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Bury The Head

I really don’t like snakes. Anything that slithers and has scales is not cool with me at all. 

Snakes do one thing, and pretty much one thing only: they bite and inflict injury, usually in order to kill their prey and devour it. And if they’re venomous, then that makes the whole biting thing way worse and inevitably deadly regardless of if they try to eat you. 

Praise Jesus that I’ve never had to really deal with a snake in the wild, especially since I get freaked out at snakes even in captivity. Count me out of the snake section of the pet store, museum, or even your room (if you have a snake). 

But what’s really interesting to me is that I can watch snakes on Animal Planet and be completely okay. Some snakes are even really pretty; their scale patterns and colorations are fascinating. It’s honestly intriguing to watch them and learn about them, but only on the small screen. 

There’s a reason why we call “the serpent” in Genesis 2 a snake: because they’re dangerous, sneaky, and deadly. Commonly, we associate anything that has to do with sin with snakes for that very reason: sin is dangerous, sneaky, and deadly, which gives us a reason to think of it as a snake.

The unfortunate truth is that sin is really attractive. It looks really good and even sounds really good at the time. But like a snake, when it bites, it hurts us. The consequences are toxic and deadly.

Sin takes us places where we never meant to go, when we didn’t want to go there, in ways that we didn’t want to do, in order to kill and destroy us. 

We are in a very active, very aggressive, very physical, and very crucial fight against sin. Paul wrote to the Roman church to put to death the deeds of the flesh, and to not let sin reign in their mortal bodies. John Owen said, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Back to the snake for a second. How do you kill a snake? I just recently learned this: by cutting its head off. And if it’s a venomous one, you have to bury its head. If you step on the head of a rattlesnake that’s been cut off, and the fangs dig into your foot, the venom still will inject into you.

If you don’t kill your sin completely and in totality, your sin will be killing you, plain and simple.

Back to the John Owen quote. So, mortify. What a word. To mortify means to subdue (the body or its needs and desires) by self-denial or discipline.  It’s not a fun thing to do, denying ourselves indulgence of our desires. But holiness, purity, and oneness with God is too important to NOT mortify the sinful desires of the flesh.

I’m by no means a pro at this. I suck at surrendering and putting to death the sins of the flesh. I mess up and screw up daily and am reminded of the fact that there’s nothing inherently good within me. My heart breaks at the fact that I so readily and so easily let sin have some sort of dominion in my life. 

That’s where grace and mercy come in. God gives these to us with His forgiveness to help us along in our process of putting to death the sins of the flesh. I NEED His grace and mercy. I NEED His forgiveness and love. 

We have to kill our sin daily in order to be holy. And we have to bury the severed head of our sin so that it can’t come back and hurt or kill us. 

Black And White, With No In-Between

I’m not the first to write something about this subject. My good friend and fellow minister of the Gospel, Tim Whitney, wrote concerning the same idea here. Marshall Segal wrote on it as well over at Desiring God. So, this is by no means an original thought, but is still very relevant and important.

Why?

Tomorrow (and in most cases, tonight for advance showings), the worldwide phenomenon novel Fifty Shades of Grey will come alive on large-format screens across the country.

By no means have I read this novel, nor will I make plans to read it or see the movie. I have a very limited knowledge concerning the book and its content, besides the fact that it is a very sensual and erotic piece of literature, and have only seen the trailer during the Super Bowl. So, I am no authority on it whatsoever.

Here’s what I do know: it isn’t something Christians should read or watch. It essentially is a pornographic film, in the sense that it will be portraying sexual acts in detail. Not just portraying the act, but subliminally communicating that intimacy without foundation is okay (at least that’s what I’ve gathered).

I don’t care whether or not it’s becoming a staple in our culture. This is evil and sinful material that can and will hinder your connection and oneness with the Father.

This isn’t real love. This isn’t true intimacy. It’s a sham. It’s a sorry excuse for the physical oneness that God designed for the marriage relationship.

I’m no expert on love. I’m more of an expert on heartbreak and doing things wrong. But, I’ve seen it exampled properly, and I’ve learned how to identify what real love is and isn’t. So, here are 3 things about what real love is/isn’t:

  1. Real love isn’t selfish. Based on reading articles about the book/movie, the kind of “love” portrayed screams, “This is all about me and I don’t care what you want.” And people will buy that physical submission and selfishness is okay. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Real, God-established love is selfless and seeks to help others through personal sacrifice.
     
  2. Real love is relational. The physical aspect of love is meant to be an extension and outward expression of an inward and strong relational connection between two people, not the foundation or basis. From what I can gather from the Genesis account (which I may be wrong about), God didn’t introduce physicality into Adam and Eve’s relationship until after they sinned. Everything in their relationship was based on friendship and companionship, serving as a model for what real love is.
     
  3. Real love doesn’t seek to harm. The type of relationship the main characters have is filled with abuse and hurt, and sends the idea that this is what love is. Marshall Segal writes this about the message the movie conveys: “The message that sex is selfish, manipulative, and even playfully violent will abuse and violate you.” Real love seeks to protect, build up, and encourage the person, not abuse and harm them.

This list is by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. But, we need to be able to identify basic components of what real love is. Movies don’t show us what true, God-ordained love is; God’s Word does.

Teenagers, young adults, everyone: hear me when I say this. Do not fill your mind with images, thoughts, or ideas that will steer you away from what true love is. I urge you not to fill your mind with this garbage.

But, if you’ve read the book, or have seen the movie by the time you’ve read this, and feel the conviction that this is sin, forgiveness is possible. God is a God of grace and forgiveness for those who are in His family.

I don’t know if you agree with what I’ve said, or disagree. This is my opinion and personal stance. If you’re a believer, I hope you share the same view.

The Wednesday Music Review: “Hymns For Her”

I’ve been a huge Dave Barnes fan since I first started college. I’m also very guilty of playing some of his love songs to one of the girls I was head over heels for. But I digress.

If you don’t know who Dave Barnes is, you probably know his music. He wrote “God Gave Me You” (which Blake Shelton did), “Until You” (which Billy Currington did), and “Love Will Be Enough For Us” (which Brandon Heath did). He has this bluesy, soulful color to his voice that makes you want to nod your head to the beat and give a little stank face, as in, “This is just so good I can’t help but make this face.”

His latest release, Hymns For Her EP, doesn’t disappoint. While it may be, as a whole, toned down and easy-going, it still is really catchy and hits you right in the feels. Dave is one of those writers that makes you want to love love, even if you’re the most cynical love hater in existence.

Just like with Medicine by Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, I recommend you listen to this extended play all in one sitting. It won’t take you very long, since it’s only 6 songs and comes out at right about a 30 minute play time (give or take a few seconds). With all the love songs on this bad boy, Dave released it right at the right time; musical guys, if you haven’t figured out what to do for that special lady in your life, learn one of these songs for her. It won’t take you long. Write down the lyrics if you need to for when you sing it. You can even take the credit for “writing” it, since it’s so daggum new and she won’t know either way.

 

Power songs: The entire album.

Verdict: 4 stars

Why? While it may be a solid extended play, and is brilliantly written/arranged/recorded/produced, it really isn’t a “listen-to-all-the-time” kinda recording because of the singular message of love.

Rating System:
0 Stars = don’t even bother; Nickelback status of terrible
1 Star = maybe just iTunes preview each song
2 Stars = listen to the power songs on Spotify, but don’t buy
3 Stars = buy the power songs
4 Stars = buy the album and listen to it on occasion
5 Stars = this is a rare rating, and not many albums receive this score: buy the album and listen to it all the time; I’ve only given one album this rating, and it was Noah Gundersen’s Ledges

Keep The Main Thing The Main Thing

One thing within ministry that I’m really passionate about is making sure that I do everything I can to help people have Christ-centered relationships with their friends and significant others that foster growth, trust, and safety. That’s one reason why I talk about relationships and give (sometimes unsolicited) advice often. It’s very important to have good relationships with other people.

Sometimes we forget that though. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve had who really truly don’t care that much about having Jesus at the center of their relationships. They’ve let attraction and skin-deep beauty override and overshadow their need for the spiritual of dating. I had one student who, when asked why he wasn’t dating a Christian, said, “I mean, she’s really cute and funny, and we have a lot in common. So maybe I could win her over to Jesus by dating her.”

Nope. Wrong. Stop. Don’t. This is not smart.

Missionary dating isn’t something I would ever recommend. She might be cute, he might be fun to hang out with, but ultimately if they don’t love Jesus like you do, then they aren’t worth considering for a significant other.

There was a point in my life where I failed miserably at pursuing someone who wasn’t a Christian. Most of my bad stories happen to be from my high school days, and this is no exception. To keep it short, I got involved with a girl my freshman year who didn’t love Jesus and it ended up pulling me down spiritually, morally, and emotionally. I was a jerk who, for a period of time, didn’t follow after Jesus. It was not fun.

This isn’t just for middle and high school students. Adults, this is for you too. Please hear me out. If you’re a single adult, don’t settle for a non-Christian because he or she is “the only one left out there.” Don’t use the bar scene as your pool of potentials. Keep your standards high and be willing to follow God’s leading, because His timing for you to meet your future significant other is impeccable and perfect.

My prayer and yearning is to see students, young adults, and all followers of Jesus keep the main thing the main thing: carrying on God-honoring, Christ-centered dating relationships and friendships focused on showing Jesus to others. By no means have I done this right. By no means have I perfected the art of dating. There’s a reason why the Next Level Students sermon series from May through early June will be about relationships as the summer starts. It’ll be filled with my failures, what God’s Word says about each instance (not specifically, but in general), and how we can learn from it.

Where did you meet your husband/wife/significant other? What were the circumstances surrounding you meeting them?

The Social Media Shift

I promise I’ll do a better job of keeping up with posting this week. I’ve got some really exciting news that I’ll be sharing at the end of this week/beginning of next week concerning Next Level Students.

But not just yet. Because this month is the month of love and emotion, and with Valentine’s Day being on Saturday, I want to share something that’s been on my heart and mind: relationships and social media, and how they relate.

Whether we want to admit it or not, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are changing the face of our platonic and romantic relationships. There’s been a shift that was at first subtle and positive, but has taken drastic and negative turn.

I’ve noticed this shift as I’ve become more involved and reliant upon these sites. I didn’t really start seriously dating until I was established and visible on social media (before that, “going on dates” essentially was “walking my ‘girlfriend’ to her locker after class”). I used social media as an extension of communication for my already-established-and-growing relationship, sending short little wall posts and messages to my significant other sporadically.

Back in 2009/2010, social media really was about expanding and growing already existing relationships. 

Fast forward to now. I see others sending those sporadic messages regularly, and as the main source of growing the relationship in the place of face-to-face interaction. Liking statuses has changed (for the most part) from actually agreeing with the statement, to flirting as someone likes every single post that exists on a person’s timeline. Liking insta-photos has (for the most part) changed from actually appreciating what someone shares, to flirting once again.

Social media has replaced intentional, real life communication ad interaction. Students don’t talk to their friends face-to-face and instead just kik or facebook them. Young adults use Tinder to weed out potential mates based on superficial, hand-picked photos instead of actually pursuing the guy or girl with whom they work or go to class and think is cute.

Please tell me you see the problem. This generation (yes, my generation) has turned into a group that is glued to their phones for their only form of interaction.

I’m guilty. Red-handed, video-taped, without a shadow of a doubt guilty. I try to stay a day ahead of my posts, writing today’s post last night. It’s Sunday night when I’m writing this, and I’m on my iPhone 5s in the middle of Panera. I just finished dinner. And I’m not the only person in the restaurant. I’m the perfect example of the downward spiral of my generation.

I issue you, reader, and myself as well, this challenge. Make time for facetime   No, not just the video chat. Actual, face-to-face interaction. Take someone you care about to Aromas or Starbucks. Take your child to dinner and ask them leave his or her phone in the care. Take your significant other on a date and turn your phone on “do not disturb.”

Give your full and undivided attention to someone who you love and care about this week. Just once, at least. Pour into and invest in your relationships. Put away Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,  and every form of social media for the sake of building your connection with someone.

 How have you seen social media influence/change your relationships? Was it a good or bad change? Why?

Theology Thursday

When I was a freshman in college, I took a huge interest in theology. I spent countless hours researching different views, debating why I thought I was right, and sometimes even alienating people because I was so snub-nosed on the issues.

No, I’m not going into a soteriological or eschatological rant about why Calvinism or Arminianism is right or wrong or why certain end times views are stupid. That’s not the point of my Theology Thursdays, by any means.

If “theology” literally means, “The study of God,” then that’s what should happen when theology is brought up. Sometimes the study of God isn’t all about high philosophical concepts or deeply entrenched religious camps; it really should be about the practicality of who God is and how that relates to us in our everyday lives.

The truth of the matter is that our theology is deeply impacted by the circumstances that happen around us on a daily basis. Our view of God is determined by the authority figures, parents, friends, significant others, etc., that do good or bad to us. And that just isn’t right, in my opinion.

In fact, the situation needs to be flipped. God should be the one impacting our circumstances. God should be the one determining how we react to authority figures, parents, friends, significant others, etc., that do good or bad to us.

So, that’s where I’m going to land today: what’s at the center of our theology? Do we have a man-centered theology, or a God-centered theology?

That’s really high and lofty, even for a nerd like me. I’m sorry. Let me rephrase and get it down to the irreducible minimum: what shapes our knowledge and understanding of God? Does man shape it, or does God shape it?

When we hold a man-centered theology (aka when man shapes our view of God), we put a lot of responsibility for some huge things on our own shoulders. It elevates the position of man and says, “We’re kind of a big deal.” We become responsible for salvation, our futures, our everything, essentially. And God doesn’t really hold MUCH say in it; He can do certain things, but is really limited.

When we hold a God-centered theology (aka when God shapes our view of God), we put a lot of the responsibility for huge things on God. It elevates God’s position and says, “God is kind of a big deal.” He’s responsible for our salvation, our future, and our everything, essentially. We depend on God because He has most of the say in it; we follow what He wants and we don’t limit Him.

That’s really concise and quick, almost bite-sized. But, above all else, we should be making a big deal of God. Our theology should say, “God is a big deal.” I think we need to have a God-centered theology. We still have responsibility, no doubt, but God is the one who gets the credit if He’s at the center of it all. He’s in control of everything and takes care of us no matter what.

I challenge you to make a big deal of God. Like, a really big deal of Him. What do you do when your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/etc. does something really awesome, like INCREDIBLY INDESCRIBABLY awesome for you? You don’t sit there in silence. You go tell someone. And excitedly.

Does this sound familiar? I hope so. God did something incredibly indescribably awesome for us, dirty rotten sinners who are spiritually dead, in sending Jesus to live a perfect life and die in our place in order to bring us back to life. So, what should we do? Go tell someone. Excitedly. About the life and love we have in Christ.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says this about the chief end of man (aka the reason why we exist): “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

What is one way this week that you’ve found joy in what God has done for you?

I Know I Could Do Better

I’ve really stunk at posting this week. It’s Wednesday morning, and this is the first thing I’ve posted. I’m sorry. I know I could do better.

I know I could do better.

That phrase is probably the best descriptor for both my everyday life and my spiritual life. They aren’t separate, by any means, or in different categories, but both have different implications, nonetheless.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t like criticism all that much, let alone from someone who knows nothing about what they’re saying. It takes everything in me to not react negatively and harshly.

But, when someone who knows what they’re talking about offers his or her opinion and wisdom, I know better than to brush it off and go about my day like I’m the right one and he or she is the wrong one. I’d be a fool to ignore wise counsel and experiential insight.

Why? Because I know I could do better, and someone who knows better is telling me how they succeeded in the same area, or even failed, and wants to help me.

I know I could do better.

I’m not normally a humble person; honestly, I don’t think many of us are. Our natural disposition (which is no excuse) is to be selfish and prideful. I don’t always like owning up to my mistakes and failures. It isn’t comfortable, or fun, or easy, or natural whatsoever.

In my everyday life, there are so many different things where I can confidently, or somewhat confidently, say, “I know what I’m doing.” Usually, I know enough to get by and learn throughout the process so I can know better about what I’m doing. But, there are even more things where I don’t speak the truth of, “I have no clue how to do this,” but still proceed and act like I do. I don’t want to admit it, but I know I could do better and not lie about my competency.

In my spiritual life, I can confidently say I know I could do better. I know I could pray more, read more, talk about Jesus more, invest in relationships for His glory more, etc. But what do I do? I don’t do that. I may want to do it, and be passionate about doing it, but I just don’t. Romans 7:15 puts it better than I ever could:

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate.

I want to love Jesus more. I want to love people more. I want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. But what do I do? I slack off and forsake the calling on my life to do those things.

I hate inauthenticity. I hate lies. I hate sin. But, what do I do? The very thing(s) I hate. I end up being inauthentic. I end up lying. I end up sinning.

We all need someone to help spur us to better living, better thinking, better speaking, better doing. While sometimes constructive criticism really sucks, I’m more than thankful for it. I’m so glad I have people in my life who care enough about me to help me do better.

I know I could do better. Even more, I have friends who want me to do better.

What’s the best piece of constructive criticism you’ve received? How did that help you to do better?

Relationships Are Hard: Part 2

I’ll be the first to admit and own the fact that yesterday’s subject matter got real real, real quick. There wasn’t really any other way that I could address dating relationships, in my opinion. They’re nothing to be trifled with. Hopefully today will be a little bit lighter, as we talk about platonic relationships. I won’t be as long winded either.

Everyone has his or her close group of friends that they spend most of his or her time with. I spent almost every free moment with Forrest, Courtney, and Brittany when I was in Newnan. Those three were (and still are) my best friends. Before I met them, I spent almost every free moment with Richie, Donald, and David, among so many other guys back here in Hampton. We all have our own little community that we get to live life with and have fun.

Friends are awesome. I wouldn’t be able to get by without any. I have a very extroverted personality, so being around people in general gives me energy and livens me up. I try my best not to be a stranger, in that I try to meet anyone I’m around that I didn’t know already. But, you can’t treat your friends and acquaintances the same way that you treat your boyfriend or girlfriend. First of all, that would be weird; you can’t be lovey-dovey and overly affectionate with anyone, so there are certain rules of engagement when it comes to being in platonic community.

You have to be genuine. You have to open. You have to be sensitive to your friends’ needs.

In a sense, the only real difference between dating and platonic relationships is the whole physical aspect. Like I said earlier, you can’t be overly affectionate and physical with your friends. So, what does a friendship require? Here’s what I’ve found, and it may sound familiar.

1. Be willing to work. Yes, friendships take work too. Maybe in different ways than what we discussed yesterday, but we still have to put in effort to maintain the friendship. You have to communicate with your friends, seek out how to help them, be wiling to go out of your way to spend time with them. The list goes on and on. Bottom line: being a good friend means being willing to work. Your friends need you to be loving and caring and dedicated.

2. Be authentic, no matter what. How do you grow close to your friends if you’re not open with them and letting them into your life? I’ve always believed that when we open up to others, two really cool things happen: we give advice about how to avoid problems, or we find someone who understands what we’re going through. Being authentic creates a bond that says I trust you and want to wade through the waters of life with you, brother/sister. We get to be real, hold each other accountable, and see what God does in our friends’ lives.

3. Be clear and transparent. What did I say yesterday? To be unclear is to be unkind. Be clear. Be transparent. This goes hand-in-hand with authenticity. I know it’s a broken record sound, but that’s how important transparency is; it needs to be stressed, especially in terms of community and platonic relationships. You’re short-changing yourself out of transformative and healing community when you aren’t open and authentic.

4. Don’t compromise. Because everyone is wired differently, not only do we need to be careful about who we date and involve ourselves with romantically, we need to be careful about who we make friends with and get into community with. Benjamin Franklin said, “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” The people who you surround yourself with will ultimately determine, whether you see it or not, how you act. We adapt to those around us unknowingly, picking up subtle nuances of others. Because I hung around worship majors and musicians during college and in everyday life, I started to dress like them, act like them, and think like them. I wear skinny jeans, v-necks & button downs, and boots. I think more musically. Surround yourself with people who will sharpen you and spur you to be a better lover of Jesus. Don’t compromise on your friends.

Friendship is fun. I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life with my friends, and I learned more about myself while hanging out with them. Never discount the beauty of friendship, nor forsake it.

Relationships Are Hard: Part 1

Relationships are really hard. No, I’m not dealing with any relationship problems right now, either platonic or romantic. Over the past week or so, more of my everyday occurrences have consisted of relational interaction, and great interaction at that. I have no complaints about relationships right now.

But, as I ponder over the idea of relationships and the commitment, effort, and dedication required of them, I honestly get freaked out. I’m not a commit-o-phobe or anything; committing to anything doesn’t bother me or give me the heebie-jeebies. But the overall requirements and requests that come with any form of relationship get dicey. Time, emotions, mental exertion, discernment, forgiveness, grace. And sometimes, we just don’t have any of those things to give. We’re so exhausted from everything else that we have going on, that we can’t put anything into relationships and we shut down. We become “emotionally unavailable” to our friends, significant others, and family members. And, speaking from experience, it really hurts to have someone be emotionally unavailable when you’re making yourself available.

Just for a moment, let’s zoom in on the most common and most identified relationship: the romantic/dating relationship. That’s where we’ll focus today. Tomorrow, we’ll look at platonic relationships.

Your Facebook has that designation for not being single or involved with someone in an engagement or even further: “In a relationship.” It’s the ultimate form of exclusivity in our society, the definition of emotional and romantic interest in the opposite sex. I can’t tell you how many times over the past 2 months or so that I’ve said, “I’m not in a place where I can be in a relationship.” Mainly, that was my response to someone asking me about dating someone in Newnan, due to the fact that my time was coming very quickly to an end. Add that to the fact that I had just gotten out of a relationship where I put in all of the effort and work, and you get a toxic combination of guardedness and emotional frustration that I’ve been fighting with and beating ever since (with much success). I couldn’t readily commit to a relationship where I was going to be 9+ hours separated from the girl I was dating, with no sureness on either one of us visiting. Honestly, it became a crutch. I used it to coast through the last few weeks and months of my time there. The idea of being in a dating relationship with someone is sometimes more appealing than actually being in one. We romanticize and fantasize about the thought of dating, and it looks so great and so wonderful. Then, when we find someone who makes the idea of dating that much more attractive, it feels like heaven’s angels lit the path to them; we become more than okay with committing to the idea of dating. Things are great for the first little while; you’re both happily going through life hand-in-hand and still loving the idea of dating.

Then, one day a few months in, the switch flips. The idea of dating instantly becomes the real thing. The first fight happens. She does something annoying. He gets comfortable with you. The shine wears off, the glitter stops sticking to the paper, and we end up being covered in little sparkly pieces of plastic that not even sandblasting can remove. And we think to ourselves, “What the heck happened?!?!? This is NOT what I was expecting. I thought dating was going to be easy and lovely.” We forget that the idea of dating isn’t actually dating at all, and it’s a distant utopian thought. We come to a crossroads now; we can either jump ship and break things off because “this isn’t working out” (aka I’m too much of a pansy to work on what we have), or we can sit down and say, “What isn’t working? What can we work on? What can we start doing to make this more natural/fun/etc.?”

This takes guts. I’ve been the first option. I’ve been the one who’s abandoned ship for that very reason. And I’ve ruined perfectly good relationships because my personal preference and comfort meant more to me than the person sitting across the table from me. And I’ve also been the second option. I’ve attempted to solve problems, stop doing certain things, and actually be a man. I’ve been on both sides of the table, and I’ve felt the sting of someone saying that what we had wasn’t working out. Spoiler alert: it sucks.

The truth is, when the idea of dating turns into the reality of dating, a person’s true colors come out, no matter how good or bad those colors may look. That’s why relationships are hard. We all have some sort of preconceived notion, some sort of unrealistic expectation, or some kind of prejudice that makes us all hard to work with. And when we take all of that baggage into relationships with other people who have the same baggage as us, it becomes a volatile concoction that’s sure to explode sooner or later.

I may not be the wisest, most experienced, or greatest authority on dating and relationships, but among everything I’ve been through, I’ve learned these vital things:

1. Be willing to work. It doesn’t matter how new the car may smell, feel, or look, you still have to maintain it. Two people coming together to do life in harmony means two full lives of hardship, establishment, and chaos try to fit into a container that only can hold one life. Hear me loud and clear: you are going to have problems. You are going to fight. You are going to absolutely hate something that she does. You are going to get mad at him for getting comfortable with you and stopping the cute things he used to do. So brace yourself. When that happens, your friendship will have to come into play. You’ll have to talk it out. You’ll have to put in effort to either be more conscious of what you do or actively tell her how beautiful she is, how much you like her, and how happy she makes you. Don’t cop out and ditch on the relationship just because of a few rough patches.

2. Be authentic, no matter what. Vulnerability is hard stuff. Putting yourself out there without any promise of being accepted is scary. And vulnerability is no fun when you’re the only one. Trust me, I know that feeling and I hated being vulnerable when it wasn’t being reciprocated. If you’re going to be in a committed, growing relationship with another person, the growing part can’t happen unless you’re open. Not just one of you, but both of you. Yes it is going to hurt. Yes it is going to be awkward. We all have some dusty skeletons in our closets, and when we’re authentic with one another, it could get pretty dicey. But, more times than not, having those hard conversations of, “Here’s my junk. This is who I am. This is what I’ve done, where I’ve been, why I’m me,” allow us to grow even closer to one another and make actually dating someone easier and more natural.

3. Be clear and transparent. This kind of goes along the lines of being authentic. Our society pegs clarity as harsh and brutal. We end up being conditioned to only say the things that are nice and pretty and lovey-dovey. But when you only say good things and suck up to the person you’re dating, the truth of the matter is you aren’t actually dating them; you’re wimping out and not caring about them enough to say the hard things that you need to say. To be unclear is to be unkind. Right from the beginning of your relationship, you made it clear: I want to date you. So why aren’t you being clear anymore? Make your intentions clear, make your non-negotiobles clear, make your likes and dislikes clear. Be authentic, open, and clear no matter what the cost is.

4. Don’t compromise. By no means do I mean that you shouldn’t come to compromises within the relationship. That’s how you work through the problems, through compromise and sacrifice. When I say, “Don’t compromise,” I mean don’t settle for something or someone who doesn’t meet your list. Everyone has a list of things that he or she needs in a significant other, whether it’s written down or not. Stick to that list. If someone doesn’t meet your standards, it really is okay. It doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you or that something is wrong with them; it means that you just aren’t supposed to pursue that relationship. Let me repeat that, because that’s huge. Hear me on this: nothing is wrong with you or your standards if someone doesn’t meet them. He may be absolutely amazing and lovely, she may be drop dead gorgeous, and most importantly love Jesus so much, but if they don’t meet the list that you’ve made, then that is completely okay. Be friends with them. Serve Jesus with them. But don’t compromise your list and date them. God shapes our desires and wires us in certain ways to need and want different qualities in other people to complement what’s going on in our lives and hearts/minds, which translates into a unique and specific list of uncompromisable attributes.

These vital things are important, but above all else, if you love Jesus and follow Him, you can’t make it without having Him at the center of your relationship. Seek Him before you take the first step of dating, seek Him throughout the relationship, and seek Him if/when the relationship ends. If your identity isn’t firmly rooted in Jesus, then don’t date. Please. Take my word for it. It WILL hurt you and ruin you.

Relationships are hard, but rewarding. Dating is different than the idea of it. And people are hard to work with. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about friendships, the thing that isn’t as clear cut and definable as dating relationships. What are some lessons (that you’re willing to share) that you’ve learned from relationships?

North and South

Every region in the country has different perceptions and realities of institutions and organizations. There’s kind of an unspoken understanding and stigma about certain aspects of the society. I’ve come to realize this even more as I re-settle into the life and times of Tidewater Virginia.

While Virginia is considered the “South” as it relates to the Mason-Dixon Line and Civil War tradition, it’s fairly clear that life in Georgia, the deep south, is much different than life in Virginia, the northernmost southern state. That’s where I’m framing my reference; I can’t really speak from experience of any other part of America, simply because I haven’t lived anywhere else. In Georgia, especially Coweta County, the concept of a four-lane-highway hasn’t been embraced like Hampton has for Mercury Boulevard and Newport News for (parts of) Jefferson Avenue (Atlanta is a different story; urban development has implemented a need for larger roads, so I don’t consider the city a part of my claim).

But, to be fair, in Virginia, especially in Hampton Roads and other college towns close by, one thing I’ve noticed is that downtown is NOT somewhere you want to be after dark. The only reason you’re ever in downtown Norfolk or Newport News is because you have no choice but to pass through it or quickly do what you have to do there. Yes, downtown Virginia Beach is a safe and nice place after dark, but I’ll readily pass on being around the tourism district of the area. The downtown areas of places (mostly college towns) in Georgia like Atlanta and Athens; in North Carolina like Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; and in South Carolina like Columbia and Clemson are pretty much thought of as the spots where the nightlife is. All the restaurants and bars, venues, and retail stores are there, and that’s essentially where all the “fun” happens. Also, the ideas and perceptions/realities of Greek life are completely different here in comparison to further down south (my experience is specifically with the Greek life at University of Georgia when I was dating a sorority member, and also as a spectator of Greek life at University of West Georgia, Auburn University, Old Dominion University, and Christopher Newport University). It seems to me like there is a difference in goals for the organizations. Before I continue, yes, I do realize and understand that the philanthropies exist and are prominent within each fraternity or sorority, so this is a complete outsider’s perspective. What I’ve noticed is that, as a whole, the southern Greek life has more emphasis on the camaraderie and social aspect, while the more northern Greek life has more emphasis on the mission and outreach associated with the philanthropy of the chapter.

I could point out the obvious that the further south you go, the accents are thicker, the driving gets slower, and temperature gets hotter, but I think that’s fairly obvious in comparison to the rest.

I admit there may be some skewed perceptions listed above. I’d love to know about why they’re skewed. I’d also love to know what some other region-specific differences are. Tell me!