relationships

Can Single Guys and Girls Just Be Friends?

Recently I was rejoicing with one of my single friends, Roman, because he believes he’s found the girl he wants to marry. Naturally I’m excited for him and I hope I can attend his wedding. I want all my single friends to find mates.

But I’m also disturbed because I know many singles that would like to be married yet have very few close friends of the opposite sex. Something is built into our Christian culture that discourages normal guy/girl friendships. It’s as if we’re afraid they will hop in bed if they actually talk for an hour and share their hopes, dreams or struggles.

Meanwhile, we pressure guys and girls to marry if they become friends. (“Oooh, Gina, we saw you with Brad yesterday. Is something going on between you two?”) Why can’t Gina and Brad just encourage each other in their journey with God without turning their relationship into a big deal? Is it possible for Christian guys and girls to build healthy friendships without assuming they are headed to the church altar?

I believe it is absolutely possible. Here are six keys to developing these relationships:

1. View your friends as family. Paul told Timothy he should treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters (see 1 Tim. 5:2). The same rule applies to girls: You should view your male Christian friends as brothers. Having this pure-hearted attitude makes real friendship possible. If a guy views his female friend as a sister he won’t be lusting after her body; instead, his instinct will be to encourage her. If a girl views her male friend as a brother she will care about him and pray for him without expecting him to have sexual feelings for her.

2. Avoid “pair pressure.” In many churches today there’s a nagging pressure to find “the one” so you can take yourself off the market. If you are carrying this burden, every friendship with a person of the opposite sex can be a drain. “Is she the one?” “Does he like me?” “How should I dress?” These concerns morph into worries that suck all the fun out of life. Trust God with your desire for a mate. If you don’t relax you will come across as desperate—and that’s a big turn-off. Stop trying to make something happen and just enjoy getting to know a new friend. Remember Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

3. Say goodbye to awkward. Before we married, my wife and I both dreaded the dating scene. Calling someone you barely know and asking them to dinner or a movie is scary—and it’s the reason a lot of Christian guys are still single at 35. Meanwhile Christian girls have been told to wait for the guy to make the first move, so they are conditioned to wait for “the call.” You can say goodbye to all this awkwardness by organizing group gatherings: Meet several friends for coffee, invite them to a cookout or throw a party. Then just enjoy each other’s company. And girls: Feel free to initiate the invitation!

4. Rediscover the art of conversation. In today’s media-soaked culture we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other. Many guys feel socially clumsy, so they become immersed in video games and become emotional hermits. They need friends—including female friends—to help them crawl out of their shells. Meanwhile both guys and girls are so addicted to their phones that they don’t know how to talk for an hour without checking for text messages. If you want to be a good friend, learn to focus on the person you’re talking to!

5. Don’t allow a hint of seduction. The message we get from media today is that it’s all about sex. But as a Christian you don’t have to bow to that idol. You can have a meaningful friendship with a person of the opposite sex without ending up in bed together. But if you plan to keep it pure, you will have to put up some obvious boundaries. Use common sense. Don’t wear revealing clothes. Don’t touch each other inappropriately. And don’t spend the night at each other’s apartments in the name of “friendship.” If you are true friends you will respect each other enough to avoid a sexual mistake that you will regret later.

6. Keep your friendships Christ-focused. Hebrews 3:13a says: “But encourage one another day after day.” This verse applies to single men and women, too. We need each others’ encouragement, and God wants the single members of the church to be involved in each others’ lives. Your phone calls, notes and honest counsel may be what propels your friend into their life purpose; your kindness and prayers may be what gets them through a difficult crisis. Keep Jesus at the center of your friendships and don’t miss out on the blessing those friends can be to you.

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Hollywood and the Culture of Sexual Abuse

In late 2017 we learned that something really ugly lies underneath Hollywood’s sparkling glamour. Harvey Weinstein, the billionaire mogul responsible for movies including Shakespeare in Love, Chicago and The King’s Speech, was fired from his job and expelled from the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences after dozens of women accused him of rape or sexual harassment.

The women making the charges include actresses Ashley Judd, Kate Beckinsale, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mira Sorvino and Angelina Jolie. And The New York Times, which broke the story, said Weinstein paid off other women after they threatened legal action.

The whole ugly mess also showed us that film industry insiders knew of Weinstein’s behavior, yet they swept it under the infamous Hollywood red carpet. The scandal has revealed a sordid corporate culture in which women are expected to give sexual favors in exchange for career advancement.

This is not the Hollywood blockbuster that film executives were hoping for. But it might get worse, especially since more women are talking openly about the reality of sexual harassment in the movie industry. Actresses Jennifer Lawrence, Reese Witherspoon and America Ferrera now have admitted they were harassed or molested at one point in their lives.

This week, actress Alyssa Milano asked women to tweet #MeToo if they had been molested, raped or harassed. Since last Sunday, the #MeToo hashtag has been used more than 1 million times on Twitter. And more than 5 million people around the world have engaged in the “Me too” conversation on Facebook.

There are also many Christians who can tweet #MeToo. Followers of Jesus are not immune to this problem. And there have been times when both women and men have been sexually abused or harassed by church leaders. Rather than pointing a judgmental finger at Hollywood, we should use this scandal to start a needed conversation at church about gender and justice.

Here are a few of the points we should cover:

  1. We must stop avoiding the topic of sexual abuse. What we avoid from the pulpit will thrive in darkness. Unless we talk about this uncomfortable topic, victims will suffer in silence in our pews. It might help if local congregations launched their own “Me too” campaigns. Christians need to feel free to admit that sexual abuse happened to them, and churches should offer the counseling and healing needed. And let’s remember that sexual abuse doesn’t happen just to women.
  1. We should create a culture of mutual respect. The apostle Paul told Timothy that he should treat older women “as mothers” and younger women “as sisters, in all purity” (see 1 Tim. 5:2). And he wrote those words at a time when women were viewed as property.

The gospel goes against cultural norms. Today, women should feel safer in church than anywhere else. Yet I have known of male preachers who used sexist, derogatory language in their sermons. I have also known of “Spirit-filled” ministers who groped women in counseling sessions or used their spiritual authority to seduce girls. All churches should provide the training and accountability needed to become abuse-free zones.

  1. We must stop blaming victims when sexual harassment happens. Men have been blaming women for the world’s problems ever since Eve listened to the serpent. When a Christian woman is raped or abused, the conversation often turns to how she was dressed. I’ve even heard believers blame a woman who was abused by accusing her of having a “seducing spirit.” That is hyper-spiritual hogwash.

Let’s make it perfectly clear: Abusers, not victims, are guilty of abuse. I don’t care if a woman is wearing a skimpy tank top or hot pants—a man does not have to exert his power over her just because her skin is showing. He can walk away. Just as Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife, men can control their actions.

It’s sad that many Christian women won’t come forward to talk about their rape or molestation experience because they know a tribunal of Pharisees will point a bony finger at them. I also know a man who was criticized for not fighting back when he admitted to being sexually molested by another man. Why do we kick people when they are down? We need a crash course in godly compassion.

  1. We must launch a revolution in Christian men’s ministry. In many evangelical churches today, men’s ministry often focuses on how to be strong husbands, fathers and leaders. That is commendable, but in our effort to restore “godly manhood” we focus too much on power and not enough on humility. We don’t realize that one of the reasons Christian women suffer so much is that their husbands or boyfriends are so focused on wielding male power that they become brash, domineering, insensitive and even abusive.

Pornography has taught men for decades to look at women as inferior objects to be used and abused. Our corporate culture has taught us that women can be manipulated, seduced and played to our advantage. Locker rooms have taught us to be sexist and vulgar. No wonder we have an epidemic of abuse and sexual harassment.

But we don’t have to be like the world. When a man comes to Christ, he should renounce the culture of exploitation and learn how to respect women and treat them as equals. If we men will take a long look in the mirror, we might see Harvey Weinstein looking back at us. Let’s get honest and repent. Let’s get all sexual abuse and harassment out of the church now.

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Jesus and the Scandal of Sexual Harassment

Allegations of sexual harassment pile higher every day in Washington. In late 2017, Senator Al Franken, the Democrat from Minnesota, resigned after being accused of groping women, while Michigan congressman John Conyers stepped down from the House Judiciary Committee because he paid $27,000 to a woman who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior.

And then there’s Roy Moore, the feisty Alabama judge who has been accused of having a sexual relationship with a woman when she was underage. When combined with the serious accusations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the Anthony Weiner fiasco, the Bill Cosby trial and the sexual harassment scandals affecting companies such as Uber, the impact is beyond embarrassing. We’ve been hit by a tsunami of shame.

The rug has been pulled back, and now we see the disgusting truth—American women have been mistreated, abused, coerced, disrespected, catcalled and harassed in offices, boardrooms, courtrooms, gyms, film studios and the chambers of the U.S. Senate.

At this point it’s comforting to remember that Jesus Christ had a perfect track record regarding women. Though He lived in a patriarchal culture that viewed women as property, He always respected and elevated them—and He never once did anything inappropriate with a woman, ever, during His time on this earth.

While professing believers in Jesus are not always perfect in this regard, let’s remember how Jesus treated women and make Him our example:

Jesus protected women from harassment. Women in ancient Israel could be accused of adultery even if they were simply caught alone with a man. When the Pharisees brought one accused woman to Jesus, they said they had caught her “in the very act” of adultery (John 8:4), even though they conveniently forgot to bring the man she was with. Jesus refused to condemn her, and no stones were thrown. Jesus doesn’t tip the scales of justice to protect the powerful; He defends the vulnerable.

Jesus looked beyond a woman’s sexuality and restored her dignity. When a prostitute heard that Jesus was dining at a Pharisee’s house, she came there and poured anointing oil on His feet. The Pharisee was shocked that Jesus let her touch Him, but Jesus looked past her sin to see her need for forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus never undressed a woman with His eyes, yet in total purity He could look inside her and see her heart’s yearning.

Jesus gave marginalized women a voice. Jewish rabbis in ancient Israel didn’t have female followers. Yet Jesus called several women to travel with Him, and they became some of his most loyal disciples (see Luke 8:1-3). Mary Magdalene, in fact, had the privilege of announcing His resurrection to Jesus’ male followers.

Jesus restored the equal value of women.When Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha, He welcomed Mary to kneel at His feet and take the posture of a disciple—even though women traditionally were not allowed in such settings. When He told Martha that Mary had “chosen the good part” at His feet (Luke 10:42b), He issued an invitation—calling all women to find their identity in Him.

Jesus defended women from discrimination. Jesus went out of His way to speak to the Samaritan woman in John 4. She had been divorced by five husbands—perhaps because she was barren or because of her behavior. Yet Jesus canceled every mark on her record and used her to convince an entire village to believe in Him. In one day, He turned an outcast into a heroine.

Jesus redefined the worth of a girl. Girls were considered inferior in ancient Israel, yet when the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus died, Jesus raised her to life (Mark 5:21-24, 35-42; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). That miracle reminds us that God doesn’t devalue girls or ignore their problems.

Jesus acknowledged the contributions of women. When a poor widow put two coins worth very little in the collection box, Jesus shined His spotlight on her and told the Pharisees that her gift was bigger than theirs because of her poverty (see Luke 21:1-4). This would have been the verbal equivalent of cold water in the face to the proud Jewish leaders, who considered themselves superior to women. Yet Jesus is not afraid to confront heartless macho pride.

Jesus never used demeaning language with women. When Jesus healed a crippled woman in the synagogue, He called her to the front of the congregation (a definite taboo in those days) and then referred to her as “a daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16), an endearing term that no rabbi would have used for a female. Jesus changed the vocabulary. He didn’t engage in demeaning locker-room talk about women—He esteemed them and gave them spiritual dignity.

Today, even men who occupy the highest offices in the land have proven to be sexual predators. It’s obvious we need a new role model when it comes to how to treat women. I nominate Jesus.

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6 Reasons You Should Never Give Up on Church

I’ve experienced heaven on earth the past few days. I found it in Durban, South Africa, while visiting one of the most joy-filled congregations I’ve ever encountered in my travels.

It’s called His Church, and this 1,000-member multicultural church has many wonderful qualities: a loving pastor (a brave woman, Fiona Des Fontaine) who is committed to preaching God’s Word without compromise; a powerful outreach to the community; a healthy team of pastors who serve with no signs of competition or ego; and a Bible college where many young leaders are being trained.

I know there are many churches around the world today that have qualities similar to His Church. Yet many Christians—especially in the United States—are giving up on church because they were hurt by pastors or wounded by other Christians, or because they simply decided to “go it alone.” They are knows as “dones”—people who are “done” with church.

“Dones” might watch an occasional church service on television or meet with a few Christian friends over coffee for a casual Starbucks version of “church lite.” They still consider themselves serious Christians, but they want nothing more of pastors, tithing, scheduled meetings or church drama.

If you or someone you love has given up on church, I’m not here to condemn you. I’ve had my share of disappointments in church over the years, including some spiritual abuse. But I want to offer six reasons why you shouldn’t let a bad experience end your connection to God’s people.

1. The church is Christ’s body on earth. With all its flaws, the church is still God’s Plan A. Jesus announced before He went to the cross: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus intends to use the church—even in its weakness—as His primary tool to reach the world with the gospel. Heaven does not have a Plan B. Jesus is the head of his church (see Col. 1:18) and we are His hands and feet. To reject the church is to reject God’s ultimate strategy to bring heaven’s kingdom on earth.

2. The Holy Spirit has called us to work and flow together. When we were born again and baptized, the Bible says we were mystically unified with all other born-again believers and connected to each other by the Holy Spirit. The Lord also connects people in local congregations. This connection is holy and we should never make light of it or damage it. Paul told the Ephesians to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” by being in close fellowship with each other (Eph. 4:3). To reject this union of believers is to dishonor the work of the Spirit.

3. God accomplishes more through His corporate people than through isolated individuals. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit worked primarily through the nation of Israel, and through individuals who had special callings and remarkable courage. But in the age of the New Covenant, the Spirit dwells in every Christian believer, and the corporate church makes a much bigger impact. This is why Jesus told His disciples after He went to the cross that we would do “greater works” than He did on earth (see John 14:12). And because healthy churches can pool resources and organize volunteers, they are able to offer ministry to children, youth, families, singles, the needy and the lost overseas—in a way you could never do while sitting home alone.

4. God’s authority flows through His church, not through “lone ranger” Christians. Some people who’ve been hurt by church leaders feel they can never submit to another pastor again, nor will they honor a person who is called by God to carry the authority of a minister. Yet God has delegated to certain people the task of building up the church (see Eph. 4:11-12). It’s totally acceptable for you to leave an unhealthy church with poor leadership, but you should quickly find a new church where you can be equipped to fulfill your ministry. It was never intended for a Christian to live with a my-way-or-the-highway attitude.

5. It is by living in Christian community that we learn to love and serve. The Book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who were thinking of abandoning their Christian faith because of persecution. Some of them even stopped attending church, but Paul addressed their disillusionment by saying: “And let us consider how to spur one another to love and to good works. Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us exhort one another, especially as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). People who live in isolation find it difficult to develop character, and they often get discouraged; those who walk together in close fellowship inspire each other, and they improve each other just as iron sharpens iron.

6. If you leave the church because of hurt or resentment, you make it more difficult to find healing and reconciliation. It might sound spiritual to say you are pulling away from people to focus on God. But the New Testament says your relationship with God is directly related to how you relate to others. John wrote: “Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark” (1 John 2:9, MSG). People may have hurt you, but God will also use people to heal you. Don’t let the hurts of the past paint you into a lonely corner. Choose to forgive. Take a risk and keep loving.

Please don’t check out of church or give up on God’s flawed saints. There is no perfect church—and if there were, it would not be perfect after you joined! There is a place for you in God’s eternal family.

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10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry

My wife and I raised four daughters—without shotguns in the house!—and three of them have already married. We love our sons-in-law, and it’s obvious God handpicked each of them to match our daughters’ temperaments and personality.

I have always believed God is in the matchmaking business. If He can do it for my daughters, He can do it for you.

Today I have several single female friends who would very much like to find the right guy. Some tell me the pickings are slim at their church, so they have ventured into the world of online dating. Others have thrown up their hands in despair, wondering if there are any decent Christian guys left anywhere. They’ve begun to wonder if they should lower their standards in order to find a mate.

My advice stands: Don’t settle for less than God’s best. Too many Christian women today have ended up with an Ishmael because impatience pushed them into an unhappy marriage. Please take my fatherly advice: You are much better off single than with the wrong guy!

Speaking of “wrong guys,” here are the top 10 men you should avoid when looking for a husband:

1. The unbeliever. Please write 2 Corinthians 6:14 on a Post-it note and tack it on your computer at work. It says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NASB). This is not an outdated religious rule. It is the Word of God for you today.

Don’t allow a man’s charm, looks or financial success (or his willingness to go to church with you) push you to compromise what you know is right. “Missionary dating” is never a wise strategy. If the guy is not a born-again Christian, scratch him off your list. He’s not right for you. I’ve yet to meet a Christian woman who didn’t regret marrying an unbeliever.

2. The liar. If you discover that the man you are dating has lied to you about his past or that he’s always covering his tracks to hide his secrets from you, run for the nearest exit. Marriage must be built on a foundation of trust. If he can’t be truthful, break up now before he bamboozles you with an even bigger deception.

3. The playboy. I wish I could say that if you meet a nice guy at church, you can assume he’s living in sexual purity. But that’s not the case today. I’ve heard horror stories about single guys who serve on the worship team on Sunday but act like Casanovas during the week. If you marry a guy who was sleeping around before your wedding, you can be sure he will be sleeping around after your wedding.

4. The deadbeat. There are many solid Christian men who experienced marital failure years ago. Since their divorce, they have experienced the Holy Spirit’s restoration, and now they want to remarry. Second marriages can be very happy. But if you find out that the man you are dating hasn’t been caring for his children from a previous marriage, you have just exposed a fatal flaw. Any man who will not pay for his past mistakes or support children from a previous marriage is not going to treat you responsibly.

5. The addict. Churchgoing men who have addictions to alcohol or drugs have learned to hide their problems—but you don’t want to wait until your honeymoon to find out that he’s a boozer. Never marry a man who refuses to get help for his addiction. Insist that he get professional help and walk away. And don’t get into a codependent relationship in which he claims he needs you to stay sober. You can’t fix him.

6. The bum. I have a female friend who realized after she married her boyfriend that he had no plans to find steady work. He had devised a great strategy: He stayed home all day and played video games while his professional wife worked and paid all the bills. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thess. 3:10). The same rule applies here: If a man is not willing to work, he doesn’t deserve to marry you.

7. The narcissist. I sincerely hope you can find a guy who is handsome. But be careful: If your boyfriend spends six hours a day at the gym and regularly posts closeups of his biceps on Facebook, you have a problem. Do not fall for a self-absorbed guy. He might be cute, but a man who is infatuated with his appearance and his own needs will never be able to love you sacrificially, like Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25). The man who is always looking at himself in the mirror will never notice you.

8. The abuser. Men with abusive tendencies can’t control their anger when it boils over. If the guy you are dating has a tendency to fly off the handle, either at you or others, don’t be tempted to rationalize his behavior. He has a problem, and if you marry him you will have to navigate his minefield every day to avoid triggering another outburst. Angry men hurt women—verbally and sometimes physically. Find a man who is gentle.

9. The man-child. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m suspicious of a guy who still lives with his parents at age 35. If his mother is still doing his cooking, cleaning and ironing at that age, you can be sure he’s stuck in an emotional time warp. You are asking for trouble if you think you can be a wife to a guy who hasn’t grown up. Back away and, as a friend, encourage him to find a mentor who can help him mature.

10. The control freak. Some Christian guys today believe marriage is about male superiority. They may quote Scripture and sound super-spiritual, but behind the façade of husbandly authority is deep insecurity and pride that can morph into spiritual abuse. First Peter 3:7 commands husbands to treat their wives as equals. If the man you are dating talks down to you, makes demeaning comments about women or seems to squelch your spiritual gifts, back away now. He is on a power trip. Women who marry religious control freaks often end up in a nightmare of depression.

If you are a woman of God, don’t sell your spiritual birthright by marrying a guy who doesn’t deserve you. Your smartest decision in life is to wait for a man who is sold out to Jesus.

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8 Women Christian Men Should Never Marry

Last week my column “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry” went viral. More than 1.2 million people have shared that message so far—most likely because so many single men and women are seriously asking for guidelines on finding a compatible mate.

In response I received numerous requests to share similar guidelines for men who are looking for wives. Since I am mentoring several young men right now and have seen a few of them marry successfully during the past few years, it wasn’t difficult to draft this list. These are the women I tell my spiritual sons to avoid:

1. The unbeliever. In last week’s column, I reminded women that the Bible is absolutely clear on this point: Christians should not marry unbelievers. Second Corinthians 6:14 says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (NASB). Apart from your decision to follow Christ, marriage is the single most important decision you will ever make. Don’t blow it by ignoring the obvious. You need a wife who loves Jesus more than she loves you. Put spiritual maturity at the top of your list of qualities you want in a wife.

2. The material girl. One young friend of mine was engaged to a girl from a rich family. He saved up money for months to buy a ring, but when he proposed she told him he needed to go back to the jewelry store to buy a bigger diamond. She pushed her fiance to go into debt for a ring that fit her expectations. She wanted a Tiffany’s lifestyle on his Wal-Mart budget. I warned my friend that he was stepping into serious trouble. Unless you want to live in debt for the rest of your life, do not marry a girl who has dollar signs in her eyes and eight credit cards in her Gucci purse.

3. The diva. Some macho guys like to throw their weight around and pretend they are superior to women. Divas are the female version of this nightmare. They think the world revolves around them, and they don’t think twice about hurting somebody else to prove their point. Their words are harsh and their finger-snapping demands are unreasonable. Some of these women might end up in leadership positions at church, but don’t be fooled by their super-spiritual talk. Real leaders are humble. If you don’t see Christlike humility in the woman you are dating, back away from her and keep looking.

4. The Delilah. Remember Samson? He was anointed by God with superhuman strength, but he lost his power when a seductive woman figured out his secret and gave her man the world’s most famous haircut. Like Delilah, a woman who hasn’t yielded her sexuality to God will blind you with her charms, break your heart and snip your anointing off. If the “Christian” woman you met at church dresses provocatively, flirts with other guys, posts sexually inappropriate comments on Facebook or tells you she’s OK with sex before marriage, get out of that relationship before she traps you.

5. The contentious woman. A young man told me recently that he dated a girl who had serious resentment in her heart because of past hurts. “Before I would propose, I told my fiancee she had to deal with this,” he explained. “It would have been a deal-breaker, but there was a powerful breakthrough and now we are engaged.” This guy realized that unresolved bitterness can ruin a marriage. Proverbs 21:9 says, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” If the woman you are dating is seething with anger and unforgiveness, your life together will be ruined by arguing, door-slamming and endless drama. Insist that she get prayer and counseling.

6. The controller. Marriage is a 50/50 partnership, and the only way it works is when both husband and wife practice mutual submission according to Ephesians 5:21. Just as some guys think they can run a marriage like a dictatorship, some women try to manipulate decisions to get their way. This is why premarital counseling is so important! You don’t want to wait until you’ve been married for two weeks to find out that your wife doesn’t trust you and wants to call all the shots.

7. The mama’s girl. It’s normal for a new wife to call her mom regularly for advice and support. It is not normal for her to talk to her mother five times a day about every detail of her marriage, including her sex life. That’s weird. Yet I have counseled guys whose wives allowed their mothers (or fathers) total control of their marriages. Genesis 2:24 says a man is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Parents should stay in the background of their children’s marriages. If your girlfriend hasn’t cut the apron strings, proceed with caution.

8. The addict. So many people in the church today have not been properly discipled. Many still struggle with various types of addictions—to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medicines or pornography—either because we don’t confront these sins from the pulpit or we don’t offer enough compassionate support to strugglers. Jesus can completely set a person free from these habits, but you don’t want to wait until you’re married to find out your wife isn’t sober. You may still be called to be married, but it is not wise to tie the knot until your girlfriend faces her issues head-on.

Your best rule to follow in choosing a wife is found in Proverbs 31:30: “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Look past the outward qualities that the world says are important, and look at the heart.

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6 Qualities of a True Covenant Friend

The Bible says Christians should experience deep connections with each other because we share the same indwelling Holy Spirit. In fact, the Greek word for fellowship, as used in Acts 2:42, is koinonia, which implies intimate communion and selfless sharing.

Yet as I travel and meet Christians all over the country, I find that the church today is actually a very lonely place. Many people have experienced a total relationship shutdown. Some have walked through painful church splits, others have been betrayed by friends they trusted, and still others have closed their hearts entirely to avoid being hurt. As a result, koinonia becomes a fancy theological word for something they will never experience.

It’s as if we forgot how to have true friends. I’ve even met pastors who’ve told me they just can’t risk building friendships. So they live in isolation. They bear their own burdens. They get no encouragement. Some end up in depression. Something is wrong with this picture!

Recently the Holy Spirit drew me to study the friendship that developed between David and Jonathan during David’s early years. It is clear from the biblical record that God put Jonathan in David’s life at a crucial time in his journey to the throne. And if it were not for Jonathan’s covenant relationship with his friend, David would never have been able to overcome the obstacles he faced during the reign of King Saul.

The same is true for all of us. You will never achieve your maximum spiritual potential without the help of those key relationships God places around you. Yet in order to benefit from these friendships you must open your heart and take the risk of being a friend.

How can you move from being isolated to developing close friendships? Proverbs 18:24 says: “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (NKJV). You can’t wait for a friend to reach out to you. Take the first step and be willing to break the stalemate. British preacher Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Any man can selfishly desire to have a Jonathan; but he is on the right track who desires to find out a David to whom he can be a Jonathan.”

Here are six qualities I see in Jonathan that challenge me to be a better friend:

1. Jonathan nurtured a spiritual bond. After David killed Goliath and moved to Saul’s palace, the Bible says “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David” (1 Sam. 18:1). This is the work of the Holy Spirit. All Christians should experience a sense of family connection, but there are certain friends you will feel deeply connected to because God is putting you in each other’s lives for a reason. Don’t resist this process. Let God knit you to people.

2. Jonathan showed sacrificial love. Jonathan loved David so much that he risked his life to help him fulfill his mission. Jonathan even dodged Saul’s spear in his effort to help his friend. He lived in the spirit of Jesus’ words about friendship: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). The world says we should only care about our own success. But the best way to become more like Jesus is to help someone else succeed!

3. Jonathan always offered encouragement. When David was fleeing from Saul in the wilderness, Jonathan traveled to Horesh to cheer up his friend (1 Sam. 23:16). There were times in David’s life when he had to encourage himself, but in this case Jonathan was God’s instrument. We need each other! If you allow the Holy Spirit to speak life and hope through you, your words can propel your friends into their destiny.

4. Jonathan offered his friend protection. When Jonathan realized his father was plotting to kill David, he not only warned him of danger but he concocted a plan to deliver his friend (1 Sam. 19:1-4). Friends don’t let friends get massacred in spiritual warfare. If you see a friend making a foolish mistake, or if you sense the enemy is targeting him, God can use you to avert a disaster. Speak the truth in love.

5. Jonathan kept his friend’s pain confidential. David confided in his friend Jonathan, and in some cases he poured out his heart in frustration. At one point he said to Jonathan, “What have I done? What is my iniquity?” (1 Sam. 20:1). When I’m going through a difficult trial, I sometimes just need to vent. And I have loyal friends who let me process my pain … and they don’t run and tell others else about my weakness. This is true friendship.

6. Jonathan harbored no jealousy. At one point in David’s journey, Jonathan realized his friend would one day be king of Israel. This was actually Jonathan’s inheritance, since he was Saul’s son, but he acknowledged that God had chosen David instead. So he gave David his royal robe, his armor and his weapons (see 1 Sam. 18:3-4). This is a beautiful picture of how we are to prefer and honor each other. Jealousy destroys friendship. If we have God’s love in our hearts, we will want our friends to surpass us.

If you’ve been hurt in previous relationships, break out of your isolation and ask God to heal your heart. Then choose to be a Jonathan to someone else.

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