The second unhealthy attitude this misconception about the goal of dating engenders is the attitude that breaking up means a failed relationship. We presume that somewhere along the way, one or both of the parties involved did something wrong. If the decision to no longer date was mutual, we wonder if the couple rushed into dating without thinking it through properly. If the decision to no longer date was one sided, we jump to comfort the “dumped” by bashing the “dumper”. The problem is that neither of these is helpful or holy.

It is possible to date in a way that honors God–and still break up. And that breakup can be a good thing.

Sometimes, the breakup is an easy one–both individuals agree that they are not suited to one another and should not be married. They end the dating relationship amicably and with little awkwardness or pain. This breakup is a good thing. In this case, the church can rejoice with their brother and sister in the conclusion of a successful dating relationship. We don’t need to sweep this dating period under the rug as though it was somehow shameful. Instead, we should rejoice and celebrate this sorts of breakups.

Of course, the easy breakup is not the only kind of breakup. I’d daresay it’s far from the norm. Instead, I think it’s quite common that a breakup involves one person deciding not to pursue marriage when the other was just fine with continuing along the course to marriage. This breakup, too, is a good thing.

It’s harder for us to see the good in this kind of breakup. It’s hard for those involved in the breakup to see the good in this kind of breakup. But it is good. Even if only one of the two felt that they should not pursue marriage, this is good. Because if the one had denied that issue and pursued marriage nonetheless, it would not have caused the issue to become less–it would only have bound both individuals to one another in a covenant of marriage that God has commanded them to hold sacred. That issue would still be an issue, but now the two are “stuck with one another”, so to speak.

It’s harder for us to know how to deal with this kind of breakup, as well. After all, this type of breakup involves pain. Our gut reaction is to see this pain and to rush to comfort it, generally by justifying the one who is hurting and bashing the one who is not. And so we tell the hurting “dumpee” that this is so unfair, that the “dumper” was so wrong, that God has something better for the “dumpee” (with the undertone that the “dumper” obviously wasn’t that great.)

The problem with this reaction is that, well, it just isn’t always the truth. Yes, sometimes the reasons one party gives for ending the relationship don’t seem that important to others. Sometimes the party who ended the relationship carried out the relationship or the end of the relationship in a way that was unholy and hurtful. Sometimes the person who ended the relationship really wasn’t that much of a catch in the first place.

But sometimes the reasons were valid, the relationship (and the “dumping”) carried out in a loving way, and the person who ended the relationship really is an exceptional person.

And sometimes the “fault” in the breakup was shared by both persons, even if one of them was responsible for the end of the relationship. Maybe the person who ended the relationship isn’t the cause of the pain.

Breakups are hard. They’re painful. And our tendency is to assign blame. We want to say that because you hurt, someone must have hurt you. But we can experience pain without it being someone else’s fault (or even our own). Pain is simply a part of life in this fallen world in which we live.

So how should we (as a church) respond to a painful breakup? I don’t have all the answers. But I think we should acknowledge the pain that both parties are experiencing and weep with them, without casting blame. We should encourage both parties to rest in the sovereignty of God. However, we should be wary of presuming to speak for God’s purpose in the breakup. Yes, God has a purpose in it–but the purpose is rarely simple. It may take months or years to even get a glimpse of the purpose behind the breakup. So we weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice, knowing that in it all, God has a purpose and His purpose is good.

Thus far, I’ve spoken to the church about how to deal with breakups. But what about the man or woman who has experienced a breakup? What are they to do?

I’ve officially decided that this is a big hole in the Christian literature. We have a hundred bazillion books about how to do dating right–but we don’t have anything that tells us how to breakup or heal from a breakup right.

What’s more, I don’t have much wisdom in this area. I’m wading through this just as you are–and I don’t have a lot of others who’ve gone before me to fall back on.

So all I can say, from this stage of the journey, is to trust God and seek Him first. It’s okay to mourn what you’ve lost (and both parties experience loss in a breakup–even if it was “one-sided”)–but never lose sight of the One you’ll never lose. Romans 8:38-39 says “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Christ is the treasure. Treasure Him, even as you mourn the loss of a lesser treasure.

Don’t let bitterness take root. Choose to see God’s providence and goodness, even in your pain. Don’t become angry at God. When He causes pain or allow pain, it is ultimately for our joy. We must not forget that. What’s more, don’t let yourself become bitter towards the other person. This will profit you nothing. Instead, forgive where forgiveness is needed and choose to continue to honor the other person as a brother or sister in Christ. This means being careful to guard what they entrusted to you during your time of dating. This means speaking good of them to others. This means being careful to preserve their heart and reputation in whatever dealings you have with them and others after your breakup.

Like I said, I’m not an expert at dating–and I’m certainly no expert at breaking up. But I can encourage us all to choose, in whatever state we are (whether single, dating, engaged, married, or broken up), to seek God first, to delight in Him, to find Him as our hope and consolation.

No-Regret Relationships

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In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll let you know right now that I’m far from experienced at dating. I’ve dated two guys in the (almost) two years since I welcomed dating into my world–and neither of them for very long.

So I’m not an expert here (like I am with everything else I’ve said this month–Hah!) But I am pleased to say that while I have some sorrows, I have no regrets–and that’s what I’d like to share with you.

I can share my opinions, my ideas, what worked for me. I can share how the men I’ve dated have honored me. I can share my observations from other relationships I’ve seen.

But please know that my goal in this is not dogma. The last thing I want is for you to read my thoughts as rules. Instead, I urge you to read them, to think through them, to pray through them–and ultimately to trust in God and obey Him as He leads you through your own no-regret relationships (whether they look anything like mine or not.)

So, without further ado, my thoughts on no-regret relationships:

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33)
It’s easy to get caught in the romance and to get selfish–to make everything about yourself. But choose to seek God first. Choose to desire Him beyond the person you’re dating. Scripture says that God’s name is Jealous (Exodus 34:14). Don’t evoke His jealousy by idolizing your boyfriend/girlfriend. Seek God first individually–and seek how you can glorify Him through your dating relationship.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, through prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
It’s easy, too, in relationships, to become anxious–to wonder “where are we at?” “what did he mean by this or by that?” “are we doing this right?” Anxiety can definitely take hold. But Scripture commands us NOT to be anxious–but instead to present our requests to God. So let God know your struggles, your worries, your excitement. Pour them out before His throne. And choose to trust Him and let His peace fill your soul.

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)
Are you striking out on your own in your dating relationships, or are you relying on good counsel? If the former, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. But Proverbs says that in a multitude of counselors there is safety. Now, I’m not a fan of having someone else set the rules for your relationship or dictate how it should progress–but I am a major fan of having counselors. Ask for direction, ask for accountability, get counsel. And don’t just go to your friends who are in the same position as you. Remember how that worked for Rehoboam? (I Kings 12) Instead, seek out your parent’s wisdom, seek out the wisdom of godly men or women in your church. Hear what they have to say about the process, about you, about the person you’re dating–and listen. Really listen. Are they raising red flags? Don’t just ignore those things. Are they encouraging you to move forward? Be encouraged.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
It’s the vogue to tell people to follow their heart. I’m not really a fan. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful. Sometimes it speaks truth–and sometimes it speaks falsehood. We can’t trust our hearts to make decisions in relationships. Instead, I encourage that we lead our hearts. The Sons of Korah did this in Psalm 42 when they said “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him” (Psalm 42:5) They, of course, were speaking of sorrows, but this principle is equally true in happiness. Romance is a beautiful thing–but don’t let romance lead your relationship. Instead, choose to lead romance in the direction that it ought to go.

“The truthful lip shall be established forever, But a lying tongue is but for a moment.” (Proverbs 12:19)
Another big temptation in dating relationships is to conceal or twist the truth. Face it, sometimes the truth about us isn’t attractive. We’d rather our boyfriend/girlfriend think nicer things about us than the truth. Or we’re afraid that the truth (whether good or bad) will scare him or her away. And it might. Just putting that out there. But ultimately, it is truth that will be established. Lying and concealment does not accomplish good things. It might get you the guy or the girl now–but eventually the truth will be known, and it’ll still be an issue. In fact, it’ll be an even greater issue because you’ve been dishonest.

Miscellaneous hints and tips

For gentlemen:

  • Lead with wisdom
    As a man, you have been called by God to lead and serve. You are given responsibility to be the initiator in a relationship. Consider wisely how you lead. Serve your girlfriend by pointing her to Christ, by encouraging her in the Lord.
  • Define the relationship (DTR)
    As the leader, this is your job. You should be taking steps to lead the relationship–and to let your girlfriend know where you’re leading. Be clear with her about where you’re at in regard to the relationship–but don’t make her promises (either in word or in deed) that you can’t keep.
  • Guard her heart
    This goes along with the last bit about not making promises you can’t keep. You need to be careful not to get caught up in the romance or the physical relationship to the point that you forsake leadership and let her think you’re somewhere you’re not. Pay attention to red flags–and when they arise, deal with them before you get more romantically involved. I can’t say how much this will bless your girlfriend.
  • Be chivalrous
    Okay, so this one sounds a bit frivolous–but seriously. Open doors for her. Open the car door for her. Pay for her meal. Look out for her safety and comfort. Loan her a scarf if you have to :-) It’ll bless her. (Although, lest I give the wrong impression, you don’t have to be dating to be chivalrous. Those of you men who aren’t dating are certainly welcome to practice chivalry!)

For ladies:

  • Follow his lead
    A lot of times, ladies, this means slow down. You’ve been going out a week and you’re already mentally rearranging his apartment for after you’re married. Cut it out! Instead, let him set the pace of the relationship (of course, that doesn’t mean you let him rush you into anything–but I think it’s usually the other way around.) Serve your boyfriend by not taking over his job in the relationship.
    There is a flip side to this–it doesn’t always mean slowing down. This also means that you reciprocate his vulnerability. Has he shared part of his heart with you? He’s just led the relationship to this level of intimacy. Now (and not before) is your opportunity to respond to his initiative by sharing your heart. Has he been complimenting you, giving you gifts, demonstrating his affection? Now (and not before) is your opportunity to respond in kind.
  • Don’t DTR
    Maybe I’m being redundant. I mean, I already told the men to DTR–now I’m telling the ladies not to. But really. Don’t. I know way too many girls who are slap happy about defining the relationship–and in doing so, they’re forcing themselves on a guy who hasn’t figured out where he’s taking the relationship yet. Now, if your boyfriend is physically or emotionally taking a relationship someplace but hasn’t clarified his intentions in it, you can and should put the brakes on it. But I mean put the brakes on it–not take over the steering wheel.
  • Don’t make assumptions
    If your boyfriend tells you where he’s at in the relationship, take him at his word. If he hasn’t told you where he’s at, don’t try to guess or make conjectures. Don’t try to tease out meaning behind every phrase he says. Don’t try to find double meanings. There aren’t any. Or at least there shouldn’t be. If he’s “that into you”, he’ll let you know. Don’t try to make something out of nothing.
  • Respond to his chivalry
    Let him open the door for you (This one was hard for me at first). Accept his chivalrous actions. Compliment him for his chivalry. Let him know that you appreciate his leadership and service.

And above all, make it your aim to glorify God and to honor Him in and through your relationship.

Stop in tomorrow to hear my thoughts about honoring God when you break up.

Dating isn’t for Kids

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I kissed dating goodbye when Josh Harris’s book came out in 1997. I was 12.

Somewhere around 2007 (actually 2006), I started wondering if I’d kissed marriage goodbye along with dating. I was 21 and I was rethinking my stance on dating.

My conclusion?

Kissing dating goodbye at age 12 was a good decision. Inviting dating into my life at age 21 (okay, actually age 23) was also a good decision.

Because there’s one thing I’ve decided for certain: Dating isn’t for kids.

Please humor me as I discuss this in question and answer format.

What do you mean by dating?
I mean a romantic relationship. I don’t care if you call it dating, courting, or being “friends”–if it’s a romantic relationship, that’s what I mean.

Wait a sec. You don’t think courting is for kids?
Nope. More on that later.

Why not?
Because I think that defeats the purpose of dating/courting/pre-marital-romances.

What do you mean by that?
Well, I think that the purpose of dating/courting/pre-marital-romances–
Are you beginning to see why I want to just call it dating?
–Anyway, I think the purpose of dating is to discover whether you and the other person should marry–so I don’t really think you should do it until you’re ready to get married.

Oh. I see. But I was ready to get married when I was 14.
You might have thought so. But marriage at age 14 is legal in only 7 states without direct judicial intervention. And beyond the legalities, research indicates that couples who marry at a young age (generally less than 20 years old) have significantly less stable marriages than those who marry in their early to mid- twenties (references available on request–sorry, I’m already behind on getting this post up.)

That doesn’t sound good. So dating isn’t smart until you’re 20?
I didn’t say that. I’m not sure that you can set a specific age limit on dating.

Well, then, how do I know if I’m ready to date?
That is a fantastic question (and the one I’ve been waiting for.)

I think there are a number of questions that you should ask yourself before embarking on any romantic relationship. Given in no particular order, those questions are:

  • Am I ready to get married?
    I urge you to soberly consider this question. And realize I’m not talking about “ready to get married” as in “want to have sex”. I’m talking are you ready to take on the roles and responsibilities of a married man or woman? Are you ready to support a wife? Are you ready to keep house? Are you ready to pay bills and deal with landlords (all by yourselves)? Are you ready to potentially have children? If you aren’t ready (or won’t be ready for longer than two years), you probably shouldn’t be dating.
  • Do I know what my mission/calling in life is?
    I’ve heard way too many sad stories of women or men who have experienced the call of God to be missionaries or pastors but have forsaken that call after marrying someone who didn’t share the call. If you don’t know what God wants you to do with your life–don’t go getting married until you’ve got some idea where you’re going. ‘Cause once you’re married, you’re not free to just pack your bags and head out–you’ve got to think about your spouse.
  • Will marriage right now help or hinder my mission/calling/goals in life?
    When I was 20 years old, I was plenty ready to get married (by which I mean, I would have loved to have gotten married)–but getting married at that point would certainly have hindered my mission and goals. I had two and a half years of school and a 6-24 month internship to complete before I could earn my RD. And earning the RD is important to (at least one part of) my mission and goals in life. (One note here: Keep in mind that no matter how you intend to “plan” your family, you need to be prepared to have children within 9 months of starting to have sex. Just sayin’.)
  • What do my parents and/or trusted mentors advise?
    We can’t make our decisions entirely based on what our parents, friends, and mentors say–but we should consider their input carefully. Are your parents urging caution? I’d take that seriously. Have you asked your parents or trusted mentors for advice? Do they think you’re ready to marry? Weigh their input wisely.
  • Is God giving you the green light?
    Have you been entrusting this to God? If so, what has He been saying? Has He said to go ahead? Has He said to wait? Obey. If you haven’t been giving this to God, give it to Him and get His input first. The last thing you want to do is rashly go out without God’s direction (remember the battle of Ai in Joshua 7?)

In my case, at age 12, I was DEFINITELY not ready to get married. I wasn’t really sure what my mission and calling in life was. Marriage would certainly have hindered my mission and goals. My parents didn’t think I was ready to get married. And God didn’t give me the green light. Time to kiss dating goodbye!

At age 23, I was ready to get married–I’d been paying bills for quite a few years, I’d lived on my own, kept house. I knew what my mission and vision was. I was within a year of earning my RD. When I talked about contentment in singleness and how this time of singleness has benefited me, my parents were starting to talk about it being possible to wait too long to get married. I’d been giving the whole thing over to God–and He certainly wasn’t saying no (even if I had a hard time deciding if He was for sure saying YES!) So I turned on the porch light and opened the front door and invited dating to stay awhile.

As I near my twenty-fifth birthday (less than three weeks now!), I am still a single woman. And I’m okay with that. (Of course, that varies day by day, as I’ve confessed already.) But God has me here for a reason and I trust in His sovereignty.

Maybe some might say that I jumped the gun on dating–after all, I opened the door a couple of years ago and I’m still not married (or even engaged). Maybe I did jump the gun–but I don’t think so. I have no regrets from my dating experiences and I’ve learned TONS and grown IMMENSELY (spiritually and emotionally, not physically :-P) through this mini-season of dating in my big-season of singleness.

So, dating… well, dating is not for kids.

Kids? Take note.

But adults don’t need to be afraid of dating, either.

Adults? Take note.

It’s hard to stop a train

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Scripturally, there can be no doubt–sex outside of marriage is sin.

“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man…”
Matthew 15:19-20

“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness…”
Galatians 5:19

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Colossians 3:5

“You shall not commit adultery.”
Exodus 20:14

Most Christians (at least those who believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God) agree that premarital sex is wrong.

The difficulty comes in when we ask what that means. People start talking “technical virginity” and asking whether this is okay or that is okay.

They’re committed to not having sex before marriage, but they want to know how far is too far.

Helpful Christians give their opinions on where the lines should be drawn. “Keep your clothes on,” one person counsels. Joshua Harris famously decided not to kiss until his wedding day (after “Kissing Dating Goodbye”) sparking a whole slew of no-kiss-courtships.

But in some sense, all these rules are pretty arbitrary. Because, ultimately, except in the case of rape, sex doesn’t begin with intercourse. It doesn’t begin with undressing. It doesn’t even begin with that first kiss.

Physical intimacy between a man and a woman begins with the first touch–and from that first touch, it’s headed in one direction: towards sexual intercourse.

I believe that this is why the Bible says in I Corinthians 7:1 “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

I liken physical intimacy to a train, set in motion at the first touch and hurtling with ever increasing momentum towards its destination (intercourse). And, as a radio advertisement for heat pumps that’s been running in the greater Omaha area in the last several years reminds us: it’s hard to stop a train (Trane, in their advertisement).

So how are we to keep ourselves pure? Give us some rules. Tell us what to do.

I’ve wished I could just set myself and others some nice, clear, easy-to-follow rules that would make their relationships fool-proof against premarital sex and inappropriate physical intimacy.

I can’t.

But I can offer some basic words of counsel. First and foremost among them? Only start the train if you can take it to its destination.

If you’re fourteen years old (four years from even being legally able to marry), you have no business starting the train. Which means no touching. Period. No hand-holding, no hugs, no backrubs. Nothing. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

If you’re friends with someone or you’re casually dating them, but aren’t really seriously considering them as a future spouse, you have no business starting the train. Which means no hand-holding (again), no cuddling, no good-night kissing. It means no nothing. “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

But what if you’re older and you’re seriously pursuing a relationship with marriage as the intended destination? You’re seriously dating or courting–maybe you’re even engaged. What should you do now?

Again, I don’t have rules for you to follow–but I do have some guidelines that might help you to establish boundaries in this area, and to follow the advice to “only start the train if you can take it to its destination.”

First, start slow. You don’t have to rush into physical intimacy. Even though you might want to, it’s better for you to hold off on physical intimacy. Physical intimacy should be the last level of intimacy that develops in a relationship. Take time to develop the other three levels of intimacy before you step into physical intimacy. Because the truth is that once you start the physical intimacy train, it’s going to want to consume the rest of your relationship. You’re going to want to keep on exploring that physical intimacy side–even at the expense of developing head- and heart-intimacy. So hold off on physical intimacy–and hold off on deepening that intimacy. Just hold hands for a while before moving to anything else. Savor the small bits of physical intimacy instead of pushing on–because the closer you get to that end destination, the harder it is to stop the train.

Second, set boundaries. Maybe you’re a bit confused by this. Didn’t I just tell you that I can’t give you rules to follow regarding physical intimacy? I did. But this isn’t about me giving you rules to follow. This is about you personally, and as a couple, prayerfully making decisions about how you are going to handle physical intimacy–and how you’re going to guard against inappropriate physical intimacy. As you set boundaries, you might want to think about what kind of touching is appropriate and what kind is not. Consider what kind of safeguards you can set up to avoid temptation for inappropriate physical intimacy. If you’re still in your teens or in your parents’ household, you might consider asking your parents to help you to set some of these boundaries. Even if you’re not in your teens or in your parents’ household, I encourage you to involve family and friends in keeping you accountable to maintain these physical boundaries.

Third, I encourage you to apply the brakes at the first warning signs. Even the slowest start and the best-laid boundaries are not guarantees that you won’t walk into sexual sin.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
I Corinthians 10:12-13

Even the best plans will not take you out of the way of temptation. We cannot become lax, thinking that our rules or ideals can protect us from sin. Rather, we must continually be listening to and obeying the Spirit of God. God will always provide a way of escape–but if we’re not listening to God or being obedient to His voice, we’ll pass right by the escape route on our way directly into sin.

I love how verse 12 speaks directly to this situation: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” You think you’re in good shape, you’ve got it covered. You and your boyfriend/girlfriend agree that you aren’t going to have sex before marriage. You’ve set some boundaries (maybe even far from the line of intercourse). You have good intentions. You’re both serious about God. Watch out. Take heed lest you fall.

When the Holy Spirit issues that first alarm, hit the brakes and hit them fast. Don’t presume that you’re strong enough to handle the situation.

I was dating a godly man. He and I were both serious about seeking God’s glory with our lives and in our relationship. We’d set some boundaries. I really wasn’t worried about our physical relationship. He was an honorable man. He wasn’t going to take advantage of me. It was all good.

What I underestimated was the power of my own physical desire. We didn’t do anything inappropriate–I am not ashamed of anything we did. But, because of the nature of the relationship, even small touches awakened a depth of physical desire and I become startlingly aware of my own ability to fall. I realized that it wasn’t just a matter of whether I could trust him or whether we had good intentions–I couldn’t trust myself against the strength of my desire. We didn’t do anything inappropriate–but it wouldn’t have taken much for me to have been willing to do something inappropriate. The pace we had set, the boundaries we had established simply weren’t enough. I, at least, could have easily fallen. It was time to apply the brakes.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Listen to the voice of God and apply the brakes at His first warning.

It’s hard to stop a train once it’s started, so exercise wisdom and caution with when and how you start the train–and don’t be afraid to apply the brakes (or to jump out of the train) the moment you realize that the train’s headed to its destination too quickly.

Guarding our hearts

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My story

When did I first hear of the concept of guarding my heart?

I’m not sure. I know that I’d heard it before, that others had mentioned it. But it never really came home to me until my senior year of high school, when I started chatting with this guy online.

He was a friend of a friend and we started talking because I had questions about a college program he was in. Our conversation quickly took us beyond proximity intimacy (the program, our mutual friend), sped right through head intimacy, and rushed into heart intimacy.

I shared my hopes, my dreams, my fears, my heartaches with this guy–and he too had shared his heart with me. We barely met face-to-face, never touched one another (except maybe a handshake)–but we had been emotionally naked with one another.

And when God, through my parents, told me that our relationship was inappropriate and needed to end–it hurt, big time.

That’s when I started to recognize the wisdom of Proverbs 4:23.

“Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.”
Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

The heart is the wellspring of life, a source of our being. And as such, we ought to carefully guard it.

Not everyone can or should have access to this part of you. Like a private place open only to those who have been given the access code, your heart should be kept guarded, protected.

Does this mean you allow no one access to your heart? Does this mean you harden your heart to avoid getting hurt?

By no means.

Some have certainly taken this Scripture to that extreme and have barricaded their hearts to allow no one entrance.

But part of the promise of God in Christ is the promise of a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone. God designed our hearts to be tender.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Ezekiel 36:26

Practically speaking

So then, what does it mean to guard our hearts–and how do we do it, practically?

The first and most important step in guarding our hearts is found in Philippians 4:6-7

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7

Above all, we guard our hearts by presenting them to God. HE then guards them far better than we ever could.

You have needs, desires, longings, fears, and struggles–present them all to God. Give Him your heart. He will guard it. He will protect it.

The opposite of this is what psychologists call codependency–an unhealthy emotional dependence upon another person. Instead of presenting our hearts to God, we pour out our hearts to another person–a person who is incapable of protecting or tending our hearts properly.

The truth is that no one can protect or tend our hearts completely–no one apart from Christ, that is. We can only share our hearts with another person in good confidence if we have first given our hearts over to God’s protection. Only once our hearts are safe in God can we have confidence in allowing others access to them.

Second, I think we need to realize that we simply cannot be “best friends” with the opposite sex.

I’ve heard way too many girls talk about how they’re “best friends” with this guy and they tell each other everything and this relationship is just so wonderful. No, they’re not romantically involved. They’re just friends. But then these girls are surprised and hurt when the guy starts pursuing some other girl and is no longer best friends with them anymore.

It’s time we stopped deceiving ourselves about the power of heart-intimacy. Heart-intimacy is one of the deepest forms of intimacy we can have–and we should guard it carefully. Just like we wouldn’t casually undress in front of our “guy friends”, we shouldn’t casually undress our hearts with guys.

Our relationships with those of the opposite sex should, of necessity, comprise mostly of proximity-intimacy and head-intimacy.

Does that mean we should never share our hearts with someone of the opposite sex? No. But we should place boundaries over when and to what degree we share our hearts with the opposite sex. Just like boundaries are required in a physical relationship, boundaries should be set in a heart-to-heart relationship.

In the relationship I spoke of earlier, with the friend of a friend, I had set no boundaries for what I shared. I just opened up my heart and handed it away. That guy had made no commitment to me. I had made no commitment to him. I had not promised to guard his heart; he had not promised to guard mine. And thus we grew in heart-intimacy without any thought to protecting ourselves or each other.

Heart-intimacy can and should take place between a man and a woman as they move towards marriage–but this heart-intimacy should develop slowly, in step with their commitment to one another and to guard one anothers’ hearts.

Third, we must be aware of how our thoughts influence our hearts and must guard our minds to guard our hearts.

Have you ever had a relationship where you thought maybe there was something, well, something there that turned out to be nothing? You had a bit of a crush, you kinda wondered if he didn’t like you back. You created this whole big thing in your mind and maybe even started doodling his name and yours together on your notebook. You talked to your friends about it–and maybe your friends even encouraged it. “I think he does like you.” You replay every interaction, desperately seeking to decode the messages you are sure were hidden in his “How are you tonight?” And then it turns out that really it was all in your head.

I’ve done that before. I called it a crush, but really it was a one-sided emotional affair. When it turned out to be nothing, I was truly crushed. “How did I misread that situation?” I asked myself. But I’d given away a piece of myself to that person, if only in my thoughts–without him EVER EVEN KNOWING! I’d placed my hopes and dreams, my heart, on that person without him ever even knowing.

That wasn’t guarding my heart. Sure, I wasn’t overtly sharing it with the other person. I was only doing it in my head. But my thoughts impacted my heart–and caused me great hurt when that relationship didn’t turn out as I’d supposed it would.

Ladies, especially, need to take this caution to heart: Unless a guy has specifically told you that there’s something more, assume there’s nothing more than friendship. Don’t let your heart go to places it hasn’t been invited. You’re only opening yourself up to be hurt–and you’re the only one to blame when you end up hurt. That fellow made no promises to you. He didn’t invite you to give him your heart. You’re to blame when he doesn’t fulfill your ill-placed expectations.

And girls? Guard your sisters’ hearts by not encouraging their suppositions. Let’s not encourage one another to make conjectures about what some guy is thinking or feeling. Let’s not do the “I think he likes you” thing that too often leads only to heartbreak.

Guys–you can guard your sisters’ hearts by being honest with them about where you’re at and by not initiating emotional or physical intimacy unless you have first made a commitment to them (which you have articulated, by which I mean said.)

In review

So, in review: Heart-intimacy is an incredibly deep form of relational intimacy. As such, we should place boundaries over who has access to our hearts and when. We should guard our hearts. We guard our hearts by 1) entrusting them to God, 2) avoiding heart-intimacy with the opposite sex outside of committed relationships, and 3) guarding our thoughts in relation to the opposite sex. Guarding our hearts does not mean hardening our hearts–it means protecting them as the treasure that they are.

Levels of Intimacy

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What is intimacy?

For a lot of people, intimacy is synonymous with sex.

I think this is unfortunate.

Merriam-Webster defines the word intimate as

  1. a : intrinsic, essential b : belonging to or characterizing one’s deepest nature
  2. : marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity
  3. a : marked by a warm friendship developing through long association b : suggesting informal warmth or privacy
  4. : of a very personal or private nature

If something is intimate, it is something that makes up the core of who you are. And intimacy is the sharing of yourself with someone else.

But just like there are many levels to who we are, there are many levels to intimacy. We are physical creatures, yes–but we are also soulish creatures and spiritual creatures, with a spirit, a heart, a mind, emotions. There are very real parts of ourselves in each of these dimensions–and there is opportunity for intimacy in each of these dimensions as well.

Levels of Intimacy

Others have likely come up with even better descriptions of levels of intimacy, but I like to divide intimacy into four categories: proximity intimacy, head intimacy, heart intimacy, and physical intimacy.

Proximity intimacy is the most superficial level of intimacy. This is the intimacy, the sharing of ourselves, that occurs simply because we are physically in proximity to one another. This is the type of sharing that occurs with our coworkers, our neighbors, people we meet as we go about our daily lives. We relate on the basis of shared experiences and shared interests. We talk about the weather, about our hobbies, about the Huskers :-). This realm, in many ways, is all about what we do.

The next level of intimacy is head intimacy. This is intimacy formed from sharing our minds with others. We relate on the basis of shared ideas, shared opinions. We talk politics or religion or education or books. This realm is all about what we think.

Next comes heart intimacy. This is the intimacy formed from sharing our hearts with others. We share our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our worries. We talk aspirations and struggles and triumphs and despair. This realm is all about what we feel.

The final level of intimacy is physical intimacy. This is the intimacy of sharing one’s body with another.

Intimacy in relationships

I think that the concept of levels of intimacy is important because it helps us to understand proper progression of relationships and helps us to establish appropriate boundaries for relationships.

As I said, proximity intimacy is the most superficial level of intimacy. It is relatively easy to establish this form of intimacy–and relatively easy to break it off. This is the realm of casual acquaintances, cocktail party small talk. We can find common interests with someone, can watch a movie together or play a card game together. The group of people with whom we have proximity intimacy is always shifting, always changing as we move in and out of jobs, communities, community organizations, stores, parties, and the like. We experience a small degree of joy in forming these intimacies, and an equally small degree of sorrow when these intimacies are broken.

We generally don’t have–and don’t need to have–many boundaries on this level of intimacy. The intimacy is superficial enough that we don’t have to limit access to this area of ourselves at all. Anyone is welcome to know us and interact with us on this level.

We are a little more selective at the second level of intimacy–head intimacy. We don’t just share our thoughts with anyone. Here, we often search for someone who is like-minded, someone who has a similar outlook on life. That’s not to say that we agree 100% with the people we allow into this area–but we have some sort of underlying agreement. Perhaps we agree that politics or religion are important–so we discuss politics or religion. This realm narrows our group of intimates a bit more. We tend to enjoy this intimacy to a greater degree than we do proximity intimacy–but this is still fairly superficial. Friendships in this realm still come and go rather fluidly. We might mourn the loss of a head-friend, but on a general level. It’s easy to replace a head-friend. While we have some boundaries in this level, this is still a pretty superficial level. We don’t need to limit access to this area that much.

The third level of intimacy is heart-intimacy. This is where we’re really starting to get close. Now we’re revealing deep, core things about who we are. We’ve moved past what we do and what we think to what we feel. Our intimates in this realm are, of necessity, a smaller group. We simply cannot have a hundred heart-intimate friends. We haven’t enough heart to share with them all!

This is the realm of friendship where our souls become knit together, such that separation is painful. While one only occasionally mourns the loss of a head-friend–and even less often the loss of a proximity-friend (a casual acquaintance)–one always mourns the loss of a heart-friend.

It is at this point that we begin to establish more strict boundaries. We seek out heart-friends that we know we can trust–those who will be gentle with the heart we have shared with them. We seek out heart-friends who will share our burdens, who will rejoice when we rejoice, who will weep with us when we weep.

And it is here that we must begin to exercise caution with opposite sex friendships. I’ll discuss this more later, but this level of intimacy moves an opposite sex relationship beyond just friendship–whatever you choose to call it.

The fourth and final level of intimacy, physical intimacy, occurs only within romantic relationships, and ultimately culminates in intercourse. This realm requires strict boundaries. This is, at least partly, what Jesus was talking about when He spoke to the Pharisees.

“And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Matthew 19:4-6

God designed this level of intimacy to be particularly deep, particularly precious. And as such, it ought to be guarded and protected until the appropriate time–with the appropriate person.

In the next couple of days, we will discuss heart-intimacy and physical-intimacy in more depth. For now, I think it’s important to recognize the wisdom of moving through these levels of intimacy in sequence. Whether in opposite- or same-sex relationships, it can be dangerous to rush through these levels or to skip levels along the way. Skipping from proximity-intimacy to heart-intimacy without establishing trust and shared values in the head-intimacy stage can lead to great heart-ache when one or both parties fail to honor one anothers’ hearts. Skipping from proximity-intimacy or head-intimacy to physical intimacy can leave both parties battered when it becomes clear that marriage is not an option (or when an ill-advised marriage ends in divorce).

It’s valuable to consider the levels of intimacy and to take deliberate steps to move through the levels in a measured manner rather than letting emotion or physical desire rush you into revealing too much of yourself too soon.

Taking issue with lust

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I was twenty years old before I became aware that lust was something that I dealt with. It’d been drilled into my head that lust was a man’s problem. Lust, in my mind and as I’d heard it discussed, was all about enjoying naked bodies. Since I didn’t mentally undress men as they walked down the street, I assumed that meant I couldn’t have a problem with lust.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I believe this misconception kept me bound for a lot longer than I needed to be.

Which is why I get serious about talking about lust–with both men and women. Lust is an issue for both sexes–even if it might take on different forms.

Merriam-Webster defines lust as “intense or unbridled sexual desire.” Ultimately, lust is sexual desire that has not been bridled or controlled. Let me make clear–all of us experience sexual desire. It is how God made us. But God designed sexual desire to be expressed in a specific way, within certain boundaries. God intended that the sexual desire of a man be directed towards his wife, to give her joy. God intended that the sexual desire of a woman be directed towards her husband, to give him joy. Lust turns that sexual desire inward towards oneself or outward to someone who is not one’s spouse, and makes the goal one’s own pleasure.

Pornography, female and otherwise

My mom mentioned pornography in her guest post a couple of days ago. She talked about porn being more than just sexually exploitative pictures. And she’s absolutely right.

Merriam-Webster defines pornography as “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement, material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement, or the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.”

Do you notice the common theme among those definitions? Pornography is something that arouses a sexual or emotional response. Ultimately, pornography is something that is intended to arouse lust in one’s heart and mind.

Check out the etymology of this word. Merriam-Webster says it is from the Greek “pornographos, adjective, writing about prostitutes, from pornē prostitute + graphein to write”. Written prostitution. Sleeping with someone who’s not your spouse through the power of an image or a written word.

Ultimately, I believe pornography is marked by two basic characteristics. First, pornography is like using a prostitute. It is inherently selfish. It is all about fulfilling me, accomplishing my pleasure, without any regard for the other person. Second, pornography involves a fantasy world, whether that fantasy world exists on a page or a screen. It alters the world from the way God intended it to be and instead insists that wrong is right and right is wrong.

This is true of pornography whether it be in the form of explicit photographs, movies, or books. But, like my mom mentioned, we should be aware that directly sexual images and words are not the only potentially pornographic images and words.

Case Study: Movies

For example, the most pornographic movie I’ve ever seen was… (drumroll please)…

Yes, that’s right. For me, “Twilight” was downright pornographic. It didn’t have any sex scenes, it didn’t have any nudity. I don’t even remember if there was any kissing. It was a “clean” move.

But I found it absolutely pornographic. It has all the elements of porn for me. It pulled me into an alternate reality, a selfish reality. It awakened in me a lust for an “Edward”–a man whose life centers around me, a man who wants nothing more than to be near me, to see me, to watch me sleep. It awakens in me unbridled sexual desire–focused upon fulfilling me.

Last night, I watched “Moulin Rouge” with a friend. Despite its PG-13 rating for sexual content and the pervasiveness of sexual scenes, “Moulin Rouge” wasn’t pornographic for me. Not even close. I felt sympathy for Satine, but that movie awakened no untoward desire in me. I did not enter into an alternate reality as I watched that movie.

It’s tricky, because porn isn’t always as easy as checking the nudity ratings of a movie. Yes, this can be useful–especially if nudity or sexual content is an issue for you. But we can’t assume that because a movie doesn’t contain a sex scene that it’s “safe.”

We need to be always on the alert–guarding our eyes, guarding our ears, guarding our hearts. And when the Holy Spirit speaks, we need to obey. Not rationalizing His voice away. Not worrying about what God’s saying to someone else. We just need to obey.

My sisters love the movie “Twilight.” And that’s okay. My job isn’t to judge them because of what God has told me. Nor is it to make excuses for them. My job is to be obedient to what God has told me to do. And God has told me not to watch “Twilight” again.

Maybe God has convicted someone else that “Moulin Rouge” is sinful for them. My job is not to judge that person. Nor is it to try to convince them that it’s all good because I don’t have a problem with “Moulin Rouge”. My job is to be obedient to what God has told me to do–and to encourage them to be obedient to what God has told them to do.

Case study: Romance novels

Confession: I was a romance novel addict. I lived in a fantasy world with a thousand fantasy men–prostitutes engaged to fulfill my desires, sexual and otherwise. I read Harlequin’s “Blazing Hot” novels, Christian romance novels, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. All of them were sinful and pornographic for me at that point. They took me to an alternate world that was all about me and fulfilling my lusts.

You know what? I still read romance novels today. But I no longer live in that lust-filled fantasy world.

When God convicted me about my romance-novel porn, He didn’t tell me to swear off reading. He didn’t even tell me to swear off romance novels.

He did convict me that I was not to read the Harlequin’s with explicit sexual scenes. Period. To read those would be sin for me. End of story.

The other stuff is different. Sometimes it is porn for me–and sometimes it isn’t. I don’t have specific rules for my reading. I have to listen to the Spirit. Believe it or not, sometimes the book that was just fine for me to read a week ago is not appropriate for me to read today. I have to listen to and be obedient to the Spirit. He knows my weaknesses and knows exactly when I should and should not read certain things.

I do have one general principle that I follow when reading that enables me to walk in purity. I vary my reading. I make it a point to read a great variety of books–fiction, nonfiction, classics, children’s, whatever. I don’t let myself read more than one romance novel in a row. One might be entertainment, but two too often becomes a fantasy world of escapism. I can’t let myself escape to a world of selfish sensual desires. I have to stay in reality and focused on pleasing God and serving others. Varying my reading enables me to do that.

Maybe that’s what the Holy Spirit will lead you to do. Maybe He’ll lead you to completely give up romance novels like He led my mom to. It doesn’t matter which (or if He tells you something completely different.) The important thing is that you are listening to and obeying the voice of God.

Studs, Hot Guys, and Sex Objects

One of the primary objections that even the secular world has against pornography is that it objectifies women. And they’re absolutely right. Porn, in its classical sense, turns women into an object whose only function is fulfilling the sexual desires of men.

But porn isn’t the only thing that objectifies women. And women aren’t the only ones who can be objectified. Women can objectify men as well. And that objectification itself is inappropriate and sinful. It is not acting in love towards the other person.

I know women who would loudly object to men carrying on a conversation about how “hot” a certain actress is and how that plunging neckline…

But these same women think nothing of “ooo”ing and “ah”ing over how hot Taylor Lautner is when he takes of his shirt in “New Moon”. (Sorry, I wasn’t intending to pick on Twilight here–it’s just that he’s the latest fellow I’ve heard objectified.) And then there’s the more subtle but no less inappropriate objectification–swooning over Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, for example.

I say I know these women–but it’s even worse. I have been one of these women on more than one occasion. And that’s just not right.

When I objectify a man, I sin against God, against that man, and against all my brothers. What’s more, I (often unwittingly) encourage my younger sisters who look to me as an example to look at men in this same sinful way.

I encourage all of us to think carefully how we speak about the opposite sex (even among our closest friends). They are not sex objects–and we shouldn’t act or speak as if they are.

O Lord, set a guard over my tongue that I may honor You and both my brothers and sisters in how I speak about the opposite sex.


I cannot end my discussion of lust without at least mentioning a topic that has heretofore been taboo in the church, especially among women in the church.


Masturbation is a pervasive problem in today’s culture and within our churches–but it is a problem shrouded in confusion and secrecy.

There are many different opinions on masturbation–but mine is clear. Masturbation is intrinsically a selfish sexual act. It is taking a pleasure intended to be shared between a man and his wife in the context of marital relationship and mutual submission and instead making it all about fulfilling one’s own lusts and desires.

Just like these other lustful things, masturbation is selfish and creates an alternate world–a lie of sexual pleasure devoid of relationship.

Masturbation is ultimately a false lover. It will not fulfill your desires, nor will it promote healthy relationship between you and your spouse (whether current or future.)

What to do about lust

Lust is sin–and it’s a sin that both men and women deal with. Because lust is often a secret, private sin, it can become a huge stronghold in our lives. Many Christian men and women despair that they will ever overcome in the area of sexual sin.

I come with good news. The cross of Christ is sufficient not only to cover over your sexual impurity of thought and deed–it is also sufficient to free you from the power of sin and death.

I think many who are caught in sexual sin can identify with Paul’s words:

“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
Romans 7:14-19

We’ve felt trapped, ensnared, prisoner to our own lusts.

But the cross offers hope.

“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! ”
Romans 7:24-25

Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered sin–and through Him, we also are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37).

So let us begin to walk in freedom from sexual sin. Some first steps in walking in freedom?

  1. Repent

    “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,”
    Acts 3:19

  2. Listen to and obey the Holy Spirit

    “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
    I Corinthians 10:13

  3. Take practical steps to avoid sin
    • Meditate on Scripture

      “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”
      Philippians 4:8

    • Flee from temptation

      “Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
      II Timothy 2:22

    • Seek accountability

      “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
      James 5:16

Purity of Heart (Guest Post)

And now for my favorite part of Love Month–where the guys go off to talk about lust–and the girls go off to talk about how to keep guys from lusting (modesty). But wait–I already talked about modesty (and why the goal SHOULDN’T be keeping guys from lusting)–

Instead, I’ve asked my mom to write up a little something about purity. My mother is a godly woman, full of wisdom (and with the gray hair to prove it!) I think you’ll learn much from her perspective on purity, sexual and otherwise.

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We often think of purity only in a sexual sense. This is an incomplete look at purity. Purity, like any other sin, is a matter of the heart. When Jesus spoke about the commands of the Old Testament, He made each one a matter of the heart even though the Jews had made them a matter of rules (i.e. Jesus called hating your brother murder.) Purity is no different. We’d like to reduce purity down to a bunch of rules – you can go this far, and still be okay. Col. 2:23 tells us that rules, even though they appear wise, have no value against fleshly indulgence.

“These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

Why is that? It is because, as James 1:14 tells us, sin is conceived of our own lust. It originates in a desire within our own flesh.

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.”

Rules only deal with the outside things. But a person can “obey all the rules”, and still not be pure because of the condition of the heart. Rebekah defined purity for us a few days ago.

Purity: the quality or state of being pure

Pure: unmixed with any other matter; free from dust, dirt, or taint; spotless, stainless; free from harshness or roughness and being in tune; free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt; marked by chastity;

Notice the phrase “containing NOTHING that does not properly belong.” Lusts and comparisons don’t belong in a pure relationship.

“But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”
I Timothy 1:5 NASB

We know that, in general, apart from Christ, we are not pure yet He makes us pure by faith in Him. But let’s get practical and look at the part we all think of when we talk about purity – sex.

What about sexual purity?

Let me ask this: Is sex completely a physical thing, with no link to our emotions or our spirit? If your answer is yes, you’re an animal, which has no moral code, so this whole discussion is irrelevant. If your answer is “no, it’s not just physical,” then it makes sense that sexual purity would also not be just physical.

Anything that brings an element of wrongness to a monogamous marital relationship is a part of sexual impurity. If my only thought is my own pleasure, I bring selfishness into it, and I am not pure. You may say that’s a little extreme. But is it? Purity is not just an idea for singles (usually when we say purity we really mean abstinence). Purity is a cleanness of heart and motive in a relationship acted out in what we do and say.

We know the obvious things that bring impurity into a marriage bed – a literal other man or woman from an affair or premarital sex that we are comparing our marriage experience to. We hear a lot about pornography in relation to men’s sexual sins. But I think that women also have their form of pornography–but because it’s not pictures exploiting someone else, we don’t recognize it as such.

I’m speaking of romance novels. Some have explicit scenes that can give a physical image that brings an element of comparison, but I think the emotional pull of a storybook man is far more detrimental to a relationship with a husband. “My man doesn’t make me FEEL like that!”

Women have a God-given desire to be emotionally joined to a man, not just physically joined. We dream of having him understand us, and be tender toward us. We want him to be sensitive, yet masculine, etc. All these things can be rolled into one storybook man, where it’s easy for us to see it (usually because the book is written by a woman, so her men think and speak like women) and the woman doesn’t have to draw him out or even quit acting like a selfish jerk herself. I’m not saying men like that don’t exist. It just takes a lot more effort and self-sacrifice on our part to see it in a real man that also has faults.

In real life, we have to invest in a relationship in order to see the things we want come out of it. So this fiction may give a sense of dissatisfaction in our man, or may awaken feelings that shouldn’t be stirred yet. (Song of Solomon tells us not to arouse or awaken love until the appropriate time.) How can a woman be content in singleness if she constantly stirs this up? So even though the reader isn’t physically committing adultery or fornication, she is doing so emotionally, and she brings this baggage into her marital relationship. That’s impurity.

I think the pressures toward impure thoughts and actions from external things are greater than they were when I grew up. More things are openly explicit, and accepted by society as a whole. Opportunity for impurity may be greater. This means it requires more boldness to stand against impurity; but, because sin originates in the desires of our flesh, I would say the struggle is the same.

The victory is also the same. You have a conscience that is alive to God. Listen to His voice. He will show you what makes you sexually impure, if you will allow Him to. Respond to His voice with repentance and trust and He will lead you down a path of purity.

“For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved, In quietness and trust is your strength.'”
Isaiah 30:15 NASB