By / Oct 14

Sex is like fire. When it resides in the proper boundaries it gives light and heat, but unrestrained it causes great harm. Teenagers are receiving messages about sexuality every day — from the latest Netflix series, from social media, from their conversations with friends. Parents and youth workers must not overlook the value of having their own ongoing conversations with students about biblical sexuality.

Youth ministry has a legacy of urging teenagers to make virginity pledges and other similar efforts that can easily drift into manipulation. While the intent is good, since we should be teaching about sexual purity, the way we engage in these conversations matters. By now it should be obvious that we need to talk about sex in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not according to the law. It is not a matter of dos and don’ts but of helping students discover the nature of sex, the goal of sex, and the fulfillment of what sex can offer.

When youth group only talks about sex once a year, usually a few weeks before prom season, it makes sense that many students will be more shaped by the messages the culture and their peers are sending: “Sex is awesome.” “Love is love.” “Be careful but do what you want so long as the other person gives consent.” Others graduate from youth ministry with the impression that sex is inherently sinful. Some Christians even feel guilty about having sex after they get married because of the way sex was discussed during their teenage years. The solution is not to overcorrect by talking about how great and awesome sex is, but simply to be biblical.

God created us as male or female and gave us the gifts of marriage and sex to promote human flourishing. He did not need to make it feel good, but he did. It is a gift that reflects the delight and pleasure we were created to enjoy through intimacy with our Creator. At the same time, the Bible doesn’t pull punches about the dangers of unbounded sexuality. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed as judgment for their rampant evil and sexual sin. King David, a man after God’s own heart, caused great suffering in his family because of his sexual sin against Bathsheba.

Sex is a quest for intimacy

God gave the gift of sex to strengthen intimacy between a husband and a wife. The goal is intimacy — to be fully known without any fear of rejection. This is what so many men and women are trying to attain through their sexual activity, as if sex were a shortcut to it. Whether we are talking with parents or students, it is helpful and biblical to build the conversation around intimacy: God created us for intimacy with him and with each other. Sin has brought suspicion into relationships, but sex is a brief moment of joyful acceptance between two partners. Aside from the physical pleasure, this is what makes it so powerful.

This quest for intimacy also gives fulfillment to men and women who never marry. To many students, the idea of singleness can sound like a sentence to lifelong loneliness, and this fear drives them into toxic dating patterns. However, celibacy is an old-fashioned virtue worth reclaiming, especially considering that neither Jesus nor the apostle Paul ever married. Some churches treat married couples and those with children as priority members, but this should not be, and youth workers have an opportunity to teach students a wider view of human sexuality and relationships.

Sex is about intimacy, and perfect intimacy is found only in Jesus Christ who loved us and saved us while we were still enemies. God chose to redeem sinners and adopt them as sons and daughters. If he gave his life for us while we were still his enemies, then truly nothing can separate us from the love of God. In the midst of today’s sexual revolution, it is important to remember that sex is about enjoying intimacy with a spouse and yet, as good as sex may feel, it cannot deliver the type of intimacy our hearts most desire.

Best practices for discussing sex and dating

  • Always talk with parents first. Whether you are teaching in youth group or initiating a conversation with a student at the coffee shop, always talk with parents first. Many youth workers have assumed parents would be comfortable with another adult having these conversations with their kids, only to find out they were wrong. Plus, if the talk goes sideways, you’ll be thankful to have parental support while dealing with the fallout.
  • Make it an ongoing conversation. As you preach through biblical texts, make ongoing applications to students’ dating lives and sexual identities. If the only time you talk about sex is when the entire lesson is about sex, you’re missing a chance to shape the whole person.
  • Avoid a lot of joking about who’s dating whom. Laughter is good medicine, but it can also make having serious conversations awkward. Students may become hesitant to ask you about relationships because they fear you might turn it into a joke.
  • Teach about a biblical view of marriage. It can be tempting to avoid talking about marriage because teenagers are likely not getting married anytime soon. Inviting married couples of various ages to share their stories and what they’ve learned about marriage can be especially helpful for students from fractured households, because they may not receive this type of teaching (or example!) anywhere else.
  • Don’t overlook the Bible’s teaching about celibacy. Christian men and women who never marry are just as important and valuable as those who have large families. Especially in today’s culture surrounding LGBTQ+ issues, reclaiming the holiness of celibacy enables students to hear that it is possible to be both celibate and fulfilled in life.
  • Avoid damaging illustrations and examples. Many skits and examples have been used in youth ministry to persuade students about sexual abstinence. The most popular has been handing out a piece of gum for someone to chew, only to later hold up the piece of chewed gum and ask “Who wants this?” This illustration and others like it implicitly tell students who have sinned sexually that they are worthless and undesirable, both to other people and to God. The gospel, however, proclaims the love of God for sinners and his delight in giving grace to those who need it.
  • Resist talking about “sexual purity until marriage.” Married men and women also need to guard their sexual purity. When youth workers talk about sexual purity until marriage, this either conveys that sex with your spouse makes you impure or that you will not need to guard yourself against sexual sin after marriage. Rather than making it seem like sexual purity is a teenage problem, call students to sexual purity as a lifelong pursuit.
  • Consider speaking to the boys and girls separately. There are times when large-group teaching may be best, but consider ways to speak to students in forums that will minimize awkward moments while maximizing the potential for real conversation.
  • Ask students about their friends’ views. This will allow them to talk with greater comfort. It will also help you interact with the other viewpoints they’re hearing and get a glimpse of their own opinions. How you respond to this conversation will help them decide whether or not they can trust you.
  • Keep the grace of Jesus Christ front-and-center. Sex is about intimacy, and perfect intimacy is found through fellowship with God in Christ.

Excerpted from Lead Them to Jesus © 2021 by Mike McGarry. Used by permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission. To purchase this and other helpful resources, please visit newgrowthpress.com.

By / Oct 6

Singleness is a long hike up a steep hill. Chances are, you’re either on the hike yourself or you know someone who is. Most single people have some stories to tell — about the breathtaking views and the arduous climb. Singleness is just that kind of hike, that kind of hill.

I’m so grateful for my 34-year ascent up that beautiful, arduous path. It was harder than I could hope to describe, and I’m left with some hardy callouses, a few long-term injuries, and a smidge of PTSD. But I look back at the climb as one of the greatest experiences God has entrusted to me.

I’ve been married for over a decade now. I didn’t hike nearly as far as some, and yet I still smell strongly of the earth and pine of that trail. Contrary to popular opinion, I didn’t arrive when I finally married; life didn’t begin when I got a ring on my finger and a baby in my womb. Yes, the path altered significantly, but the goal and the Guide remained the same.

I often think about my single years, even occasionally dream about them. In a crowd of people, I find myself drawn to the woman who also knows the ways of the hill. In fact, my own story has become inextricably woven into the stories of many single women who I’ve met over the years. I’ve learned that we each shoulder a unique load; we each view the hill through different eyes. Truth is, you could talk to a hundred different single women and get a hundred different versions of the hike.

We’re not meant to walk alone 

But all of us have agreed on one thing in particular: We’re not meant to go it alone. We’re meant for joyful relationships with Christ and his people. Our one great good is God himself, and one of the best ways we can experience him is by being in relationship with each other.

The psalmist David put it this way: 

I said to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides you.” As for the holy people who are in the land, they are the noble ones. All my delight is in them (Psa. 16:2–3, emphasis mine). 

These two things can sound contrary, but in fact, they perfectly coexist: God is our only good, and his people are all our delight.

An uphill climb requires gargantuan good and strong doses of delight. This relational joy we share with each other and our God enables us to do feats otherwise impossible. And, at least in my own experience, singleness sometimes felt like an impossible feat. I knew it was part of God’s good plan for me. It was the conduit of incredible blessings in my life, but it wasn’t what I had prepared for, and it definitely wasn’t the norm in my social circles — hence the uphill feeling.

To every grief there is a gift 

The problem was actually a good one: as a single woman who loved Jesus and his church, I held a high view of marriage, sex, and childbearing. I was convinced God is the Creator and sustainer of these beautiful gifts — gifts he chooses to give most women.

I also understood that marriage would not be the answer to all of my problems. And I wasn’t duped by the notion that a man (or children) would fulfill my deepest desires. Only Christ could do that.

But when nearly every friend of mine had made it to the altar, and I was still standing on the sidelines with half a dozen bridesmaid dresses in hand, I felt somewhat disoriented — even occasionally distressed — as I figured out how to function outside the natural order of things. I deeply wanted what God wanted for me, and on those days when I didn’t want it, I asked him to help me want it. But I was a square peg in a round hole. I didn’t know how to fit into a world made for couples and families.

It wasn’t that I lacked friends. I had an ever-expanding social circle and more relationships than I knew what to do with. But for all practical purposes, I was flying solo. I paid my own bills, made my own meals, haggled with the repairman at the car shop, held down high-pressure jobs, cleaned, and calendared, and dealt with conflict all by myself. (Day after day, year after year.) Even though I was blessed with friends and family and roommates who shared in some of my life tasks, I bore a tremendous amount of responsibility alone.

One of my former roommates, Sarah, expressed my feelings perfectly: “The hardest part of being single,” she said, “is knowing I’m no one’s first priority.” Sarah was not one to view singleness as suffering, but she grieved the reality that there wasn’t one main person to do life with and for. I’ve had many single friends echo this sentiment. I felt it keenly myself. What a bizarre experience it was to spend my days in the company of so many wonderful people, to be busy and fulfilled doing work that mattered — yet all the while feel so . . . on my own.

But to every grief there is a gift, and the absence of a first-priority relationship afforded me the time and motivation to seek Christ in focused ways. While some of my married friends confessed they were struggling to perceive God’s presence, I was experiencing his nearness in almost palpable ways. He was my first love, and I felt like his beloved. As much as I didn’t like the Apostle Paul’s enthusiasm for singleness, I had to admit he was right: I was enjoying a unique and beautiful devotion to Christ (1 Cor. 7:32–35).

Where our maturity comes from 

Over the years, I came to be known as a strong, self-sufficient woman (an identity not without its own issues), but still there was this underlying tone in many people’s comments to me — an unintentional message that I was not as complete or mature as my married and mommied friends. We’ve all been guilty of spouting folly in our eagerness to help a friend, yes? (In my 20s, I practically buried people alive with my zealous advice.) But ignorant counsel is a lot like a knife in the hand of a drunkard (Prov. 26:9), and many a single woman has been slain by comments such as:

Motherhood is the most sanctifying thing in the world! I was so selfish and immature before I had kids!

Marriage is so hard. Don’t get your hopes up.

You’re so lucky to be single! I’d give anything to have a day all to myself!

As soon as you’re perfectly content, God will bring along your husband.

Maybe you should try online dating/wear more makeup/’put yourself out there more.’

Singleness is easily misunderstood. It takes time to truly listen to someone’s heart and pursue knowing them past our own limited experiences. For this reason, the single woman is often treated as a problem to solve or as a lesser citizen instead of as an example to emulate and an integral part of the community.

My single friends who are lovers of Jesus and his Word are wellsprings of wisdom and maturity. They live out their faith in secular workplaces and high-profile ministries; they know how to do life with multiple roommates and in transitory housing. They have diversified skill sets and life experiences that offer invaluable perspective to the one who has ears to hear and eyes to see.

The Psalmist understood it is the power of Scripture, not a particular status in life, that forms wisdom and maturity in us:

I have more insight than all my teachers because your decrees are my meditation. I understand more than the elders because I obey your precepts (Psa. 119:99–100).

Yes, marriage and motherhood mature us in big ways. We could even say they are the normative plan for life maturity. But when God chooses to work outside the norm, does he leave his beloved daughter stuck in a lower life cycle? Should we automatically assume the 40-year-old single woman has less wisdom than the 40-year-old wife married for two decades? Of course not. God desires all of his daughters to grow up into his fullness — and he shows them the way to complete maturity:

Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2–4).

It takes joyful endurance to stay married.
It takes joyful endurance to parent children.
It takes joyful endurance to be single.

So all of us, in every season of life, have the same shot at maturity — as we remain in the Word and in relationship with each other, and we endure with joy.

Pursuing purity in a sexually-crazed culture 

Endurance in singleness can come in a variety of forms, one of which is the pursuit of purity in a sexually-crazed and confused culture. For the woman who believes sex is a sacred gift from God kept for marriage — regardless of her background and experiences — she faces the Sisyphean task of purity over years and even decades. (Although, unlike Sisyphus, her task is ultimately fruitful, not futile.)

What’s more, as intense as this war is, single women do most of their battling alone, and isolation can feel more grueling than a bout with the Grim Reaper.

For example, when I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I began sending out regular email updates with specific ways people could pray for our family. To a certain extent, people understand cancer; they know what’s at stake and comprehend the vocabulary. Words like invasive, aggressive, and chemotherapy clearly communicated our family’s grave reality, and as a result, we received an outpouring of love and support.

In stark contrast, I felt incredibly isolated and without a vocabulary for my sexual reality in singleness. How could I describe what it was like to daily deny the strong impulses of my flesh without sounding disturbing, inappropriate, or desperate? How could I share my struggle just enough to not feel so alone?

But again, grief is accompanied by gift, and when God called me to something as difficult (i.e., humanly impossible) as abstinence into my mid-30s, he gave me such a breathtaking experience of his presence that I enjoyed soul intimacy with him even more than I longed for physical intimacy with a man. During those years, I knew that Isaiah 62 had been written just for me:

You will no longer be called Deserted,
And your land will not be called Desolate;
Instead, you will be called My Delight Is in Her . . .
As a groom rejoices over his bride, so your God will rejoice over you (vv. 4, 5 CSB).

Community. Maturity. Sexuality. These are just a few snapshots of the Beautiful Arduous Hill. And while many wiser women have said much about this hike, I add my own small voice in celebration of the incredible women in my life who daily wield mighty weapons, endure with joy, and model what it is to love Jesus more than husband, children, and home. To them I say, “All my delight is in you.”

This article originally appeared here

By / Jul 14

I often joke that I force myself into people’s lives, but it’s not entirely a joke. I am intentional about developing, building, and maintaining relationships because we were made for community. God has always been in community with himself as the Trinity (Gen. 1:1, 26; John 1:1-2). And when he made man, it was not declared good until man had a helper of his own kind (Gen. 2:18). 

As a single woman, it can be tricky to figure out where I fit in. I don’t have a husband to help, but I do have a community, a household, that the Lord has placed me in — the church (1 Tim. 3:15). And I am called to be a helper in the midst of my brothers and sisters in Christ. If you find that the Lord has placed you in a similar season, I urge you to make the most of it. Here are several ways you can do that. 

Embrace solitude, not isolation

I am by myself a lot, sometimes on purpose and other times just by nature of being single. Because of the unique situation of being single in an isolated day and age, it’s important to recognize that there is a distinction between solitude and isolation. Solitude what Christ would model. He would go away in order to be by himself and pray (Mark 1:35), which is a good discipline to practice, single or not. Some call it a quiet time, but regardless of the name, it’s a time for worshiping and cultivating your fellowship with the Lord. It is a time for rest, repentance, regeneration, rejuvenation, and restoration.

Isolation, though, means staying away from others, and, likewise, accountability. If you’re isolated, you don’t have people around you to speak truth into your life or to confess sins to or to see your blind spots. You don’t have anyone to call you out and call you up, and it becomes easier to give into temptation. Proverbs 18:1 teaches that intentionally isolating yourself is out of step with sound judgement. 

Solitude is good if you use it like it’s intended, connecting with others and practicing other disciplines. Isolation, on the other hand, is bad because it can often lead you to fall prey to sin, even imperceptibly, and stay in it without turning back to God. 

A group of sheep is safer against a wolf than a lone sheep. One sheep, whether lost or wandering, is likely scared and vulnerable. But a group can at least provide cover. Yet, better still is when the shepherd is there! The good shepherd will protect the flock and will not flee (John 10:11-16). He goes after the one sheep in order to return it to the others and to safety (Luke 15:4-7). As the sheep, we need the shepherd, who meets with us in our solitude and keeps us from isolating from the flock to our harm. 

Serve others

Singleness is an incredible opportunity, though it may not seem like it at times. Paul elevated the goodness of such a season because single people don’t have the extra worries and divided interests that come with marriage (1 Cor. 7:32-35). Their time and talents can often be used at their own discretion to serve the Lord. So, it is the perfect season to intentionally go on mission. It doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas, although it is often easier for a single person to go to hard places than for a family. But we can always be on mission by serving others in our workplace, neighborhood, family, etc. 

There are many practical ways to do this. Check in on people, especially the marginalized, outcasts, and other singles that you know. I am able to give rides, sit, visit, meet for coffee at a moment’s notice, and host Bible studies or girls’ nights. I have time to plan and organize events. And I love meal trains. Cooking for one is very difficult, but I will jump at the opportunity to cook for others. I am also able to give more financially to the mission of God than my friends who are married with kids and have specific budget constraints.

Take advantage of the ability to spend time with people from all life stages as much as you can. If your friends’ kids play sports, you could go to the games; you get to spend time with the parents while supporting the kids, and they get to learn from you. I’ve taught Bible studies with teenagers and then sat alongside their parents as a peer in small group. I’ve picked kids up from school, attended kids’ birthday parties, and sat in hospital waiting rooms. I also love to spend time with my peers’ parents and glean their wisdom. 

All of these opportunities are gifts that end up blessing me as I seek to serve others. 

Tie yourself down to the local church

As a single person, it can often feel like you aren’t tied down to anything, especially if you have a strong desire to get married and have a family. One of the beautiful things about being a Christian is that you can be connected to a family: the church. I urge you to put down roots in your local church and choose to be tied down there — to the people you live around, work with, spend time with, and interact with regularly. A marriage covenant only lasts as long as one spouse’s earthly lifespan. But, the covenant friendship and familial relationships with other believers will last for eternity; they have become your redefined and forever family (Matt. 12:48-50).

There is good and important work to be done in your local church in order to build up the body of Christ. Serve in the church regularly. Serve others while among and beside them. Find a small group, and then find an even smaller group of the same sex. Christ had the 12 (Matt. 10:2-4; Luke 6:12-16), and brought the three (Peter, James, and John) in even closer. Read and study the Bible together, not just on Sundays. Make yourself known, and be open to being known by others for the sake of your spiritual growth. Find someone who is further along in their journey and learn from them. And never believe you don’t have anything to offer. Mentor someone. You are always one step ahead of and one step behind someone in life. 

The local church is your hub for accountability, community, and belonging. Prioritize your role in the family of believers as a brother or sister to others who, like you, were adopted by the Father to be Christ’s brother or sister (Rom. 8:29), through the finished work of Christ’s death and resurrection. 

In the midst of all of these good things, it’s right and important to set boundaries. Don’t be afraid to say no. Your singleness is not an invitation for others to take advantage of you. You have human limitations and need the rest and space to have the kind of solitude before the Lord that fuels your service. Instead, your singleness is an invitation for God’s glory to be displayed as you point to the sufficiency of your Savior and the belonging of your forever family. 

By / Feb 18

Living in a digital age, there are few problems that can’t be fixed with a smartphone. Trends over the past few years indicate that singles have been finding this to be true even of finding a date—nearly half of young adults say that they have tried to get hitched using a dating app or site. Thanks to mediums like Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Hinge, and many others, linking up with a potential partner is only a swipe away.

As our age becomes increasingly digitized, it should be no surprise that Christians are among those trying to find partners online. But while it is commendable to desire marriage and we can rejoice that technology can aid the search for a spouse, the way these services are designed can be problematic. Christians searching for a spouse on these mediums should be cautious of these potential pitfalls:

1. Dating apps can be consumeristic and individualistic

Dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge work by having the user browse through a plethora of profiles, hoping for matches by “liking” or “disliking” the countless individuals that come through their feed. The apps’ algorithms tailor the sample of profiles to the user’s personal fancies, promoting potential partners based on the number of preferences they meet. This creates the possibility of turning one’s search for a date into what is essentially an internet shopping experience, where the “items” that are ultimately meant to fulfill the user’s wants and needs are real people. Individuals that have been secured as matches become comparable to objects in an online shopping cart.

While there is nothing wrong with preferring some qualities in potential partners over others, the seemingly infinite sample dating apps give us makes it easy to imagine that there is someone out there who is more perfect than the one currently right in front of us. Under this assumption, the search for one’s spouse is individualistic and self-centered—the goal of marriage becomes not how we may serve God and our spouse, but how a partner may fulfill our own desires.

2. They can perpetuate lust

Christians who are prone to lustful thoughts upon visual triggers should be aware of the ways dating apps can perpetuate this form of sin. Because of the relative inability to use one’s personality to attract likes, a profile’s images are what drive matches—both men and women listed a person’s photos as the most important indicator of their like-worthiness. Men are advised to strategize their profile photos, and women are incentivized to draw attention with sexually suggestive images. 

While lust is just as prevalent offline as it is online, dating apps present a unique challenge to purity. Because of the distinct role photos play in earning and issuing likes, coupled with the sheer volume of images users are able to swipe through, it is not difficult for one to get carried away scrutinizing the physical attractiveness of one individual after the other. To be clear, the issue is not the act of liking a person’s profile because of his or her appearance, but the enticing effects the alluring photos on these apps may bring about. Lust that can arise from the unchecked use of these services is harmful for the person who has been tempted into adultery of the heart (Matt. 5:28), and it is also dehumanizing for the countless individuals who have been objectified and evaluated solely on their physical qualities. Christians should keep this unique nature of dating apps in mind as they use them.

3. Dating apps can be addictive

Dating apps are deliberately addictive. Psychology Today notes how programmers intentionally work “to ‘gamify’ dating so you’ll become addicted to the experience of ‘playing’ it and will soon come back for more.” On top of the hooking nature of swiping through profiles, the rush one receives upon finding a match or receiving a like gives validation and boosts confidence. These dopamine spikes urge the user to get back to swiping, looking at more advertisements, or paying more fees for the service, generating more revenue for the developers. 

These addictive tendencies may also reinforce a consumeristic disposition toward dating and could habituate the objectification of people of the opposite sex. The obsessive nature of dating apps demands that singles use them with caution and moderation so as to avoid these destructive patterns.

How should Christians use dating apps?

The first and most important thing to note about these dangers is that all three make one’s own personal fulfillment the center of relationship-finding. But to place one’s own wants or needs as the object of a relationship or marriage cuts directly against biblical teaching. Paul describes the profound mystery of marriage as an image of Christ’s oneness with his church (Eph. 5:31-33). It is for this reason that husbands are called to give themselves up for their wives as Christ did for the church (5:25-29), and wives are likewise called to devote themselves to their husbands as the church does to the Lord (5:22-24). Contrary to the sentiments that can easily be perpetuated by dating apps, Scripture describes an individual’s relationship with his or her spouse as a self-giving endeavor (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-5). 

Because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.

But what can the foundational principles of a biblical marriage weighed against these possible pitfalls inform us about how Christians should use dating apps? I encourage singles using or considering signing up for a dating app to consider these three points of advice:

Know yourself. This requires daily prayer and meditation on the Word. Earnestly examine your heart and ask God to do the same (Psa. 139:23-24). Be aware of what sins you are naturally drawn to, and be diligent in fighting them. Do you become addicted easily? Are alluring photos a constant source of temptation for you? If so, it may not be wise to download a dating app. Prayerfully consider your weaknesses and whether or not your use of one of these mediums will exploit them.

Monitor yourself. As you use dating apps, continually observe the effects it has on your thoughts and attitude, and adjust your activity accordingly. If you find yourself becoming addicted or if you notice lustful tendencies arising, consider setting time limits or periodically remove the app from your device to take breaks. To combat consumeristic dispositions and objectifying others on the site, strive to be more intentional in your interactions with the individuals you match with—take steps to get to know them as people and fellow image-bearers by loving and encouraging them.

The most effective way you can monitor your heart for this purpose is by immersing yourself in a rich, gospel-centered body of believers who will lovingly hold you accountable. Find members within your local church who will disciple you, exhort you to purity, and encourage you amidst singleness. Sin cannot be adequately fought in isolation, and fellow members of a local congregation are indispensable to guard against temptations that may arise with the use of dating apps.

Comfort yourself with the gospel. Whether or not you are able to use a dating app in a healthy manner, as you pray God will provide you a husband or wife, pray most of all that he will provide you contentment in his Son (Phil. 4:11-13). Remember also that marriage, as beautiful as it may be, is merely a foretaste of what is to come when Christ returns. If you are in him, you will one day experience joys that far outshine even the greatest blessings of marriage. As you wait and hope for a spouse, wait and hope for that day even more.

Do this through constant prayer and devotion. Share with your neighbors the hope you have within you (1 Pet. 3:15). Commit yourself to a local congregation, and serve it dutifully. It is within these assemblies of saints that we are given a glimpse of that future day when we are all gathered around the throne. Such actions may not fill the hole left by singleness, but they will point you to the One who does.   

Taking into account God’s decrees for humanity to have dominion over creation (Gen 1:28) and for man to leave his parents to be united to his wife (2:24), we can infer that it is quite human to cultivate the Earth through innovation and use such advancements for the purpose of finding a spouse. But because of the fall, our sinful tendencies can easily pervert good things and use them for destructive ends. With this in mind, Christians should be mindful to use dating apps in such a way that brings glory to God and shows love to our neighbors.

By / Nov 3

Ben Stuart gives a brief talk on Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age at the 2018 ERLC National Conference. 

By / Nov 27

We live in a world where issues arise in the news and culture daily. Behind every issue, however, is a person—a person made in the image of God. This new ERLC Podcast series, “How to Handle,” will tackle tough issues for today with the hopes of equipping the church on how to handle the topic, care for those struggling with sin and temptation, and care for those who have been hurt. 

Subscribe here

 iTunes | Google Play | Stitcher | Tune in

By / Nov 27

How we define and example marriage to the world doesn’t have to begin and end with married couples. How can single people show culture what Bible-based marriages look like?

By / Nov 18

What can we learn from marriage that points us to who God is?

By / Sep 29

NOTE: Dean Inserra will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

If there is an area of life where there isn’t enough distinction between Christians and non-Christians, I believe it is in the aspects of the relational category we call “exclusive dating.” By dating, I don’t mean the causal night out where you get to know someone of the opposite sex, but the exclusive serious relationships that individuals usually engage in with several different people in their lives before they get married.

In fact, prior to the sexual revolution, men would pursue a woman toward marriage. Nowadays a man pursues a woman to be in a dating relationship. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just makes things quite complicated for the Christian who is trying to live his or her life in holiness, because the category of dating is something we invented. The Bible doesn’t acknowledge this category that has become a central part of our society. Boyfriends and girlfriends and being “committed” to someone who is not your spouse are all foreign to God’s design. Paul wrote that we look like people who “do not know God,” (1 Thess. 4:5) when we are in sexual sin. Dating makes this complicated.

Dating is so much a part of our culture and a modern-day prerequisite for engagement that we must learn how to approach this as Christians. The answer is not to “kiss dating good-bye” or try to overhaul a central component of our society, but rather that following Jesus actually will interfere with our lives in the area of dating relationships and cause us to approach these relationships differently. Again, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, we should not act like those who do not know God.

Here are a few important steps:

1. Stop acting like you’re married when you are not.

We treat these relationships as though they were quasi-marriages, and give them a measure of security that God never intended and that isn’t really there. For the Christian, if the only thing that changes when you get married is that you start having sex, something is wrong with the picture. When we read the common thread of Scripture, from Genesis to Jesus to Paul, we read that, “a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh… so they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:5-6). Should we really be giving ourselves away emotionally, romantically, and sexually to someone who is not our husband or wife? The one flesh union is not less than sex, but it is certainly more.

Not to be nitpicky, but when a dating couple functions as a package deal—when they give joint presents at parties, post the equivalent of engagement pictures on social media, and declare anniversaries of their “define the relationship” conversation—I think that mirrors the world’s idea of relationships, declaring a faux commitment that God does not recognize. There has to be a better way. This may even happen several times throughout one’s life with different people. Making out with, saying, “I love you” in a non-neighborly way, is not what we find in the Scriptures for the unmarried. I just can’t see how we, as Christians, can make the case that should happen with multiple partners in a lifetime.

Exclusive emotional and physical dating relationships that are not on the path toward marriage are foreign to the Christian understanding of male and female relationships. Which leads to the next point, emphasizing the need to…

2. Make intentions known in dating.

Now guys, don’t freak the girl out by talking about marriage during your first conversation. But you should exercise clarity and be intentional. Here is what that looks like:

Intentional: “I’d like to take you out on a date next Friday, are you free that evening?”

Unintentional: “Wanna hang out or get together sometime?”

As Christians, this allows the man and woman to know what is or is not happening. So if the guy you are dating says, “I don’t want to get engaged until after grad school,” and you aren’t planning on waiting that long for what could or could not happen, you can say “no thanks,” and nobody is mad or taken advantage of because intentions were made known. An awkward conversation about intentions is much better than heartbreak later.

3. Foreplay is not in play.

There is one purpose and one purpose only for what is known as “foreplay.” (I don’t even think anyone calls it that anymore but I’m going with it because it seems the most appropriate.) The purpose is that it prepares you for and leads you to sex. It was not designed to stop before a climax. It is absolutely what the Scriptures would designate as “sexual immorality.” You must put standards in place and my best advice is that when the date is over, the date is over. Walk her to the door, drop her off, and go home. If there are other people there, sure…go inside. If not, know yourself and where you are tempted, and be wise! Jesus said, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of the parts of your body than for your whole body to go into hell!” (Matt. 5:30). That idea applies completely here. Better to do something as non-sacrificial as cutting the night off early, than it is to sin.

We’ve got to get serious about sexual sin. Sex, foreplay, nakedness, etc., are not for dating people, in love people, or mature people, but for married people. We are called to recover and pursue God’s design for human sexuality which is that “Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25). This only exists in marriage.

I’m thankful that when God gave us marriage, He had the gospel in mind. Let us pursue purity from this moment on, as we recover in repentance, by believing the gospel, God’s purpose for marriage, and its public display of Christ and the Church.

God is not trying to keep you from something; he’s saving you from something. Let’s believe that He does truly know best.

This article was originally published here

By / Sep 5

It happened again. While engaged in a great conversation about life and ministry, one of my peers asked, “So, why are you single?”  

I suppose that question is a compliment. It seems that what the asker is really saying is, “Based on what I’ve seen and heard from you, I believe you’d make a good spouse, so what’s the hold up?” And it seems the further we progress through our twenties, thirties and beyond, the more curious people become about what’s “holding us up” from getting married.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I believe that he is in complete control of my life. I believe he orders my steps and brings things to pass in my life in his perfect timing. (I do have to remind myself of these truths on occasion, though.) Thus, as I tried to conjure up a grand answer to why I’m single, I reached this simple reality: I’m single because God has not led me to marry anyone yet.

I know, I know, that sounds so spiritual. But as Christians, life works best for us when we allow God to take the lead, especially regarding marriage. In fact, after the decision to accept Christ as our Savior, I believe the marriage decision is the most important one. Trust me, my friend, it would behoove us to let God lead us into our marriages, not those other leaders. What other leaders? I’m so glad you asked!

The ticking-clock leader

I know that some people think they should be married by a certain age. I never thought I was one of those people, though, until two weeks before my 25th birthday. I took a mental inventory of all the single guys who had expressed an interest in me, and I realized something: I wasn’t willing to marry any of them. So, not only would I not be married by age 25, I wouldn’t even know anyone I would marry. I felt the panic rising within me, right up until God reminded me that our numerical ages mean very little to him.

The Bible tells us that our measure of time is not the same as God’s measure (2 Pet. 3:8). We are constricted by time and space, but he is not. He sees the end from the beginning and can easily move in, out and beyond our time. Therefore, if he has spouses for us, he will bring them at his appointed time. Yes, we can rush ahead of God and get married on our time, but we will also face the consequences. For instance, I could rush and get married at 25, but then I could also be perpetually miserable and possibly divorced by 28. My encouragement to you and myself is this: Let’s allow God to be our leader, not our perception of time.

The loneliness leader

Some people let loneliness lead them into relationships and marriage. But marriage is not a cure for loneliness. There are a number of married, lonely people. If we allow loneliness to be the impetus for entering a relationship, how will we know that we truly desire to be with that person? We won’t. I’m sure we all experience lonely moments, and I’m sure many of us desire companionship. It’s okay to acknowledge those feelings, but it’s not okay to follow them.

Although easier said than done, we singles must learn to practice the presence of God and allow him to satisfy our hearts. His Word promises that he will always be with us and that he is enough for us to be content (Heb. 13:5). Also, even if we do marry the people God ordained for us to be with, they will not be able to satisfy all our needs all the time. After all, they will be flawed, limited people, just like us.  So finding satisfaction in God alone will not only benefit our singleness, but it will also benefit our marriages (if marriage is in God’s will for our lives).

The lust leader

Most of us have sexual desires, and those desires aren’t inherently sinful. Sexual lust, on the other hand, is a problem. The Apostle Paul actually does advise singles that it’s better to marry than burn with lust (1 Cor. 7:9). However, if you read that entire Scripture, you’ll quickly discern that Paul did not think that was the best option. As usual, I agree with Paul for many reasons, but I’ll briefly share two.

First, marriage will not cure an overall issue with lust. If we frequently lust after people while we’re single, we’ll continue to lust after others when we’re married. That’s a heart issue, not a marital status issue. I strongly encourage that sexual strongholds—lust, porn addictions, etc.—get rectified during one’s singleness.  

Second, sex alone is a terrible reason to get married. Two of my dear friends recently got married, and they both told me they’re glad they didn’t expect sex to be like it’s portrayed in the movies. (Just so you know, it’s not like the movies.) Yet, sex within a marriage is beautiful, because that’s the context for which God designed it. But sex should not be what leads us into a marriage. God should lead.

God can handle your love life

If you and I are Christians, that means we believe God can handle our eternal souls. If we believe his Word, that means we believe he can handle creating the universe, parting seas, slaying giants, healing the blind and resurrecting the dead. If we believe he can handle all that, does it really make sense to believe he can’t handle our love lives? I don’t think so. So, in this dance of love and marriage, let’s allow God to take the lead, and let’s kiss those other leaders goodbye.