We Are Both Saint and Sinner

Sinner-Saint-Ambigram-tattoo-39646Many Hmong parents see their kids as either good or bad, tuab neeg zoo or tuab neeg phem, noog lug or tsi noog lug. I’m guessing you probably know exactly what I’m talking about, because maybe you’re one of the “good” ones and your parents have told you so. Or maybe you’re one of the “bad” ones and your parents have really told you so.

Unfortunately, the same thinking exists in the church and even in youth groups. The “good” kids are the ones who attend church every week, dress conservatively, don’t hang out with non-Christians, and become a leader when they get into college. The “bad” ones might skip church, dress or talk a little more ghetto, have tattoos or piercings, or have non-Christian friends.

(And just in case you think it’s just the OGs who are this judgmental, these labels are alive and well in most youth groups. I’ve seen it first hard, and you probably have too.)

But that is not how it should be in the family of God. We should not be so quick to label people as being only good or bad.

Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, wrote about this very issue. He asked the question: Are we, as believers in Christ, good or bad? Are we saints or sinners? He answered it with a now-famous Latin phrase: Simul iustus et peccator. In case you missed Latin class in school, this translates as “We are, at the same time, saint and sinner.”

We are both saint and sinner. We are tuab neeg zoo hab phem. We are sinners because we are, at our core, selfish and prideful. But, we are saints because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. (More on this here and here.)

“Good” church-going kids struggle with anger, lust, pride, and jealousy and are sin on daily basis, but it can be easy to think that going to church makes them “good.” Likewise, “bad” kids may be loving, kind, and God-fearing, but their appearance and mannerisms make people assume that they are ungodly. It is much easier to judge people by their appearances, when God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

For all you “good” youth out there, the ones whom parents, churches, and youth groups see as the “saints”… You are as much of a sinner as you are a saint. Never forget that.

And for all you “bad” youth out there, the ones people see as the “sinners”… In Christ, you are as much of a saint as the guy who leads worship or the girl who teaches Bible study. Never forget that (or let anyone in the church tell you otherwise).

So, next time you’re feeling a little “better” than someone else because of the “bad” stuff they’ve done or a little “worse” because of stuff you’ve done, don’t forget that through Christ we are both saint and sinner. That is something we all need to remember.

Is it okay for Hmong youth with the same last name to date or marry?

People Shadow 2SHORT ANSWER: While I can’t say it is “wrong”, I do not see a happy future for two Hmong youth with the same last name who date or get married. Therefore, I don’t think it’s a good idea and would strongly discourage it in all circumstances.

LONG ANSWER:
This is a pretty hot topic right now among Hmong young adults. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve even had a few conversations about it. Some people say absolutely never, others just get a squeamish look on their face, while others take a “love conquers all” approach. But this is actually a very complex issue with lots of cultural and social elements to it.

Read the rest of this entry

What does it mean in Genesis 6:6 when God “regretted” creating humans?

Man Regretting“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:5-8)

For us, the idea of regretting is usually something like this: we do something, experience some negative consequence, and then regret our original decision. In essence,  we change our mind about what we first did. But God doesn’t really work like that: “God is not human…that he should change his mind.” (Num. 23:19). Instead, for God it’s closer to the idea of grieving or being really sad.. It also carries the sense of “to change to a different course of action”, sometimes translated “relent” (see Bible passages below).

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The Best Advice about Lust…From Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal LecterWe usually think of lust as sexual, but it’s meaning is actually much larger than that. It can refer to any really strong desire. You can lust for popularity, money, power, beauty, and of course, sex.

The Bible regularly speaks of avoiding sinful lusts or desires, describing them as worldly (Titus 2:12), evil (Colossians 3:5), of the flesh (Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 2:16), youthful (2 Timothy 2:22), deceitful (Ephesians 4:22), and contrary to the Spirit (Galatians 5:17).

So, as Christ-followers, we’re supposed to avoid sinful lusting after people or things. But how are we supposed to do that? What does it really look like?

One of the best answers I’ve ever seen comes from one of the best (and most disturbing) movie villains of all time – Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. This particular dialogue about coveting (to strongly desire something; very similar to lusting) comes from one of the prison discussions between Hannibal and FBI agent Clarice Starling.

Hannibal: How do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet?
Clarice: No. We just…
Hannibal: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.

“We begin by coveting what we see every day.” To put it another way: “We lust after the things we see every day.”

So, I ask you… What do you see every day? Chances are pretty good that those are things you’re lusting after.

  • What covers the walls of your bedroom?
  • What web sites do you browse often?
  • What’s on your laptop’s or phone’s background?
  • What kind of YouTube videos do you watch?
  • What kind of Pinterest boards do you create and fill with pictures?
  • What movies and TV shows do you watch?
  • What magazines do you read?

Pay attention to the things you see every day. For good or bad, they’ll end up to be the things you lust after.

So, what’s it for you? Guys, girls, clothes, cars, riches, shoes, k-pop stars, your bf/gf, or even ____________. If you want some alternatives, take the Apostle Paul’s advice:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

The 12 C’s of the Old Testament: Understanding the Whole Story from Genesis to Malachi

Jewish PriestIf you grew up going to Sunday School or have been around church long enough, then you’re probably familiar with some Old Testament stories, like David & Goliath or Daniel in the Lion’s Den. But do you have a good picture of the whole OT story  – all  39 books, from Genesis to Malachi?

While studying some Old Testament materials online, I ran across this little mnemonic (learning tool). It’s one of the best summaries I’ve ever seen for understanding the big picture of the story of  God and the Israelites. I love it for it’s simplicity, clarity, and accuracy. It’s not going to win you any Bible quizzes (if that’s what you’re into), but it’ll give you a GREAT understanding of the story that makes up 75% of our Bible.

Read the rest of this entry

4 Suggestions for a God-Honoring Photo Shoot with Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend

This is a follow-up to a question someone asked me, “Is it okay to do a photo shoot with my boyfriend/girlfriend?

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Earlier in the week, I answered someone’s question about whether it’s okay to do a photo shot with their bf/gf. You can read my answer here.

This got me thinking… What would a healthy photo shot look like? If you love doing photo shots (you know who you are), here are four strategies that I believe would make for a healthy boyfriend/girlfriend photo shoot.

Read the rest of this entry

Is it okay to do a photo shoot with my boyfriend/girlfriend?

file0001512911841SHORT ANSWER: I’d love to give a simple yes or no to this, but there just isn’t a clear-cut, always-true answer to this question. It really depends on the present health of your relationship, your reasons for wanting to do it, and the nature of the photos themselves.

LONG ANSWER:
Since the Bible doesn’t directly address photo shoots, I’m going to offer four questions for you to ask yourself as you consider the decision. These are meant for you to think critically about yourself, your motives, and your heart. I would encourage you to ask yourself these questions and listen for God’s voice amid the answers. Follow King David’s example as he prayed to God,

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Read the rest of this entry

Is it OK to stay friends with your ex?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about this; it really varies on the circumstances. BUT, over the years, I’ve noticed something about healthy breakups: the couple gets over each other and goes on with life (usually after a time of being all emo and listening to sad music). The really unhealthy breakups are the ones where the guy or girl keeps obsessing over the other person or the relationship.

The best way to heal from a breakup and get over a person (in a healthy way) is to spend some time apart. In fact, I usually recommend that a couple not talk, text, or spend any time together for at least a month for each year they dated. Once that “cooling off” period has passed, then the couple can talk about whether they want to remain friends and what that could look like.

I know this might sound a bit extreme, but there are three very good reasons not to remain friends with your ex right after a breakup.

Read the rest of this entry

My family is Shaman. How do I tell them I’m Christian?

A youth asked me this question after accepting Christ at a church event. He wasn’t sure how to tell his parents, who are Shaman. Even though I felt a bit out of my element (being mekas), here’s the brief advice I gave him. I doubt many of you have faced this situation, but perhaps these  steps can help you in  your next difficult conversation with your parents.

Before I continue, I want to say welcome to the family of God. Your decision to become a Christian means that you are a child of God and you never have to face a situation alone.

Get Help From God
First, pray for God’s help in telling you family. You can pray for strength, courage, humility…anything you need. God answers our prayers.

Get Help From Family
Second, do you have any other family members who are Christian? If so, talk to them first. Ask them for help in telling your parents. Often another adult, like an aunt or uncle, can talk to your parents in ways that you wouldn’t be able to. At a minimum, they can at least help you think of how to tell your parents.

Get Help From Pastors and Friends
Third, do you have pastors, elders, or youth leaders from church who could come alongside you when you talk to them? If things get tense and they get really angry or even reject you, you’ll need a safe place and safe people around you for support.

So, those would be my suggestions. I feel you, man. My family isn’t Christian and it was really hard telling them when I accepted Christ as a teenager. It definitely caused some tension and conflicts. But God is faithful and bigger than all the stuff we go though. Go with God, brother.

3 Great Songs About Forgiveness

Chances are pretty good that there’s somebody out their that you need to forgive or ask forgiveness from. Luckily for us, there are 3 great songs out right now to help us do this. My God speak to you, inspire you, and empower you through these songs.

  • Matthew West – “Forgiveness”
  • Tenth Avenue North – “Losing”
  • TobyMac – “Forgiveness” (feat. Lecrae)

Read the rest of this entry

Playing the God-Card in Dating

“God has brouught us together.”
“God led him/her to me.”
“God told me he/she is the one.”

I always get a little uncomfortable whenever I hear a youth say one of these things about their boyfriend or girlfriend. Playing the “God-card” is a pretty powerful thing to say in any situation, but especially in dating.

There are two reasons why it’s so powerful (and dangerous) to play the God-card while dating. First, it becomes the ultimate argument-winner and criticism-deflector. If the relationship is God’s will, then who can say anything bad about it? All of a sudden, nobody can speak into your life about the relationship because they could potentially be contradicting God.

Second, I believe there’s an unspoken phrase in every one of these sentences: “to get married”. Really what someone is saying when they play the God-card is “God has brought us together…to get married.” I’ve never known a person who believed God gave them someone just to date. It’s always “to get married”, and that’s a very dangerous place to be. If you believe that God has given someone to you to marry, then it will feel very natural and appropriate to give them all your heart, soul, and body because you two are meant to be together. This has the makings of a really unhealthy dating relationship, with a strong identity shift from an “I” to a “we“.

Read the rest of this entry

Should I break up if my own individual relationship with God needs attention?

SHORT ANSWER: Maybe yes, maybe no.

LONG ANSWER:
There really isn’t always a simple answer to this question. To know whether you should break up or stay together depends on a few factors.

FIRST… Do you have a strong Christian support system outside of your bf/gf? Do you have strong same-sex friends with whom you can talk about your faith? Are you an active part of a church, youth ministry, or small group where you can learn, grow, and get support — apart from your bf/gf? Do you have Christian adults (youth leaders, family, mentors, etc.) to whom you can turn for help and advice?

My experience has been that a bf/gf is not a very good spiritual help if that’s the only place you have to grow. In other words, if you are growing in your faith apart from your bf/gf, then staying together probably would work out. However, if your faith is heavily dependent on the other person, then the relationship is probably pretty unhealthy, and you both would grow more in your faith apart from one another. Read the rest of this entry

Our Guys’ Covenant of Purity Guardrails

I, along with a group of guys, decided that we were tired of the sexual sin in our lives and were going to do something about it. Inspired by Andy Stanley’s excellent sermon series called Guardrails, we developed a set of purity guardrails for ourselves and our dating relationships. (This is in addition to meeting together weekly to talk openly about some pretty heavy issues — porn, purity, sex, temptation, etc.)

This is a copy of the guardrails that we all came up with and all agreed to. I’m not saying that everybody should follow these or even that the Bible says this is the only way to deal with sexual sin. It’s just a set of guidelines that one group of guys decided was right for themselves at one particular point in time.


Our Covenant of Purity Guardrails

God, it is Your desire that we be holy and avoid all sexual immorality (1 Thes. 4:3). Let that be our desire as well. Let us honor You with our bodies and flee sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:18-20). We don’t want to follow the desires of our sinful nature (Gal. 5:16) but instead claim our freedom from sin in Christ (Rom. 6:18).

With all of this is mind, we make this covenant before You and our brothers in Christ to observe the following guardrails as matters of personal conscience to resist sexual sin. Read the rest of this entry

Is it a sin to kiss or make out?

SHORT ANSWER: Sometimes yes, sometimes no, depending on whether the activity leads to lustful thoughts and desires.

LONG ANSWER:
The Bible doesn’t say anything directly about kissing or making out. (The Bible also doesn’t talk about holding hands, video chatting, or eating frozen yogurt together.) So, in situations like this (and many others), my general advice is to find out what the Bible does say about similar stuff and see how it relates to the topic at hand.

Watch my companion Video Blog episode here.

Sexual Sin and Lust

While the Bible doesn’t mention making out, it does speak VERY CLEARLY about sexual sin. We are to avoid it (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and even flee from it (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). But what exactly is sexual sin? Some things are clear in the Bible, such as sex outside of marriage (fornication), sex with a person who isn’t your spouse (adultery), or sex with a person of the same gender (homosexuality). Read the rest of this entry

Lend Me Your Hope for Awhile

This is dedicated to all of you who feel like you’ve lost hope.  

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily,
pain and confusion are my companions.
I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to future time does not bring forth images of renewed hope.
I see troubled times, pain-filled days, and more tragedy.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me;
listen to all my ramblings, recovery seems so far distant.
The road to healing seems like a long and lonely one.

Lend me your hope for a while,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Stand by me, offer me your presence, your heart and your love.
Acknowledge my pain, it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed with sad and conflicting thoughts.

Lend me your hope for a while.
A time will come when I will heal,
and I will share my renewal,
hope and love with others.

-Author Unknown (as quoted by Neil T. Anderson in Victory Over the Darkness)

Are the Mormon “prophets” the same as the prophets mentioned in the Bible?

SHORT ANSWER: No.

LONG ANSWER:
After reading a few pages on the Mormon website, it looks like they use the term “prophet” to be synonymous with an organizational and religious leader. According to this page, there are currently 15 people alive today whom they call “apostles and prophets”: the President, his top 2 advisors (making up the First Presidency), and his “cabinet” (called the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles).

The biggest issue I see here is the opening statement of this web page: “God has called prophets to lead His Church in our day, just as He did anciently.” This is actually a very misleading statement. In the Bible, both the Old and New Testament, the prophets WERE NOT called by God to lead the church. They were called by God to speak a message which He would give to them. Read the rest of this entry

EXCELLENT Dating Series by Louie Giglio

If you want to listen to some great teaching on dating, check out this series by Louie Giglio called “My Really Bad Date”. Louie is the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, GA. The thing I love about it is that he consistently challenges us to focus our attention back on ourselves and off other people (like a boyfriend or girlfriend).

He’s speaking primarily to college students and young adults, but there’s still plenty of good advice here for middle and high schoolers as well. The teachings are long, but they’re worth it.

  1. It’s Not You, It’s Me - God’s agenda for your life is far more than simply finding the right person. It’s that you become the right person. (53 min)
  2. Baggage Claim - It’s okay to have some baggage from your past, but you have to bring it to the cross of Christ and let Jesus work on your stuff. (55 min)
  3. The Hook-up - Sex is a uniter and unifier, but often we treat it like something purely physical. But research and experience say that sex outside of marriage might not be all it’s cracked up to be. (58 min)
  4. DTR (Define the Relationship) - Every relationship eventually has the “Define the Relationship” talk, but none is more important than the relationship you have with your Heavenly Father. (55 min)

There’s even have a download option so you can load these up on your iPod or even burn them to a CD for your car. Listen and learn.

Are Christian dating sites okay? Shouldn’t we wait for God’s timing to bring us a spouse?

SHORT ANSWER: Christian dating sites can be okay and they can be not okay. It all depends on your desires and motives in using one.

LONG ANSWER:
The Christian life is a balance of allowing God to do the stuff that only He can do and taking the responsibility to do the stuff that only we can do. Here are three ways this plays out.

1. There are some things that only God can do and we have nothing to do with it. God is the only person who can truly give us love, forgiveness, and significance. If we EVER try to do ANYTHING to get/earn/force these from God or from someone else, we will fail.

IN DATING: A lot of people really want a boyfriend or girlfriend because deep down they desperately want to be loved. When they do this, it always ends in an unhealthy relationship. The reason it never works out is because they’re trying to take something that the other person isn’t able to give. God, as our Creator and Sustainer, is the only one who can give us the unconditional love that our hearts long for. Read the rest of this entry

Falling Asleep Together…Over the Phone

It’s late at night. You and your boyfriend or girlfriend just finished watching a movie, and you’re both tired. So you both go upstairs to your room, change into your pajamas, get into bed together, and chat until one of you gets too tired and falls asleep.

I know a lot of couples who would never imagine doing this (and not just because their parents would force them get married in the morning). But those same couples wouldn’t think twice about doing the same thing while talking on the phone in their own homes and in their own beds.

Watch my companion Video Blog episode here.

The more youth I talk with, the more I see how common this late-night activity is for dating couples. In fact, it seems to have become the norm, almost universally practiced and accepted. In fact, many people might even see it as cute or romantic.

So, what’s the difference between doing this in person or over the phone? Why would people be uncomfortable with one but totally okay with the other?

Read the rest of this entry

What does “fire” represent in the Bible? What about in Matthew 3:11 and 1 Corinthians 3:15?

When most Christians run across a Bible passage talking about fire, they usually think about hell. While that’s sometimes true, fire can actually represent a wide range of literal or metaphorical things. Here’s a list of some ways the concept of fire is used in the Bible.

Practical Things (always literal)

  • Daily activities, like cooking (Exodus 12:8; John 21:9), keeping warm (Isaiah 44:15; John 18:18), giving light (Isaiah 50:11; Matt. 25:1–13), or burning garbage (Leviticus 8:17).
  • Refining metals, such as silver (Numbers 31:22–23; Malachi 3:2–3),
  • Destroying enemy’s cities in war (Joshua 6:24; 8:8; 11:11; Judges 1:8; 1 Kings 9:16; Mt 22:7)
  • Executing criminals (Daniel 3; Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; 21:9; Joshua 7:15)
  • Burning sacrifices in the Temple (Leviticus 2:2; 6:8–13)

 Divine Things (sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical)

  • God’s Presence
    • God first speaks to Moses in a burning bush (Exodus 3:2)
    • God comes to Moses “in fire” on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:18)
    • God guides the Israelites through the desert with a pillar of fire (Exodus 12:21; Numbers 14:14)
    • Ezekiel describes a vision of God as surrounded by fire (Ezekiel 1:27)
    • God appears as lightning in a storm (Psalm 18:14, 29:7, 144:6) Read the rest of this entry

My bf/gf and I have already had sex (or gone too far physically). What do we do?

FIRST, you both need to confess your sin to God and ask for His forgiveness. This simply means admitting that you did something that was outside God’s desire for you and asking Him to not hold it against you. This is exactly why Jesus died on the cross — to take our sins away from us and make us clean.

You might be feeling like God won’t forgive you because you’ve done what you see (or what you think God sees) as such a bad thing. Having sex before marriage is no worse than any other sin we commit, and YES God can forgive you of it. Here are 3 articles that I would highly encourage you to read about sin and forgiveness.

Read the rest of this entry

Who We Are in Christ

Understanding who we are in Christ is critical to having healthy relationships, whether dating or otherwise. An excellent book on this topic is Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ by Neil T. Anderson.

He described three core needs everyone has and how they are met when we find our identity in Christ: we are accepted, secure, and significant. Here is a list of biblical truths that describe these three incredible promises from God.

I AM ACCEPTED

  • I am God’s child“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
  • I am Christ’s friend“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
  • I have been justified“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
  • I am united with the Lord, and I am one spirit with Him“But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:17) Read the rest of this entry

Greg’s Dating Book Recommendations

For singles…
I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Relationships and Romance
by Joshua Harris
There is also a study guide for this book, with discussion questions, personal reflections, and more.

For those seriously dating and considering marriage…
Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship
by Joshua Harris

Read the rest of this entry

Big Web Page o’ Dating Questions

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your present/future relationships is to ask questions. One of the reasons we repeat unhealthy relationship patterns is that we don’t take the time (or have the courage) to ask hard questions.

Here are a bunch of important questions that you can ask yourself about relationships and dating. They are designed to shed light on potential weaknesses and pitfalls in you and your relationships. They aren’t meant to point out how bad or messed up you are. I’ve just noticed that people generally don’t need much help talking about the good parts of relationships. Where I find people usually need a little help is looking into the ugly parts that they’d rather keep hidden. That’s a much scarier place to look. But, take courage. Use these questions to help you take that step.

Read the rest of this entry

Did You Rush Your Relationship?

Have you ever felt like you’ve rushed a relationship? Here are some of the most common ways we go too fast too soon.

Within the first 3 months of your relationship, did you…

  • Say “I love you”
  • Have sex or got very physical
  • Spend A LOT of time together
  • Talk almost every day
  • Express deep emotions to one another
  • Talk about your future together (including marriage)
  • Display a lot of affection publicly
  • Believe they were “the one”
  • Buy them a really expensive gift
  • Think about them all the time when you’re not together
  • Buy a house together, move in, and raise a litter of Labradoodles.

If you’re first few months looked like this, then you might need to consider slowing down.

30 Bible Verses Related to Dating

Have you ever wondered “What does the Bible have to say about dating?” While the Bible doesn’t actually use the word dating, it does have a whole lot to say about it. Here are just some of my favorites.

Genesis 2:24That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Psalm 23:1The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Proverbs 4:23Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 13:20Walk with the wise and become wise, for companions of fools suffer harm.

Proverbs 16:3Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Read the rest of this entry

20 Dating Red Flags

Red flags are warning signs you see, hear, or feel that tell you something might be very wrong in your relationship. All too often we ignore them or rationalize them away saying things like “it’s not that big of a deal” or “I know they’ll change” or even “but I love them so much”. Unfortunately, looking away and pretending they don’t exist usually only leads you down a dangerous and heartbreaking road.

So, if you see red flags in your relationship, DON’T IGNORE THEM. Talk about them. Ask a good friend if they see them also. Don’t always assume something is a red flag; sometimes our own fear and insecurity can play tricks on us. But if you confirm that the flag really is red, then you need to get out and move on.

Read the rest of this entry

How Not to Let Your Boyfriend or Girlfriend Steal Your Identity

What is the “I” to “We” Identity Shift in Dating?

Ever known one of those couples that seems to be surgically attached at the hips? They go everywhere together, do everything together. She doesn’t make plans without checking with him first. He always seems to have a hand on her somewhere.

Do you know the sort of couple I’m talking about? You look at them and wonder, “What happened? How did they get like this?”

Well, I can tell you what happened: their identity shifted. They went from thinking of themselves as an “I” to thinking of themselves as a “we”. In their dating relationship, their identity shifted from an “I” to a “we.”

Let me take a step back and explain what I mean by the term identity shift. An identity shift is kinda like changing glasses, which changes how you see the world. Imagine watching the latest 3D movie with a pair of regular eyeglasses. It probably wouldn’t be very enjoyable and you’d end up with a serious headache. Now imagine switching to the 3D glasses. It would be instantly awesome!

When you change glasses, you see things differently, you make different decisions, and you even see yourself differently. That’s called an identity shift.

Here’s another example: Imagine if your parents sat you down one day and told you that you were adopted…and that you were actually Korean. Now, I know that some of you would be thrilled, but that news would still rock your world. It would fundamentally change who you see yourself to be.

In relationships, a similar thing can happen, but it’s much more subtle and often goes unnoticed. It’s when you think of yourself, at a pretty deep level, more as a couple than an individual. Since this is usually a gradual process, most people aren’t even aware when it happens to them. (But everyone else around them usually notices.)

The “I” to “We” Dating Identity Quiz

If you’re in a dating relationship right now, how do you know if you’ve shifted your identity from an “I” to a “We”? These three questions will help you tell. (If you’re not in a relationship, go ahead and answer the questions for what you would want to do if you were in a dating relationship.)

1. How much of your social time do you spend with your boyfriend or girlfriend compared to other friends?
10%     20%     30%     40%     50%     60%     70%     80%     90%     100%

2. When you’re out with other friends, how often do you get asked “Where’s __________ (insert boyfriend/girlfriend’s name)?”
All the time     Pretty Often     Sometimes     Rarely     Never

3. Right now, does your Facebook profile pic contain both of you?
Yes     No

Now, for this quiz there isn’t a simple scoring system like in school or some issue of Cosmo. Every person is different and every couple is different. The better way to use this little quiz is to sit down with your significant other and just talk about your answers. Why did you pick those answers? How do you feel about them? Did any of them concern you? If you’re single, ask yourself the same questions.

10 “We” Dating Activities to Avoid

Here are 10 real-life examples that I’ve seen or heard from actual dating couples. These are all signs, some big some small, of shifting your identity from “I” to “we”.

  1. Checking in with the other person before you make plans
  2. Always holding hands, touching each other
  3. Going on family vacations or attending events with the other person’s family
  4. Getting a cell phone plan together
  5. Choosing education options (where to go, whether to go) based on the other person
  6. Logging into each other’s Facebook accounts or creating a Facebook account together
  7. Taking naps together or sleeping over, even non-sexually
  8. Opening a bank account together or sharing finances
  9. Giving gifts “from us”
  10. Openly sharing possessions (your stuff is my stuff)

If you’re in a relationship, how does it stack up to this list? How do you feel about the number of activities you checked off? Are there any of them that you’re concerned about? Why?

If you’re not dating right now, which of these do you think would be okay for a dating couple to do and which wouldn’t be okay?

Your True & False Dating Identities

In order to understand the “I” to “We” identity shift, you first have to understand your true identity and your false identity when it comes to dating relationships.

Your True Identity

If you are single, dating, or even engaged, there is a very important reality that you need to understand.

YOU’RE NOT MARRIED. YOU ARE A SINGLE PERSON.

In God’s eyes, there is married and there is single; there’s nothing in between. Genesis 2:24 says that when two people get married, something fundamentally changes.

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

If you’ve ever been to a wedding (and I’m guessing you have), you witnessed something mystical happening between the bride and groom. Their very nature changes.  At their deepest level, two people are united into one. This is a true, God-ordained identity shift. That’s how God created marriage – to be marked by “oneness”. They are still individuals, but they are also this new entity called a married couple.

But dating is not oneness. It’s still…well…twoness. A dating couple is not one united entity, they’re two separate individuals. Right now, unless you’re married, you are still a single individual – in God’s eyes and in your very nature and identity. If you’re in a dating relationship, you don’t have oneness, in the Biblical sense. You actually have twoness. Dating relationships are made up of two individuals, nothing more. That is your true identity.

Your False Identity

But a lot of dating couples seem to be living a false identity, like they’re already united into a couple. They think of themselves as a couple, so they start making decisions that a married couple would make rather than decisions an individual would make.

They want the intimacy of oneness, so they do things to strive for that oneness. They over-share, they build their social life around each other, they have sex – all striving for the intimacy that comes with oneness.

But there’s a problem. It’s all fake oneness. And that leads to a relationship that’s kinda like a fake marriage. We trade a real dating relationship for a fake married relationship. But I don’t think that’s anything new. The people living in Rome during Paul’s time were doing the same thing. In fact, the first chapter of Romans, Paul addresses the issue:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:21-25)

Did you catch that? They exchanged truth for a lie.

What do you think Paul would say if he came around today and looked at the dating relationships these days? I think he would say that they’ve exchanged the truth for a lie. They walk around thinking and acting like they’re married when they’re really single. They think of themselves as a “we” when they’re really an “I”. The truth is twoness. The lie is oneness.

Consequences of an “I” to “We” Dating Identity Shift

If you’ve been reading through this series of articles, you might be thinking that the “I” to “We” identity shift isn’t such a big deal. But others of you know how dangerous it is because you’ve seen the damage it can cause in your friends. Maybe you’ve even experienced it yourself.

This identity shift is dangerous because our identity drives our behavior. Who we see ourselves to be (our identity) affects what we see ourselves doing (our behavior).

So, what kind of behaviors come out of this identity shift from “I” to “we”. Here are 4 real consequences I’ve seen in dating couples:

1. SEXUAL ACTIVITY Is Inevitable

If you’ve shifted your core identity to a “we”, then I can almost guarantee that you and your boyfriend or girlfriend are sexually involved now or will be as your relationship becomes more and more of a “we”. If you’re thinking like a “we”, that usually means that you’re deeply emotionally involved in the relationship. And it’s almost impossible to feel that much emotional intimacy and not want (or even expect) the same level in your physical relationship. If you’re already experiencing emotional oneness, you’re gonna want physical oneness also.

2. GETTING OUT Feels Impossible

When you’re casually dating someone, it’s easy to break up and walk away. It still hurts, but it’s relatively easy. You don’t have a whole lot invested in the relationship. But when you’re already a “we” that’s “gonna get married one day”, then you probably feel like you can’t get out – even when you see very negative things in the other person or know your relationship is unhealthy. You feel like there’s no way out because you’re in too deep. You might feel “I can’t imagine life without them” or think “We’ve had sex so we have to get married.” When you invest your whole heart, soul, and body into a relationship, it’s easy to feel trapped, like you have to stay in the relationship for good.

3. FUTURE BREAK UPS Are Devastating

When you’ve shifted your identity from “I” to “we”, break-ups aren’t just painful, they’re devastating. Don’t get me wrong, break-ups should hurt. But they shouldn’t cause your world to come crumbling down. Yet that’s what we see happen. You’ve seen it and I’ve seen it. Why are these breakups so devastating? It’s because when you’re living as a “we” and acting married, ending the relationship isn’t just breaking up, it’s divorce. Fake marriage also means fake divorce. And divorce, even fake divorce, is always devastating.

4. FUTURE MARRIAGE Can Be Unsatisfying

So, let’s say you don’t break up and you do actually get married. You still have to deal with the consequences of your dating relationship. I’ll explain this with a quote from an excellent dating book called Cupidity: 50 Stupid Things We Do for Love by Haley and Michael DiMarco:

The more physically comfortable you become with someone you are dating, the more you devalue marriage. There was a day when everything was saved for marriage—when people didn’t take naps with each other or stay the night or even go on family vacations together before they were married. They looked forward to a time when they would do all those things as a couple, and it held some kind of mystique. But now couples are playing house and mixing up the order of things before they walk down the aisle.

Here’s a shorter version of the same idea from Joshua Harris out of his book Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship:

The longer your “no big deal” list is before marriage, the shorter your “very special list” will be after marriage.

If you’ve done a bunch of the stuff married people do, marriage loses its specialness. Most of us tend to have really high expectations for marriage, but you can end up disappointed because you find out there’s not much difference between what you did before and what you’re doing now in marriage. You can then feel really dissatisfied with your marriage.

How to Prevent an “I” to “We” Dating Identity Shift?

The “I” to “we” identity shift is very real and very dangerous. But, the good news is that there are some concrete things you can do to prevent it. Here are six ideas for you to follow in order to have healthier dating relationships.

1. Understand WHO YOU ARE in Christ

Wanna know the best way to prevent losing your identity to somebody else? Understand who you are in Christ. A lot of us find our value, worth, significance, beauty, or masculinity in another person. I believe that’s why so many couples get so close so quickly. They are desperate to fill that void where Christ should be. If you want to begin to understand who you are in Christ, I highly recommend a book by Neil T. Anderson called Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ. Until you fully wrap your head around who you are Christ – loved, forgiven, accepted, secure, significant – you will constantly be try to get these things from another person. And trust me, you’ll give away almost anything to get them.

2. Know WHY You’re Dating

If you’re in a relationship right now, do you know why you’re dating? Is it for marriage? Because you like them? Because everyone else is dating? I once knew a couple who were having a lot of problems and after talking with them, we discovered they had different reasons for dating. She was in it to get married and he was in it because he really liked her. Now, that’s a recipe for disaster.

I think there’s a lot of different opinions out there with regard to dating. Here’s just one example. I recently conducted an informal poll asking “What’s the primary purpose or goal of talking?” Here are the results:

  • To get to know them better – 50%
  • To determine if they’re someone you want to date – 25%
  • To determine if they’re someone you want to marry – 25%

That’s a lot of different opinions. And that’s just talking! Can you just image what it could be for dating? So, it’s really important that we know why we’re dating and that we talk about it, because your boyfriend or girlfriend could be in the relationship for a different reason.

3. Don’t RUSH the Relationship

If there’s one thing I want to tell every couple: SLOW DOWN. I’m amazed how quickly people go from just dating to serious dating. One day, it’s “Wanna go out?”, and the next day it’s “You are my everything; I couldn’t imagine life without you.”

A college student once told me that its ok to start talking about marriage after about 3 months of dating. I didn’t really believe them, but then later that day I was talking to another college student who was telling me how he and his girlfriend were talking about what their kids would look like. Guess how long they had been dating? 3 months.

We can understand what it looks like to rush a relationship by looking at a couple dating timelines that include the typical stages of dating: interest, dating, engagement, and then marriage. Here is an example of a pretty traditional dating timeline:

Traditional Dating Timeline
Traditional Dating Timeline

However, after talking with a lot of dating couples, I’ve noticed a different pattern. This is an example of the new timeline that seems all too common these days.

“New” Dating Timeline
New Dating Timeline

Notice how the period of “just dating” has really shrunk, and now there’s this new phase that I call PRE-ENGAGED. It’s when a couple believes they’re going to get married but just not yet – after they turn 18, graduate, get financially stable, etc. Even saying stuff like “we’re going to be together forever” is a form of pre-engagement. The transition from dating to pre-engaged is the prime spot for an identity shift. This is usually the extreme “we” phase. This is the phase where the consequences of the identity shift become really evident.

4. Resist THE PRESSURE

I think there’s a lot of pressure around to have one of these “we” relationships, these fake marriage relationships we’ve been talking about. In fact, I’ve come to see it as “The New Normal.” Slow, patient, healthy relationships seem to be the exception these days.

Why does this matter? Because what you think is “normal” will influence your expectations. I once knew a high school girl whose boyfriend would come over to her house every day after school. Then, when one of her friends started dating, she got upset when her boyfriend only came over once or twice times a week. Why did she get upset? Because she had created a New Normal by watching her sister. She figured that’s what boyfriends were supposed to do.

So, where does this pressure come from?

First, your parents. How many of you older youth are getting pressure from your parents to get married? It’s just part of Hmong culture. Chances are that if you’re out of high school, you’re getting pressure to get married. You don’t want to get married yet, so you settle for a marriage-like relationship.

The second place is your friends. Unfortunately, youth groups are one of the worst places for this pressure. If two people are just interested in each other, everyone’s asking “What’s going on with you two? Are you guys dating?” And then if you’re older and dating, your friends just assume you’re getting married. They even joke about it. Ladies, how many of you have jokingly being called Nam, i.e. N. Tou, N. Kong. I know it happens, because I hear it. And most of the time, the couple just laughs it off. I’ve never hear someone say “Please don’t call me that. We’re not married.” But I think people should starting saying stuff like that.

Don’t give into the pressure to think of yourself as a “we”. Don’t define your relationship by everyone around you. Resist the New Normal. Because the New Normal is pretty messed up.

5. Get More TWONESS in Your Relationship

Previously, I talked about how married couples experience biblical oneness the way God created it to be, and if you’ve shifted from an “I” to a “we”, then you’re living with fake oneness. The way to combat that is to get more twoness in your relationship. Here are just a few ways to do that:

  • Develop some friendships apart from the other person
  • Do things with other people
  • Keep your stuff separate
  • Make decisions on your own
  • If you’re at a youth event, don’t feel you have to be together the whole time

I know this might sound very similar to “breaking up” or “needing space”, but it’s not. It’s developing a healthier balance between being a couple and being single. Most dating relationships are incredibly imbalanced.

A word of warning though: it’s gonna be tough. If you’re used to seeing your boyfriend/girlfriend every day and you cut back to every other day, it’s gonna hurt because you’ll miss them. But this is the hurt of healing, not the hurt of dying.

6. CONSIDER Marriage, Don’t ASSUME It

Now, this one’s especially for you older youth, who are in college or out of school…

I want to address one of the most popular views on the purpose of dating – you should only date to marry. I know a lot of people believe this because I hear it all the time.

This idea came out of an author named Joshua Harris who wrote two pretty influential books, I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. If he were writing this article, he would tell you that the idea that you should only date to marry is absolutely, completely, 100% wrong. Instead, he would say that the purpose of dating is to figure out if the two of you should marry. Here’s how he says it:

The purpose of this time [what he calls courtship] would be to deeper our relationship so that we could prayerfully and purposefully explore the possibility of marriage. -Joshua Harris, Boy Meets Girl

The goal of dating is not marriage, but a decision about marriage.

So, date-to-marry is not only a wrong view, but also really dangerous. Let me show you why with the help of a little logic puzzle. I’m going to start with the statement and the first half of a conditional (an if…then statement). Then you try to complete the puzzle.

STATEMENT: You should only date to marry
CONDITIONAL: If you are dating someone, then _____________________

If you said “You have to marry them”, then you’re correct. So, according to this logic, if you only date to marry and you’re dating someone, then you have to marry them. Notice how’s there’s no way out of this. Because of this, I think a lot of dating couples get trapped into marriage thinking. So, marriage no longer becomes a decision, it becomes an assumption.

One last word, if you’re not ready to get married, or at least engaged, stop talking about marriage. And definitely don’t assume that you’re going to get married simply because you’re dating. Unless you’re willing to follow Beyonce’s advice and “put a ring on it”, don’t talk about getting married.

The Best (and Simplest) Way to Avoid an “I” to “We” Identity Shift

If you’ve made it this far in the series of articles, then you deserve a little reward. So, I’m going to give you the best (and simplest) way to avoid the “I” to “we” trap and all the mess that comes with it. It’s one little question, but it has the power to radically transform your dating relationships.

Before you do something in your relationship ask yourself “Is this something married people do?”

It’s that simple. If you evaluate your decisions based on that question and stop doing stuff the married people do, you will have a dramatically healthier relationship. Don’t believe me? Go back to that list of 10 “We” Dating Activities. They’re all stuff married people do.

So, ask this question often, answer it honestly, and save the “married” things for when you actually get married.

One Final Encouragement

God wants you to have a great marriage, whether it’s a year from now or 10 years from now. God wants you to have a great marriage, and what you do now in dating will plays huge part in how great that marriage is. So, don’t let your boyfriend or girlfriend steal your identity. Don’t make that identity shift from an “I” to a “we”. Because when God is ready to make that change in your on your wedding day, it will be immeasurably more than anything you can ask or imagine. Never forget that.

Is it wrong for Christians to get tattoos?

SHORT ANSWER: Yes and no. I personally am still working through this question, but I am leaning pretty heavily towards yes it is wrong. However, even if getting a tattoo is, in fact, not a sin, there are still much bigger issues of the heart that often come into play that are clearly addressed in Scripture.

LONG ANSWER:
This is a tough question for two reasons: (1) there is not clear, agreed upon teaching against it in the Bible and (2) there are godly Christians on both sides of the debate. Read the rest of this entry

A Compelling Argument Against Tattoos

This is a companian article to my other post “Is it wrong for Christians to get tattoos?

For most of my Christian life, I’ve always thought tattoos were generally okay in God’s eyes. I’ve never really heard a good argument against tattoos based off Leviticus 19:28 or 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, the two verses most often cited in relation to tattoos. But recently, I came across a very strong, biblically sound argument against the practice of getting tattoos. This was the first time I’ve questioned my previously-held belief.

I am indebted to Dr. Peter Vogt, my Old Testament professor at Bethel Seminary, and his book Interpreting the Pentateuch: An Exegetical Handbook for his wisdom and insight into understanding Levitical Law. In this book, he uses Lev. 19:28 as case study for how to properly interpret Levitical Law. For more about some general principles for understanding Leviticus, read my other post, “What’s the meaning of Leviticus and what’s its relevance for Christians today?Read the rest of this entry

What’s the meaning of Leviticus and what’s its relevance for Christians today?

Let’s face it. The Book of Leviticus is one of the toughest books of the Bible to read, understand, and apply to modern life. As one of my seminary professors described it, “Leviticus is where ‘Read Through the Bible in a Year’ goes to die.” On one hand, it doesn’t seem that it should be universally applied. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem right to completely ignore something that is such a significant part of the Bible. So where does that leave us? Read the rest of this entry

Is it a sin to have oral sex outside of marriage?

SHORT ANSWER: Yes, it is a sin to give or receive oral sex outside of marriage. God has designed all sexual activity for the context of a monogamous, life-long marriage.

LONG ANSWER:
God has a specific plan for human sexuality — to be experienced and enjoyed in the context of a married husband and wife. This includes all forms of sexual activity, including oral sex. (However, there are some sexual activities that are explicitly taught as sin, whether married or not, such as incest, rape, or bestiality.) Read the rest of this entry

Is it a sin to support gay marriage?

SHORT ANSWER: Yes, it is a sin to support gay marriage because marriage is a divinely-established partnership between a man and a women, monogamous for life. Anything outside that model stands against God’s will for his people.

LONG ANSWER:
In order to answer this question, you first have to answer two other questions:

  • What does the Bible say about marriage?
  • What does the Bible say about homosexuality?

How you answer these questions will determine what you believe about gay marriage. Read the rest of this entry

Bible Verses on Homosexuality

 This is a companion article for my original post “Is it a sin to support gay marriage?

Direct Teaching that Homosexual Behavior is a Sin

Israel’s Mosaic Law (Old Testament)

  • Leviticus 18:22 – “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.”
  • Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.”
  • Deuteronomy 23:17-18 – “No Israelite, whether man or woman, may become a temple prostitute. When you are bringing an offering to fulfill a vow, you must not bring to the house of the Lord your God any offering from earnings of a prostitute, whether a man or a woman, for both are detestable to the Lord your God.” Read the rest of this entry

Mnemonic for Memorizing the 12 Tribes of Israel

After unsuccessfully searching online for a mnemonic to help memorize the 12 Tribes (in order) for my impending OT final exam, I decided to come up with my own. And it totally works! Within 3 tries, I had all 12 down. Here it is.

Rowdy sailors love jewish dough nuts. Going all in zero joy brings.

  1. Rowdy = Reuben
  2. Sailors = Simeon
  3. Love = Levi
  4. Jewish = Judah
  5. Dough = Dan
  6. Nuts = Naphtali
  7. Going = Gad
  8. All = Asher
  9. In = Issachar
  10. Zero = Zebulun
  11. Joy = Joseph
  12. Brings = Benjamin

(I know the last part it a little Yoda-esque, but that’s what you get from a Star Wars geek.)

Now you all can ace your OT exams, sunday school tests, or youth group Bible quizzes.

9 Bible Verses of Hope for Guys and Girls Struggling with Porn

9 out of 10 of you reading this post have seen porn online. Half of you view it frequently. If you’ve tried to stop, you might feel that it’s hopeless. But don’t lose give up. God offers you hope in promises found in the Bible. Here are my top 9 favorites. Read ‘em, think about ‘em, pray about ‘em. Then repeat. Read the rest of this entry

9 Things to Help Guys and Girls Struggling with Porn

If the stats are true, porn is a struggle for many of you. And it’s not just guys. Girls can struggle with it as well. (25% of people who view porn are women.) If you’re caught by the grip of porn and want to escape, here are 9 things that can help. Read the rest of this entry

Should Christians date non-Christians?

So, first off, the Bible doesn’t directly say anything about whether it’s ok to date non-Christians. In fact, it doesn’t even say anything directly about dating. (That’s because modern dating didn’t really exist back then like it does now). That means we need to look for some general principles that can help us make a decision, rather than direct teaching about it.

So, I can think of something from the Old Testament and something from the New Testament… Read the rest of this entry

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

That’s a great question and one that has sparked a lot of theological debate over the years. It’s a tough one because the passages that mention it (Matt. 12:32, Mark 3:29-30, Luke 12:10) don’t clearly elaborate what “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” is exactly. Despite this, we can still figure some of it out.

When you run into a tough teaching of Jesus, a great first step is to look in the story to see what prompted Jesus’ teaching. In the case of Matthew 12, it was the Pharisees saying the Jesus is performing miracles (driving out demons) by the power of Beelzebub or Satan (v. 24). So, it’s a good bet to say that this accusation is somehow related to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Also, the phrase “So I tell you” is a conjunction connecting this statement, with the previous thoughts in vv. 25-30. Read the rest of this entry

Will there be animals in heaven?

SHORT ANSWER: Yes, there will be animals in heaven because they are part of God’s creation. However, they will not include the pets we have come to love here on earth.

LONG ANSWER:
To start off, the Bible doesn’t say anything explicitly about whether animals go to heaven. However, there is ample support in the Bible to conclude that YES there will be animals in heaven. Read the rest of this entry

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