Monthly Archives

October 2016

What Should We Do On A First Date? Part 1

Early Dating

Many singles who are wanting to date, or have arranged to meet someone soon, always ask me what they should do on a first date. In this two-part article, I will unpack the main dos and don’ts for first dates. These don’ts remind us to avoid the cinema, coffee and cutlery.

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I constantly hear stories about people’s first dates. I remember a guy telling me that they went to watch a film, then afterwards just got up and went home. Yes, that’s right, they forgot they were on a date and left her in the cinema! And yes, that’s right, there wasn’t a second date.

One of my first dates involved meeting up with a group of friends who were playing matchmakers. We were all just hanging out at one of their houses and I thought this would be great, but we very quickly became the couple ‘on show’. Our friends staring and listening in to see if we would hit it off, and yes, it was very awkward and no second date materialised. Surprise Surprise.

There is so much pressure in our dating culture to make a quick decisions about liking someone. Especially in church

But lots of people who are dating ask me what they should actually do on a first date, and how should they actually get to know someone despite the pressure and nervousness.

This is a very important and relevant question. There is so much pressure in our dating culture to make a quick decision about liking someone. Especially in church, where a second date probably signals marriage to every onlooker, who shouldn’t be adding that pressure anyway! (Read I Wasn’t Sure When We Were An ‘Official Couple’)

I believe learning to enjoy the first date as much as possible, and creating a situation where they can see the real you and vice versa, is key

I believe learning to enjoy the first date as much as possible, and creating a situation where they can see the real you and vice versa, is key. So here are the three main don’ts I have picked up along the way to help you get there. The dos are in Part 2.

No Cinema, No Coffee, No Cutlery 

In most situations, I would say it’s best to avoid:

  • Cinema dates
  • Coffee dates
  • Cutlery dates (going out for a meal only)

The Cinema is a No-Go

Advising not to go to the cinema probably goes against one of the traditional dating ‘safe’ options. I mean, most people like films and we all know what to expect, so it should be easy and safe. However, online movies have changed our love of going to the cinema, and more importantly, staring at a screen for two hours isn’t the best way to get to know someone.

Most people’s analysis of a film lasts for five minutes at best

I often hear people say that seeing a film will give you something to talk about. Well, unless you’re both film geeks (and not many of us are) most people’s analysis of a film lasts for five minutes at best. They say if they liked it or not, pick out a favourite scene, and that’s it. You can’t even spend hours explaining the plot line either because you’ve both just been watching it.

Once you get to know each other, and know what films you both like and get excited by, then cinema dates are fine. But as a first date, watching something for two hours that gives a few minutes worth of conversation, is not time well spent. You haven’t talked, and you will still need to do something else to really get to know each other.

Coffee Dates Aren’t Great

Grabbing a coffee seems natural in our ‘coffee connoisseur’ culture. From the outside, a coffee date looks like it would take the pressure off too. We do it a lot anyway, it’s simple, and it’s not expensive or a big deal. But it more often creates a very pressured and unhelpful environment.

Coffee shops are full of people coming and going and busy staff. Which makes the atmosphere seem agitated. Moreover, you may have someone sitting on their own next to you in hearing distance, meaning you will be wondering if they’re listening to your conversation and are they judging it? These things add to the pressure.

Coffee dates are too short and open-ended

Above all, you will probably finish your drinks in 20 minutes, and then what? You need to decide if you get another one, or leave and do something else, or end it there. What if you both decide something different? Another decision that adds pressure and can create an unhelpful atmosphere.

Coffee dates are too short and open-ended. This often means more decisions, more confusion, more pressure and less chance of getting to know someone.

No Meals (On Their Own) Either 

Now, this is the most controversial point I fear. Some may read this bit of advice and be angry and baffled by it. Having a meal on the first date is the oldest and safest dating rule surely? Well, not if your aim is to get to know someone.

Let me clarify, I think getting food and/after doing something else could be fine (Read Part 2 for more clarification on this). I also think that a meal can be good if you hit it off, but often meal dates lead to two unhelpful realities:

One, there is pressure to talk constantly and generate conversation. This can be awkward and make you feel like you need to force the conversation at points, which creates nervousness. This also leads to the second reality:

The need to impress often hinders the date.

People end up trying to impress too much. Sitting down, looking at each other with the pressure to talk, be funny, be interesting, and the rest, often means projecting a personality we think they would like. Not because we’re dishonest people, but the pressure to talk and be engaging can lead to falseness.

If the aim of dating is to get to know someone, to see if you enjoy each other’s company, and see if you want to keep getting to know them more (we can’t learn everything on a first date), then sitting down, looking at each other and chatting for hours creates pressure. The need to impress often hinders the date.

There are obviously exceptions to these bits of advice, but as a general rule, if you want your first date to thrive and be enjoyable, then no cinema, no coffee and no cutlery.

Now that we have the don’ts out of the way, we can look at the more fun bits and what we should do in the next post.

Have you ever followed or not followed this advice, what happened? 

Originally posted 31/10/2016

One Great Dating Tip From Ruth and Boaz. Really?

Healthy Relationship Rhythms, What The Bible Says

The dating culture often teaches us to sit back until the right person comes along to completes us. Yet the Bible always wants us to be active when it comes to relationships. It talks about us learning to build healthy and good relationships that bring community, and a sense of belonging. The story of Ruth and Boaz is a great example of this.

In my last post, I talked about how God’s word never gives us a dating manual. In fact, it doesn’t even talk about dating. However, it does talk a lot about relationships and godly principles for them. These are what we can take hold of and learn to apply to the dating culture around us; to transform it and build amazing relationships. (Read the last post by clicking here.)

The Bible constantly calls for us to be active in all relationships

I also said I would talk about one of these principles in my next post. Which is what I’m doing now! Lots could be said and there are many principles that are relevant, but I want to focus on the idea of activeness.

Activeness in The Bible

The Bible constantly calls for us to be active in all relationships. For example, the 10 commandments are about people actively choosing to put God first when we’re told to make time for him on the Sabbath and not worship other gods. We are also told to make sure we don’t murder, steal or lie to each other. (Exodus 20:1-17)

Jesus chose to restore the relationship between God and humanity and chose to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13). We are told to seek reconciliation with those we hurt and seek to restore and build relationships with those around us (Matthew 5:23-24; Ephesians 2:11-22; Philippians 2:3-4)

This principle is seen throughout Scripture

God’s word teaches about being active, learning to be a good friend, to love our neighbour more, to be a better colleague, boss, etc. In all relationships, we’re told and encouraged to actively be involved in learning to build strong and good ones. This principle is seen throughout Scripture. It’s a principle for all relationships. And one I think we can apply to the modern dating relationship

Ruth and Boaz

Here is another example, of two people who had a romantic relationship in the Bible, but actively sought to put God at the centre and be part of building a strong relationship, rather than waiting for a strong relationship to just happen.

(The following extract is taken from page 65-66 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Here’s another powerful story of individuals making plans and godly choices for their relationships, within the limits of their culture, Naomi, her husband and two sons were from Bethlehem, but when famine struck they were forced to go to Moab. Naomi’s sons married Moabite women called Ruth and Orpah.

But tragedy struck; her sons and husband died, leaving her widowed and childless. Orpah returned to her family, but Ruth vowed to stay with Naomi, even though that meant leaving her country and settling in Bethlehem, in a foreign land.

It might seem like a strange decision for a young woman to make. But the fact that this story of two poor women gets into the Bible at all is a sign of just how impressive and godly their selfless attitude and proactive lifestyle are.

To make ends meet, Ruth takes to collecting food by picking up the scraps that the workers leave behind in their fields. It’s risky work for a young, single, poor woman,  who might have been attacked by the field workers. But she has the good fortune of finding a barley field owned by Boaz, who was in fact, a long lost relative of Naomi’s. He instructs his men to keep their hands off her.

‘Then Ruth bowed low with her face to the ground and said to him, “I am not an Israelite. Why have you been so kind to notice me?” Boaz answered her, “I know about all the help you have given your mother-in-law after your husband died. You left your father and mother and your own country to come to a nation where you did not know anyone. May the Lord reward you for all you have done. May your wages be paid in full by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for shelter.” 
(Ruth 2:10-11 NCV)

The Meaning of The Story

Eventually, they end up marrying. We know it is not the best ever chat-up line, but it seems to have done the trick! When [hearing] this story in Sunday school… it sounded like a fairy-tale; Ruth, the beautiful but poor woman, trapped in her mean Mother-in-law’s house, is finally rescued by the handsome prince, Boaz.

But this isn’t what happened at all. Ruth isn’t a passive princess in a tower, she’s a bold woman who sees in Boaz a good man who can offer the kind of protection she and Naomi need. She introduces the idea of marriage to Boaz, and being a man of integrity, Boaz agrees to marry her, after speaking to the necessary people and following the right procedures (Ruth 3- 4)

They were active, honourable, God-seeking participants in the story of God – not passengers

We don’t know if Ruth was pretty or Boaz handsome; we do know that both of them were ready to act when they needed to.

They go down in biblical history not only as blood ancestors of Jesus, but as character ancestors, with the same kind of compassion and integrity that Jesus showed. Their relationship was not just about feelings and their own interests; rather it was based on the rhythms of God’s desires.

They were active, honourable, God-seeking participants in the story of God – not passengers.

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

I want you to know that God loves you. He cares about your relationship. His word contains principles and teaching that can help us thrive as we date, and in all of our relationships. Activeness is one that I think we can apply and helps us to build good, enjoyable, strong relationships.

How do you think you can be active as you date? Comments welcome below

Originally posted 26/10/2016

What The Bible Will And Won’t Tell You About Dating

What The Bible Says

The Bible never mentions dating. Every author of the Bible wrote in the context of an arranged marriage culture. But it doesn’t mean the Bible is irrelevant in this important area. Now we can’t try to twist verses or pretend it talks about dating to make it fit, we should rather begin by asking what it does say about relationships and romance. Then ask how we build on this teaching. 

When I deliver talks in church about dating, I always mention that the Bible never mentions dating. In Biblical times you wouldn’t’ve selected your spouse, your family would have done that for you. Partners came through the parents rather than parties. People are always surprised by that.

Often people think consciously or subconsciously that dating is as old as human existence. This may shock you, but the decisions of marriage weren’t really based on romance, love or emotions, but connections and finances for most of human history.

Partners came through the parents rather than parties

We just need to admit that the Bible doesn’t talk about dating.

I have heard talks and read some blogs that pull together some obscure verses and random biblical passages, and try to come up with ‘7 simple steps to dating bliss’. But that isn’t authentic, and ultimately, isn’t helpful. Dating isn’t a simple 7 step program at the best of times. (For real and honest advice around picking the right partner, get our free digital download: Date, Marry, Avoid? 5 Things You Should Know)

So How Can The Bible Help?

But before we get too disheartened, the Bible does talk about relationships a lot. It talks about family relationships, it talks about boss-employee relationships, friendships, how we relate to our enemies, and more. And it even talks about romantic relationships a lot, and about intimacy too.

I think we can use the Bible as an unfinished masterpiece, that we build on. We need to make sure we don’t twist the words, but by building on it we can transform and impact our dating culture today.

(The following extract is taken from page 57-59 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Keep Painting

We think that a great way to approach the Bible is by imagining it like an unfinished painting. It’s not unfinished, and our task is never to improve or rewrite Scripture.  But imagine you’re standing in front of an easel with a half-done oil painting on it.

You can see that, although some great artist has already painted a beautiful border to frame the picture and drawn a few sketches across the middle to mark where he is going, the middle still needs work. To the right is a table covered with paint pots and brushes, and a post-it note that reads ‘ Please keep painting. The Artist’. You are being invited to pick up the paintbrushes and continue his masterpiece

The artist invites us to faithfully interpret what’s gone before. If his border was made up of blues, greens and greys, then we’re not being faithful to his vision if we start using bright pink in the middle. Likewise, we think God has invited us to take his Word and its eternal unchanging truths, and apply it faithfully and relevantly to the new culture that surrounds us, in order to glorify him.

if we seek to faithfully interpret what the Bible teaches about relationships, then we discover a whole wealth of wisdom for dating

God, as the great Author of Scripture, invites us to see what has gone before, and apply it faithfully and authentically to our current culture. He wants us to use the borders to guide us as we paint the middle of the canvas. History is full of Christians who have sought to do this in their time and culture, and so have thrown themselves into playing their part in God’s great ongoing drama.

God Wants Us to Shape the Dating Culture

Significant social movements were led by people who were first grabbed by God’s Word and Spirit and then seized a moment in history to change things. We’re talking about revolutionaries like William Wilberforce, Jackie Pullinger, Martin Luther King, Gladys Aylward. Through their intimate knowledge of the Scripture, they learnt to love what God loves, and to stand against those things God stands against; be it poor housing, racism or human trafficking.

Imagine using this approach when studying what the Bible might say about dating. This becomes significant because the Bible says nothing about dating! So if we’re turning to the Bible to find a dating manual, we would have to say the Bible has nothing relevant to teach us. However, if we seek to faithfully interpret what the Bible teaches about relationships, then we discover a whole wealth of wisdom for dating.

 If the Bible reveals God’s unchanging design for human relationships, then choosing a biblical approach to dating will give you the best possible chance of finding lasting love

God is inviting you to throw yourself into this process, to see dating as he sees it. A biblical framework will enable this, and will give you security and success in your relationships.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t be heartbroken by someone, or that you’ll meet the right person within seconds [of reading this post]. But if the Bible reveals God’s unchanging design for human relationships, then choosing a biblical approach to dating will give you the best possible chance of finding lasting love.

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

In the next article (Read it now), I expand on one of these key principles. One way the painting can guide us as we continue painting, and how we can take what the Bible does say and apply it relevantly to our relationships. Which starts when we ask the question: ‘What does the Bible say about good relationships?’ rather than asking ‘What does the Bible say about dating?’

How would seeing the Bible as a beautiful artwork and story that we get involved in change the way we live and relate? 

Originally posted 24/10/2016

Let It Go: Forgiveness Is Rarely That Easy

Relationship Difficulties

I read an online post on forgiveness last week. It essentially said forgiveness is a non-negotiable part of the Christian faith, and we need to forgive and move towards loving relationships. This may be true, but the journey towards forgiveness is different for different people, and we can’t just focus on the destination and oversimplify the process. 

So I was scrolling through the internet, as you do, and came across a very short blog written by Danny Silk. Danny is a Christian teacher and preacher based in America. The post was called, ‘Let it Go: Forgiveness in non-negotiable’ It’s very very short, only 200 or so words. (Read it here).

He has focused on the destination and not the journey

In it, he argues that forgiveness is part of the covenant relationships. And covenants come through death, therefore, we need to die to ‘my expectations’, ‘my accusations’ and ‘my emotions’ (I assume he means negative feelings of hurt, pain, anger, etc) and forgive and love those around us.

On the face of it, I get what he’s trying to say. Forgiveness isn’t optional and is an important part of the Christian faith. It’s part of ongoing loving relationships and something we should strive for. Learning to forgive is important. However, he has focused on the destination and not the journey.

For those of us finding it hard to forgive…We may need more

Clearly, in this short post, he was never going to, and wasn’t trying to, cover everything about forgiveness. And that’s fair enough, he was making one point. But reading the comments, many of which say the post was helpful, but some also say they find it hard to forgive sometimes, especially if they have been really hurt (one lady mentioned her husband’s affair).

These people understandably need more than just one quick point.

For these people, I would like to continue the discussion. Not because Danny is wrong, but it can be unhelpful for those of us who have been really hurt. For those of us finding it hard to forgive, but want to because we know God has forgiven us and we want to build good relationships. We may need more.

Continuing The Discussion

I would like to say three key things:

  1. We don’t just forgive in our own strength
  2. Don’t ignore the feeling of hurt and anger
  3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean the relationships doesn’t change

We Forgive With God’s Help

Saying we forgive in God’s strength is something I think we as Christian know, but often forget or find hard to apply.

We pass God’s love and forgiveness for us onto others

We don’t love in our own strength or forgive in our own strength, but we remember how much we are loved by God and his sacrifice and we let it affect our thoughts and actions. (See the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, when he forgets this reality, Matthew 18:21-35).

We pass God’s love and forgiveness for us onto others.

Let’s be real though, sometimes it’s hard to forgive, other times it’s easier, but we are designed to look to God and pray, to ask for his help during these times and to help us to let go of the hurt and pain.

But what about for those of us who have done this and still struggle? What if we’ve asked God for help over and over again, but forgiving them still hasn’t happened?

Ignoring What’s Happened Doesn’t Equal Forgiveness

For starters, don’t ignore the feelings of hurt, pain or anger.

Put it like this, if someone punches you in the arm, you may forgive, or try to forgive them straight away, but the bruise is still there. You don’t pretend it’s not there or ignore the pain, hoping it will go away.

God may want us to be forgiving, but he wants us to be honest too

Christians so often want to forgive because it’s important, and that’ good. But we can forget that forgiveness is a process. If we get hurt, it’s not okay. Someone has let us down and it’s not okay. We need to be allowed to be upset.

God may want us to be forgiving, but he wants us to be honest too.

Some people can forgive quicker than others. Some people really hurt us and it takes longer. I think God understands. God understands us more than we know and has more compassion than we realise.

Forgiveness may be non-negotiable, but the journey there doesn’t need to be the same as last time, or the same as the person we share a pew with.

Forgiveness May Not Mean Treating Them The Same

This point may seem to counter church culture, but I hope you see what I’m saying.

We may have gone through something really traumatic, or the person we forgive may not have changed their behaviour, and so forgiveness doesn’t mean giving them the same power or status in your life.

Forgiveness and love always means wanting the best for someone. However, you may not be able to treat them like your other friends because of what they’ve done and/or because they haven’t changed.

We need boundaries in our relationships

Now treating someone differently after you’ve forgiven them because deep down you still hold a grudge is not what I’m talking about.

God doesn’t just want us to keep getting hurt. I think he understands that sometimes love doesn’t mean forgetting the potential danger involved. We need boundaries in our relationships. In fact, when we think about it, all our relationships have boundaries to an extent, we don’t treat everyone exactly the same to avoid potential hurt and confusion.

But we still love and want the best for people.

Like Danny’s article, this word count is too short to deal with every aspect of forgiveness. While I do agree that we need to forgive, saying nothing else can lead to misunderstanding and be unhelpful sometimes.

Relationships can become weak if we forget about forgiveness, but they can become weak if we think forgiveness is easy as well. (Read What makes relationships work? What makes them weak?)

We all reach the non-negotiable in different ways at different times. If we have been really hurt, it will be harder and it will take time. And that’s okay. The process of forgiveness isn’t universal, but God is with us all the time. Whether we are finding it hard, easy, or seemly impossible.

Do you think we’re sometimes so desperate to forgive that we ignore the process needed? Why? 

Originally posted 19/10/2016

What The Church Can Learn From The Science Of Love

Interesting Research

Scientists, psychologists, anthropologists and other experts, often research love and human emotions. This research doesn’t need to stand against the church and biblical teaching, but can offer an insight into culture, relationships, and modern trends for Christians and the church.   

I like listening to podcasts and Ted talks. I find listening to a range of topics very interesting (but lots of them are about sport!). Recently I came across a talk by Helen Fisher, an anthropologist who studies human behaviours, and an expert in ‘love’.

Fisher’s talk was called ‘Technology Hasn’t Changed Love’. Even though it was only 13 minutes long (plus 6 minutes of Q and A) she covers a lot. This post can’t analyse and critique everything that was said, but two of her main points got me thinking.

We’re A Pair Bonding Species 

Her research, which has studied hundreds of cultures and thousands of people over many decades, suggests that humans have a desire to create a monogamous romantic relationship. She argues that there is something in the brain that drives us to build a romantic attachment with one person.

For example, she points out that 97% of mammals don’t pair up to breed and raise kids, yet humans do. And while 86% of societies say men can have multiple wives, only 5-10% of men in those societies do. (However, we must remember lack of wealth, as well as morality, is a factor here.)

People still need to sit on a park bench and talk

In her talk, she outlines why we are a pair-bonding species who look for one long term romantic partner.

What may surprise you, is that technology hasn’t really changed how we bond. Fisher says, which I have also said for many years, is that dating websites and apps can introduce us to more people than ever, but those people still need to sit on a park bench and talk.

Face to face, one on one and form a bond. The brain still needs to kick in and form an attachment in that situation and make it work long term. Technology can’t change that.

She points out that even though people are getting married later, and the path to marriage is looking very different in modern culture, most people still want to get married, or at the very least create a long term relationship.

Encouragement For The Church

Many Christians believe that marriage is more than a piece of paper. Marriage is something that signals commitment beyond just sharing a house. It’s about commitment, making promises and being devoted to each other.

Christians should take comfort in Fisher’s research because it reminds us that people still want to get married, and are designed to be monogamous.

Often there is doom and gloom around modern relationships and dating. Sometimes the church can feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. Yet when the Bible talks about positive romantic relationships (without forgetting positive singleness too) and faithful committed relationships, this is what people want to know how to get.

Let me be clear, marriage isn’t the meaning of life and singleness in all of its forms is part of the kingdom. Yet the ideal for upholding marriage and faithfulness speaks to a deep human desire. The church isn’t irrelevant in modern relationships. It can be part of helping people to achieve this whilst teaching about a God who is love, and cares about this area of our lives and wants to be involved.

Challenge For The Church

I don’t like to use the word ‘problems’, I prefer to say ‘challenges’.

One of the challenges that Fishers’s talk got me thinking about was the undeniable social norm she called ‘the expansion of the pre-commitment phase’ in romantic relationships. As she puts it, marriage used to be seen as the beginning of a relationship, now it’s the culmination.

This trend brings fear. The older generation is fearful because young people seem to be dating lots and not settling down, which is alien to them. While young people are scared because there is so much choice and opportunity, they’re terrified about getting it wrong.

This is one change technology has affected. We meet more people online, and offline, than ever before. We have so much choice in partner selection now, which results in ‘cognitive overload’.  The choice overwhelms us and people can’t choose who to commit to.

Marriage used to be seen as the beginning of a relationship, now it’s the culmination

This is important, because the reason many people choose to date for ages, isn’t because of a lack of morals, but because they want to make sure they get their partner selection right.

Marriage happens after people feel like they have found the right person, rather than it being the start of getting to know someone.

However, I believe Christians can speak into this area in a really helpful, relevant and powerful way.

As people think through their identity, who they are and who they should be with, and their fear of failure, the church can talk about a God who gives us an identity of loved sons and daughters. Who makes us feel like we belong and are wanted.

We can teach that wanting to get married is fine, but marriage isn’t the only meaning of life. We can preach about a loving God and a loving church that offers intimacy and community despite our relationship status. (Read my post about God and relationships here.)

Moving Forwards 

Lots more could be said about Fishers talk and about all the other research. But the science of love can help the church understand the need and how to respond. It suggests that the majority of people desire a monogamous relationship, and the Bible upholds this ideal and Christians can be encouraged.

Nevertheless, the pre-commitment stage in relationships is longer. However, a God of love and relationship can offer us a chance to guide people through the fear and confusion. As we learn who we are in relation to God and about good relationship principles for all stages of life.

What do you think is an encouragement and/or a challenge for modern relationships?

Originally posted 17/10/2016