* What I share today may seem controversial to some of you. As I have stated before, each of you must ultimately decide these matters as you guide your children, following God’s leading in your life, the principles of God’s word, and your conscience. You are responsible for the decisions you make. I simply ask you to sincerely consider the wisdom, truth, and observations of what I share with you today.
Looking back over the 44 years that I have been following Jesus Christ, I would have to say the most consequential decision I ever made, apart from my decision to follow Jesus Christ as my Lord, was my decision about dating and the opposite sex. This was my greatest strategic decision as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It was so critically important that the very night I decided to follow Jesus, having just pulled my car off the road to fall on my knees and give my whole life to Him, I got back in my car, drove 75 miles to the large city my girlfriend lived in, went to her apartment and told her that I needed to end our relationship. I explained I had given my life to Jesus Christ and I knew I could not be in this relationship anymore. I made it as clear as I could that is was not her fault or something wrong she had done, but it was truly because I knew Jesus Christ had to be first in my life, and I knew as long as I continued this relationship, I could not really follow Christ as I knew I should. I urged her to give her life to Jesus, but she made it very clear she wanted nothing to do with God.
At 19, I knew the greatest obstacle to me following Jesus with my whole heart was women, dating, and falling in love with the wrong woman. In fact, I could not get Samson out of my mind! The greatest single potential pitfall in life, without question, is the opposite sex. Read the first 7 chapters of Proverbs! More lives have been ruined by bad relationships than by drugs or alcohol. It is the big open secret no one talks about honestly.
The cost of sexually transmitted diseases, of sexual promiscuity, the cost, and trauma of divorce, the emotional and psychological toll on men and women who go from one dating relationship to the next, using and being used, has been catastrophic and destructive.
I will never forget telling the Lord at the country park where I would go to pray in 1975, “Lord, we have to settle this dating, woman, wife thing. I realize that nothing can be so great a stumbling block in my walk with Jesus Christ as the opposite sex.”
That day, the Lord showed me this verse in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not along with Him, freely give us all things?” I was deeply struck by this verse. I said I was trusting God for eternal life in heaven, yet I had never seen heaven. How could I not trust Him then for a wife? God said he would freely provide for me. Then I came across the verse in Proverbs that states, “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord!” Again, it hit me, “Wow, a wife is God’s favor to give me, not my right to take!” That day, I told the Lord that if He ever wanted me to get married, He would need to do with me what He did with Adam. Hit me on the head, put me to sleep, wake me up and put her there in front of me, and tell me, “Mark, she is the one I made for you.”
You can laugh at me all you want, poke fun at my simple, genuine, sincere faith and prayer, but God did what I asked Him to do. He kept me focused, asleep, so to speak, from all the women around me and at just the right moment, He opened my eyes and gave me the girl, standing right next to me at a popcorn stand, driven under that awning by torrential rain, at Twin Lakes Bible Camp with the exact qualities I had prayed for. This was the first conference this young lady had ever come to. She had recently given her life to Jesus Christ herself in a very radical, serious, committed way. She had been very sick the night before the conference and did not have the money to come. She prayed to the Lord and told Him, “Lord if you want me to go, I will go, even if I am sick if you give me the money.” The next morning she woke up to find an envelope with 50 dollars stuck under her door, the exact amount the conference cost. Wow! Here is the truth. Had she not been at that very conference, that night, we would have never in a million years crossed paths. I did not go to Iowa State University and had never even been to Ames, Iowa in my whole life back then.
Kathy and I briefly visited at the end of that conference, sharing how the Lord had impacted each of us. We exchanged mailing addresses, as I had asked if I could write to her. For the next two weeks, I found I could not get her off my mind. I prayed and prayed about this lady, I even fasted, and asked the Lord if He wanted me to take initiative with her, with the intentional purpose of someday marrying her. I felt the Lord confirm to me that I should talk to her about it. We had not written to each other yet. I drove to her university, found the tall building and the floor she lived on, and knocked on the door. Her roommate said she was out on a run. I waited on the steps. When she finally ran up, I could tell she was glad to see me. I asked if we could go walk out on the soccer field by her dorm and visit. She said sure. As we walked I simply, sincerely said, “Kathy, I have not been able to get you off my mind since we met. I have never met a woman like you, so sincere, genuine and committed in her faith. I was wondering if you would be willing to pray about the possibility of getting married sometime in the future?” She stopped dead in her tracks, looked right at me, and said, “Mark, some weeks back I broke up with my boyfriend of 4 years. I have not been looking for a relationship at all. However, I have been wondering and praying the same thing about you, since we met. I would be glad to pray about it.” I reached out, shook her hand, thanked her for her time, and drove back home. We then began to write to each other. I still have all the letters. 7 months later we got engaged, 2 years later, after many great trials and persecution, we got married. That was 40 years ago!
I had told the Lord the only things that mattered to me most in the woman I married was give me a girl who loves you more than she loves me, give me a girl who loves the Bible and wants to obey it, and give me a girl who will move anywhere for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Kathy was that girl and has been that girl in every way you can imagine. I am not worthy of her.
Let me explain a bit of the reasoning that led to this extremely important decision. It was amazing to me how that decision allowed me as a single young man to keep my eyes on Christ, focused on my relationship with Him, and kept me out of the ditch of life and the terrible snares, pitfalls, and dangers dating can bring.
Nothing and I mean nothing, can distract, corrupt and mar a life as much as dating for fun, messing around through the youth of one’s life with raging hormones, and the great temptations and great distractions the opposite sex brings to your life.
I have watched first hand through my 44 years of church life and pastoring work the horrible consequences in thousands of young people’s lives from the foolish decisions they made in dating relationships, and the deep trouble, emotional damage and insecurities dating left them with.
I have been stunned by how many parents are so blind, naive and foolish when it comes to dating and their teens. Dads, moms, it is essential that you open your eyes to what is going on around us, and the reality of what dating does to a young person. We must pull our heads up out of the sand!
Let me put this in frank, simple terms. Many young people have their first boyfriend or girlfriend by 13 years old. They begin to attach strong, heartfelt emotions to that person. That person begins to consume their thoughts, often pulling them away from their family, their parent’s influence, and causing them to attach emotionally and psychologically in ways they would to someone they eventually marry. It is not long until most teens become sexually active. Then, as always happens, they break up, often with great drama and trauma, and in several months start over with another person. Repeating the same vicious, destructive cycle. By the time they marry, in their mid 20’s, most young people have been involved intimately, emotionally, and sexually with maybe 3-6 people or even more. What does this do? It damages them! It conditions them for divorce!! How you ask? Remember Pavlov’s dogs?! Because they were in previous relationships in which they were acting just like they were married, in almost every way, except living in the same house. Then when things got difficult, they just broke up, usually with much emotional pain and trauma. The only difference in getting married is the money spent on the ceremony and trust me when the pain in marriage gets bad enough, you don’t care about what you spent on the wedding. All you want is out. By now you have gotten good at it because you have done it many times before in those all-consuming dating relationships. We must stop seeing this as a natural right of passage for our kids! Dating is dangerous, destructive and extremely hazardous to your life. It leaves scars, baggage and very bad habits that follow you into marriage.
Dads, hear me, please hear me. As Christ-followers we must set different standards for our families. We must set different expectations, guidelines, and vision for our children. We must help our teens grasp and understand there is a much better way.
This passage in Ps. 106:35 (Berk) comes to mind and hits me like a ton of bricks.
“They associated with those pagans and acquired their habits.” Read the whole context, it is stunning and very sobering. Christians in America have acquired some very pagan habits. It was this passage that inspired my message “Deadly Associations and The Termination Project.”
I know some of you are thinking, “Holy smoke Mark, do you know how radical that is? Do you know how counter-culture that is?” Of course, I do. That’s the whole point! The culture is a filthy, stinking, rotten mess, and I want no part of it. Its values and practices are ruining so many people’s lives. I wanted my kids spared from its gruesome clutches, harmful practices, and catastrophic impact.
You may be thinking this isn’t realistic. Did it actually work for Mark? Let me be completely honest, in all sincerity. I have 2 daughters and 2 sons. It worked for every single one of them. None of them did the dating thing. Each of them waited on God, putting Christ first, serving Him. Each of them, through an amazing set of divinely orchestrated circumstances, saw God bring their spouse into their lives, and each began at the appropriate time, a serious courting relationship with the person they married. Sometime in the future, I will have each of them share their own unique story of how God moved in their lives. It was truly amazing for me as their father to watch how God brought into their lives a Christ-loving spouse. I give God all the credit and all the glory, and I also thank Him with all my heart for the wisdom, insights, and convictions He gave to me and my wife to raise our children with the same values God gave to Kathy and me.
I urge you to please give this some serious, serious prayer and consideration. There is so much at stake. I believe you would find much insight, and be very stimulated by the wisdom, truth, and insights of these message series on this topic. Let me offer this truth. The messages below, I have shared over the last 30 years with hundreds of singles. I watched first hand literally hundreds of young people decide to apply these truths, abstain from dating, and I saw hundreds of them, eventually marry the spouse God brought into their lives. Over the last 30 years, I could count on one hand the number of those who have gotten divorced. These truths brought tremendous fruit and wonderful results. Please give them a listen for the sake of your children’s future.