May – June 2003
We have three big decisions to make in life. First one is, who is going to be your master? Is it going to be God Almighty or Ben Almighty, or Christine Almighty? Who is going to call the shots in your life? The second big question we have to answer is, what is going to be your mission? God has created you. He has uniquely gifted you for a purpose. What is God’s mission for your life? That’s the second big decision. The third big decision is what we’re going to talk about this morning, and that is, who is going to be your mate?
If you decide to get married, who is going to be the one you decide to unconditionally love for the rest of your life? Many of you have already made that choice and you are following God’s marriage map to happily ever after. Some of you are in the process known as dating. And you are looking for a mate. Some would say, “Ben, I’m not selfish; I’ll simply settle for a date, much less a mate.” Dating is a very, very important process. It’s an extremely important game, and you’d better play that game well, because nothing, nothing will affect the future of your life more than who you date and who you marry. That affects every single aspect of your life—emotionally, psychologically, vocationally, spiritually, recreationally. It touches every area of your life. So, though we talk about dating and we watch a lot about dating on TV (especially these new so-called reality dating shows), this is serious business. The stakes are high.
So this morning we are going to talk about the dating game. As you know, we have been in a serious the past five or six Sundays called, Marriage Map: The Road to Happily Ever After. We have seen that that road is a sacrificial road; that road is a holy road; that is a road based upon commitment: Marriage is a life-long commitment to unconditionally love an imperfect person. That’s what marriage is all about. We have looked at how to rescue your marriage if your marriage is in the ditch. We talked about sex. We talked about submission. Last we talked about money.
Today we’re going to talk about the process of mate selection known as dating. Now if you’re married here today, like I am, don’t check out and say, “Well, this message doesn’t apply to me. I can just kind of start thinking about what I’m going to eat after church and what I can do and if San Antonio can take the lead in the series.” Don’t check out. Because everybody—don’t forget this—everybody’s involved in the dating game.
They’re all kind of players. First of all, you have those who are free agents. And that’s people who are not dating anyone [exclusively]. They’re unattached—unrestricted free agents. Some may say that is like being in the dating desert. I want to take a positive spin, that the glass is half full: You’re a free agent. Other people here are under contract. You’re in a dating relationship or you are engaged. Others here…you’re on the IR—the injured reserves. We’ve all been there. You’ve just gotten out of a relationship, and you are cynical about love and about the hope of finding “the One” someday. And others of you, like I am, are coaches. Maybe you are single, and you will never get married—you don’t want to. Maybe you are married and you have children, and you have friends around you or colleagues, and they are looking to you, believe it or not, for dating advice.
Now, as we talk about this subject of dating, I could talk about many issues. I could really camp out today on spiritual compatibility. The Bible says in Second Corinthians Chapter 6, Verse 14: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” I could talk about how important it is that you be spiritually compatible with the person you are dating, the person that could eventually be your mate for life. Be sure that this person is in love with Jesus in the same way that you are in love with Jesus. God does that to protect you. I could talk this morning at length on the importance of spiritually compatibility, but I’m not going to.
I could talk this morning about the importance of sexual purity. The bible says in Hebrews Chapter 13, Verse 4, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexual immoral.” I could show you this morning the catastrophic consequences of sampling sex outside of marriage. I could show you the benefits of saving sex for marriage. We could talk about sexual purity. We could talk about why it’s important to wait. We could talk about how if you scatter yourself sexually it will decrease your self-esteem. We could talk about that this morning, but I’m not going to do it. We’re not going to talk about spiritual compatibility; we’re not going to talk about sexual purity.
We’re not going to talk about living together. Studies show that couples who live together have an 80% greater chance of getting divorced than those who don’t. I’m not going to talk about that. Those are all valid issues and valid concerns when it comes the process of dating.
If you have your Bibles, open them with me to the book of Luke. The third book in the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke. Now, for you theologians who are here today, I am going to use this story in Luke as an illustration; I am not going to exegete it line by line. I did that last summer in a message on a parallel passage in Matthew Chapter 7. So don’t come up to me afterwards, if you’re a seminarian, and say, “Woah, you didn’t exegete that passage.” I know that. I’m using it as a story, as an illustration.
Luke Chapter 6, Verse 46 [and following]: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.” (Matthew Chapter 7 says this man built his house upon sand.) “The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”
The guy in the last part of that story, he is one of us. He should have been living in the 21st Century, because we are addicted to speed. Have you noticed that? We want everything faster. I mean, faster computers, faster cars, faster cell phone connections—everything has to be fast, fast, fast, fast, fast. And so this guy was in a hurry to build his house. He didn’t take time to build a foundation. He didn’t take time to find some rock solid surface. And what happened to his house when the storms came? The hurricane-force like winds hit his house and Boom! It collapsed.
I see that a lot in dating. And I see it also a lot in marriage. Why are so many marriages crashing and burning all around us? Why is that? I believe it is because so many times the decision to get married was made too quickly. If you’re the kind of person who likes a problem/solution outline, this is a very simple message here this morning. Here’s the problem in the dating world today: The problem is the autobahn. That is the big problem. The autobahn.
How many of you have ever been to the autobahn in Germany? Raise your hand. Lift it up there high. I haven’t so I have to put my hand down, but if you’ve been there, you know it’s a free for all, right? You can go as fast as you want to on the autobahn.
People do the same thing on our freeways, but it’s breaking the law. And so many couples, many singles, have this urge to merge that’s oozing out of every pore of their body. They’ve got to find the One. They’ve got to get hitched, so they are on the relationship autobahn. They are speeding. It’s the first date; it’s the second date: “God, is this the one? Please tell me.” And they are just in a panic. Their friends have gotten married. They’ve spent all this money on bridesmaid dresses and fake tanning booths for the weddings. Guys have rented the tuxes, and you’ve spent $90 and $110. And you’ve driven or flown half around the country for your friends’ weddings, but you’re not bitter. And you’re doing all these things, and you’re thinking: “God, when will it be my turn?” And you’re on the relational autobahn.
Listen, the consequences of being on the relational autobahn, of being in too big of a hurry to get married, can be catastrophic. There was a friend of mine who was on a flight a while back. And it was on one of those airplanes where you actually face the person. You know, they fly backwards and forwards—you’re kind of knee to knee. And there on this flight, my friend was trying to read his paper. And I’ll just call my friend, Richard Rainer, because that was his name. And he was trying to read his paper, and there were these two women in front of him just going back and forth about their exes. They both had been married and divorced, and they were just yak, yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. And one lady was going on and on about what a big jerk her ex was and yak, yak, yak, yak. And finally, my friend Richard, in his kind, gentle manner and demeanor, put down his paper, and he said: “Madam, do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?” And she said, “No.” And he said, “First question I have for you is, how long did you date this guy before you married him?” And she said, “Six months.” He said, “Let me ask you another question? How long did you date this guy before you moved in with him?” And she said, “Two months.” And then he looked at her in the eye and said, “Madam, the divorce wasn’t completely his fault.” And I’m sure at that point that lady’s jaw dropped all the way to the floor of that airplane.
Listen, you’ll pay a price for trying to get married too quickly if you’re on the relational autobahn. Speed kills. Look at Samson and Delilah in the Old Testament. God gave Samson certain parameters about who he should marry and what they should be like. He saw Delilah, and you know what he said? “She’s hot.” That’s what he said. “Mom and Dad, she’s hot. Get her for me.” “But don’t you remember what God said?” “No, I want her now.” You get in all kinds of relational trouble when you say, “God, I want this now. I want her or him now.” Or, “I want to get married now.” You don’t really want to get married to the right one; you simply want to be married.
Now, I know, I know the rationalizations. I’ve talked to autobahn daters for many years. I’ve begged, pleaded, loved, coddled, confronted, you name it, and they will say back to me…these are a couple of lines I’ve heard once or twice. They’ll say, “Ben, you don’t understand.” This is my favorite: “You don’t understand, Ben. My relationship is different.” I love that. “Everybody else, they need to date a long time to really know, but mine is different. I’ve got a different deal here. I’ve got a get-out-of-dating free card. I can just go ahead and do this deal.” Other people will say, “Ben, listen, I don’t need to date this person because after the first month, God told me this was the one.” I say, “Great. I’m glad that God told you that. But just because God told you this person is the one—and it probably was not God; it was probably your emotions or your hormones, but forget that—just because God told you this was the one doesn’t mean that you have the permission now to leapfrog over the dating process into marriage. It’s cuckoo.
Another rationalization from the autobahn dater will be, “Ben, I’ve never felt this way before about any other person. I’ve never felt this way. And my mom told me how will I just know if this is the one, and she said, ‘Sweet heart, you’ll just know.’ I have my ‘just know’ feeling; I know this is the one. My thing is different.” Please, whatever you do, don’t be like the person who didn’t build the foundation necessary in his or her relationship—the one who didn’t build his house on rock but built his house on sand. Don’t be an autobahn dater. Stay off the autobahn. It’s wisdom.
All right, what’s the solution? If we stay off the autobahn, what is the solution? The solution is this: the school zone. That’s the solution. You’re trying to go to work, you’re in a hurry, you’re trying to find the One, and there’s that 20 mph sign with lights blinking between 7:00 and 8:45 and “Eerrrk!” You’d better put on the brake or you’re going to get a ticket. The school zone. Take it slow and get to know the person you’re going out with. It’s not Hollywood. It may not be sexy, but, listen, it works. Stay off the autobahn; stay in the school zone. Get to know the person you are going out with.
For over six years I did a radio show called The Single Connection, and I was always able to talk to people from all over the country. Singles from ages 13 to 83 would call in for some unknown reason and pour out their relational woes to me. And over the years, I had a chance to interview some of the top relationship experts in the country today who come from the Christian perspective. One of those is Dr. Neil Clark Warren. And Dr. Neil Clark Warren says you should wait two years before you marry someone; you should have two years of growth—two years from the first date all the way to the wedding date. He sites a study from Kansas State University that shows that couples who dated for more than two years scored consistently higher on marital satisfaction, the road to happily ever after, while couples who had dated for shorter periods scored in a wide range from very high to very low.
Steven Arterburn, a psychologist and author of many books including Avoiding Mr. Wrong, recommends dating at least a year—dating at least through the seasons and a one-year engagement. He said in that process a couple should have the freedom to walk away. Now maybe you’re saying, “Hmm, Neil Clark, Steve Arterburn, baby, where are you coming from? Wake up! I don’t have that kind of time!” Listen, listen, you are making an investment for the rest of your life. You can’t afford to make a hasty decision.
You remember when a few years ago there were people who were day-trading? (There’s a fine line, isn’t there, between day-trading and Vegas? I don’t know that line.) But there were people day-trading—a lot of people—who were making a lot of money, right? Now, most of us don’t have enough money to throw away like that. I mean, if you are dating like a day-trader, like, “I’m just going to see what I can get off my investment,” that’s a very risky investment. Most people, if you’re in the stock market, you’re in it for the long term. Because it pays long-term benefits to hang in there, to be patient. The same is true in the dating business. Don’t be a day-trader dater. Be in it for the long haul. This is a life long investment.
Now, if you’re like me, you want to know, “What’s in it for me? What are the benefits of taking it slow and getting to know the person I’m going out with? What are the benefits of staying off of the autobahn and in the school zone when it comes to dating?” Three benefits—write them down. There are more, but we’ll look at three this morning. Number one, you take it slow; make that commitment up front. Say internally, “I’m going to get to know someone through the seasons.” Or, “I’m going to date them two years before I even think about jumping into the ring of marriage with them.” What does that do for you? Number one, it gives you time to build intimacy. A good part of dating should be fun, it should be relaxing, it should be a time of joy where you build the relational intimacy necessary (and I’m not talking about affection and physical) to have a foundation for your marriage. Listen, there’s a price to pay for intimacy that never goes on sale. There’s a price to pay for intimacy that never goes on sale; however, it does get more expensive.
So if you say, “Well, listen. My relationship is different, and God told us, and I have the feeling. We dated three months, and I’m going to go ahead and do that,” you may get married, but in your marriage you will pay a price of trying to get to know that person. And the price you pay once you’re married is a greater price than if you’re dating. That’s the way if works.
Years ago, when I fell in love with my wife and she fell in love with me somehow, we had a great relationship. We were hitting on all cylinders. We were already on that road to happily ever after. But you know what? We really didn’t know each other. And I could have married her then. And I pray, by God’s grace, our marriage would have worked, but it would have been tough. I’m so glad that we waited, that we had the patience by God to wait and to work out a lot of issues before we entered into the relationship known as marriage. It made that transition in our first year so much smoother.
I know of a couple, several couples—I’ve seen them in this church—who fell in love. I know they probably knew early on, “This is the person for me.” But instead of leapfrogging over dating and this gift that God’s given us to build intimacy, they waited. They dated, they got to know each other, they got to know each other’s friend, they got know each other’s family, they were able to have some healthy conflict before they got engaged and before they got married, and God’s blessed them and rewarded them for their patience and for taking their T-I-M-E. When you take it slow it gives you time—time to build intimacy, to build friendship in your relationship.
The second benefit is, it prevents you from bonding too quickly. Some Christians have this idea: “I’m sick and tired of playing games. I’m just going to be honest. I’m just going to be transparent on the first date.” And they try the, “Hi, my name is Roger, and let me tell you the deepest, darkest secret of my childhood and why I hate my father” approach on the first date. There is fine line between transparency and stupidity, and I don’t know where that line is. When you’re getting to know someone, you don’t want to bond too quickly. You don’t want to be in a rush. You don’t want to just throw all your cards on the table that very first date and kind of verbally and emotionally vomit all over the salad and the grilled chicken. You don’t want to do that. It will either scare people off or you will bond too quickly.
Some people are love junkies. They are in love with falling in love and the feelings of love. And so when they find somebody that there is a connection with and they have chemistry with, then they just try to smother that person. It’s great for about a month, and they try to OD on each other 24/7, but pretty soon you can’t do this is in love. And what you’re going to do is you’re going to smother and burn out that love flame that’s in that relationship. So when you know in advance, by the grace of God and by God’s power, to try and take it slow in the early stages of you relationship, it will prevent you from getting bonded prematurely. That is another benefit of taking it slow.
Remember the old wine (if you’re Baptist, grape juice) commercial, where they said, “We will sell no wine before it’s time”? Apply that to your love life. You’re making a life-long investment. It prevents you from bonding too quickly. It allows you time to build intimacy, and a third benefit of taking it slow—staying in the school zone—is, it allows you to bond naturally.
When I was a little kid, growing up in the Carolinas…when we lived in Columbia, South Carolina, I lived pretty near a K-Mart. And it’s kind of interesting the way K-Mart came back into my life, because when I was in seminary I lived so close to a K-Mart, I could almost hear the blue light specials from my room: “We’ve got a blue light special.” I almost could, really. Some of you don’t even know what a blue light special is. You are missing out, let me tell you. You go to K-Mart, and when you’re an 11-12 year-old boy, you go down the aisles and try to get one of those Hot Wheels. Remember Hot Wheels—the yellow stripes and all that? They were neat. Sometimes I would want to do something creative and build a model car. And you’d see this hot ride on the cover of this model, and you’d get your mom or dad to crowbar some bucks out of their wallet and throw down and buy it for you. And you’d take that model home and look at the directions, which are just hilarious; they say, “Building this model will be a five-day process,” as if a kid in junior high has a clue about delayed gratification. Most adults don’t either, but that’s a whole other message. And so you’re an 11-year-old guy, and day one, put together the engine. And so you get out that glue. You don’t smell it too much, and you put together the engine. You let the engine dry. Day two, build the chassis. And then, of course, you don’t wait until day two; you build the chassis in the next five minutes. And day three, put on the wheels and decals. But you do all that—you peel, you put your whole model car together—in about two and half hours. And it looks great for a while. Then, all of a sudden, it kind of melts like the old shrinky dinks did in the microwave (Remember that?).
And so that’s what happens in relationships when you don’t take the time, you don’t take it slow and allow yourself to bond naturally—you don’t let the glue dry. Taking it slow allows the glue to dry in your relationship. It allows you to go through the four stages in a dating relationship. The first stage, and many of you are there right now, is what I call the scouting stage. You know the scouting stage—you’re a free agent, and you’re on the prowl; you’re on the hunt. Sharking, looking for people to go out with. Then you progress to the next stage. Instead of five stages, I’m going to condense them to four.
The next stage is the infatuation stage or the honeymoon stage, right? That’s when you’re head over heels in love with this person, and they are absolutely perfect—you have found Miss Perfect or Mr. Perfect. And I have seen many people get engaged during the honeymoon stage of a relationship; they come into my office, and they are engaged, with this big old rock that is shining so bright that I need sunglasses on: “Oh we’re great, great, great.” And I’ll say, “Tell me, where do you guys lock horns. What are some conflicts you have?” They look at me and say, “Ben, our personalities mesh together so well, we’ve never had a conflict. We’ve never had a cross word, and we never will.” Dream weaver! Come on! The first thing I want to do is try to help them get into a fight and to find out that both of them are in denial.
So there is a scouting stage, there’s the infatuation/honeymoon stage, and that can last anywhere from three to six months depending on how gifted the couple is at faking it. But after three to six months, reality begins to kick in, so you enter into that third stage, and that is the reality stinks stage. It’s when you realize that your prince is not a prince, but he may be part toad. And your princess, she has problems and some issues too. And this is where (let me say a little word to commitment-phobic guys here…I love this) they will say, “I’m looking for a low-maintenance relationship. I’m looking for someone who doesn’t have any baggage.” Well, lah-de-dah, just keep on looking. Relationships, by there very nature, are high-maintenance. Everybody has baggage. Everybody is carrying luggage behind them. Some of them are wheeling, and some of them need a whole sky cab, but listen we all have it. So you progress, hopefully, in the dating phase (as you are taking it slow) to the reality stage, when you start to evaluate: Here are this person’s strengths. Here are their weaknesses. Here are things I must have. Here are things I can’t stand.” And you really start getting down to the nitty gritty.
Then that moves you to stage four, and that is the fish-or-cut-bait phase. That is when you need to commit to getting married or commit to go your separate ways. And some of you have been taking it too slow, and you’ve over-analyzed everything, and you have over-philosophized and over-spiritualized, and you’ve dated who knows how many years, and you’re still waiting for some sign that this is the One. Now, ladies, if you are on the other side of that coin, and you’re dating someone who is really, really dragging their feet, and all men do at some level, you need to give them what I call the old tomatoes—give them an ultimatum. “Listen, by this date, friend, we need to decide where we are going and what we are doing? By this date, I want to know, are we progressing to engagement or are we not?” I recommend that if you have been going out for a while and you’re still wondering is this person right or wrong for me, get some pre-engagement counseling—not engagement counseling, though I do recommend that, get some pre-engagement counseling. It’s a win, win.
Finally, you’ll get to that fish-or-cut-bait stage in a relationship when you decide: Is this the person for me? Bottom line, in case you missed it, stay off the relational autobahn. Stay in the school zone. Take it slow. Get to know. Dig deep, and build the foundation of your marriage on rock not on sand.
Perhaps a story would help us out. This is a story of destruction and despair. But it is also a story of hope and happiness. Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. They were going to build houses. The first pig said, “I’m not going to take my time; I’m in too big a hurry.” And the first pig built his house out of straw. The second little pig said, “I’m in a hurry too, but I’m not going to build my house out of straw; I’m going to build my house out of sticks.” He built his house out of sticks. The third little pig, what did he do? He dug deep. He took his time. He built his house on brick and with brick. What happened? As time passed, the big bad wolf came around. The big bad wolf came to the door of the first pig’s house. Knock, knock. “Little pig, little pig, let me come in.” Little pig in the straw house said, “Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.” The big bad wolf said, “Well, I’m going to huff, and I’m going to puff, and I’m going to blow this house down.” And so the big bad wolf huffed and he puffed, and he blew the house down. The little pig high tails it out to his friend’s house, the house made of sticks. You know the story. The big bad wolf comes: “Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in.” The pigs say, “Not by the hair of our chinny chin chins.” “Well, I’m going to huff, I’m going to puff, I’m going blow your house down.” And he blows away the house made of sticks. And the two little pigs, they run with their curly little tails to their friend’s house, the third house made of brick. Big bad wolf comes to the door and knocks on it: “Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in.” They cry out, “Not by the hair of our chinny chin chins.” The big bad wolf says, “I’m going to huff, I’m going to puff, I’m going to blow your house down.” And he huffs and he puffs, and the house doesn’t move. He tries again. He huffs and he puffs, and, again, the house doesn’t move. The big bad wolf couldn’t blow down the house of the third little pig.
When it comes to dating, when it comes to choosing a mate, take your time. Take it slow. Be like the third little pig. And when the big bad storms of life come your way, it won’t blow your house down.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]