A generation ago, young people in God's church could attend Ambassador College, the Summer Educational Program (S.E.P.), Youth Opportunities United (Y.O.U.) activities and visit Feast sites all over the world, some of them with upwards of 10,000 participants. Church youth had many opportunities to meet and interact with others of like belief. Mates were comparatively easy to find.
No more! The scene has changed. The church has shattered into many smaller pieces, and the pieces continue to divide. Ambassador College is history. S.E.P. and Y.O.U. are essentially gone as well, with a few exceptions in the larger church bodies. A Feast site with an attendance of more than a few hundred is rare anywhere in the church.
Beyond these dynamics, considerable diversity in belief and practice exists among the pieces of the church. Even if a young person can find a prospective mate with enough compatibility in other areas, he may find they cannot agree on spiritual issues.
Many young people see no real future in the church and have gone into the world. Some are staying with the church, but dabbling in the world—alcohol, drugs, dating, sex, smoking—and the attendant identifications with its popular culture as expressed in clothing, tattoos, body piercing, language and music.
What to do? There is no obvious or simple solution. In addressing this very real and very knotty problem, I scratch my head in dismay, just as many of our young people are. These are distressing, trying, arduous, tough times. Where in the Bible can we turn for an answer? If we find it, will we like it?
The Bad News First
It may come as a surprise to many to realize that the early church faced similar dynamics. The church received persecution from the outside. The apostles and other leaders were thrown in jail, tortured, beaten and stoned, and almost all of them were ultimately martyred. False teachers entered, scattering the flocks.
Persecution spread the church all over the Mediterranean area. The people met in small congregations. They had no telephones, e-mail or means of fast travel. Postal couriers traveled by horseback, camel and "slow boat to Corinth." Letters could take months to arrive, especially in the winter when sailing was hazardous.
Many, even the apostles, thought Christ would return in their day, unaware that the church would flee to a place of safety, Pella, in a few years. This occurred in AD 70, a few years after the death of most of the apostles.
In I Corinthians 7, Paul refers to this arduous, trying period as "the present distress." The distress in today‘s church will escalate; division will apparently continue from the inside for some time; and on its heels, persecution from the outside will arise.
Bible prophecy shows that the faithful remnant of the church will flee to a place of safety (Revelation 12:6, 14). Only a remnant of Israel (see Isaiah 6:13) and of the population of the world (see Revelation 6:8; 8:7-11; 9:15; 16:1-21; 19:17-21) will survive to see Christ's return. Many of these will be begging for death (Revelation 6:14-17; 9:6). Figure your chances out there!
These scriptures and others like them are designed to galvanize us into positive action. Christ undoubtedly allowed Paul to think the problems he was experiencing in the church signaled the end of the age, but they were written primarily for us who are living in the end of the age. Thus, we should carefully consider Paul's advice as we see the final sifting of the church and problems in society escalating toward World War III. We are experiencing the last days.
Paul recommended they not marry in that "present distress," just as Christ recommended a time would come when continuing to have children would become hazardous (Matthew 24:19).
Are we there yet? I cannot tell you when not to marry or have children. Those are very personal decisions, and each person must consider when it is time to apply them. Signs of the end of the age are abundant—we are in it—but "just when" the church leaves is elusive.
In I Corinthians 7:24-40, Paul stresses that time is short and attention to God is the vital key (verse 35), not marriage, possessions, physical happiness or this society, which "is passing away" (verses 29-31). He advises us to seek the eternal values.
However, he says if one cannot contain himself emotionally and sexually, it is not a sin to marry, though it would be better not to do so under such stressful circumstances (verses 36-38). He also stipulates—and this is now inspired Scripture with no wiggle room—that marriage is to be only with another in the church (I Corinthians 7:39).
These are tough solutions for tough times! While this end time is frustrating and will become the most difficult in human experience, God provides a way of escape to those who will believe Him (I Corinthians 10:13). To obey Him, to trust Him implicitly, is the only possible sure escape from the gathering storm.
The age of Satan and man had to end sometime. Marriage and children had to be curtailed for a period during the transition to the Millennium sometime. It appears that the sometime is here or almost here. It is falling on the teen and young adult population of today. How will you react?
Will you turn to the world to have your fling and maybe be caught in the Tribulation? Will you sacrifice the physical and attend to the spiritual in the trust that God has your best interests in mind? Paul saw these as tough decisions—and so do I—but these are tough times. How tough are you?
Perhaps you are not quite ready to put marriage on the shelf as Paul recommends for this stressful time in history. Even apart from that advice, attention to your relationship with God is still the most important consideration today. If you plan to date and pursue marital possibilities, you need to consider some important godly guidelines and intelligent choices in the dating and mate-selection process.
Many of the problems found in marriages today result from a poor understanding of proper dating. Dating is the part of the marriage process during which you explore the personalities of a variety of individuals. You hope to find just the right one. How you handle the dating process will have great bearing on the success of your future marriage.
A saying in the athletic community applies in principle to dating and marriage: "You play like you practice." A coach can often predict how his team will play on game day by their level of focus, concentration, mental and emotional preparation and energy in practice in the days leading up to the event. A team or individual athlete who merely daydreams of glorious victory without proper preparation will suffer humiliating defeat. Vision or visualization of the desired goal—marriage—is very important. It is only empty daydreaming unless channeled into an intelligent game plan and put into action.
Marriage is a whole new life. You leave the familiarity of home to begin a new one with a totally new person. God instructs you to cleave to—stick with—that person "'til death do us part." Despite the uncommitted culture we have today, God really intends it to be that way.
Most young people blithely assume their marriage will be wonderful, and they never consider failure. In one sense, that is good—you should expect to succeed! However, cause and effect never fail; there are reasons for success or failure. Understanding ahead of time how to create success can help you avoid many problems before they arise or solve them when they arise.
Common Backgrounds, Values and Interests
To marry is to join as one. A couple must blend two different backgrounds, beliefs, goals, emotional structures, life experiences and many other factors to form a successful union. This is not easy, so it is best to find one who shares many of these factors already.
It is important to observe your prospective mate in many situations: tired, hungry, stressed, angry, tempted with wrong, etc. How does he react to his parents, siblings, friends? Is there undue selfishness, disrespect, disregard, cynicism? Is he lazy or motivated? Are his goals short-sighted and self-gratifying or long-term and self-controlling? Does he handle money wisely or spend it foolishly? Does he tend to lie and make excuses or does he accept responsibility? It is very difficult to trust a liar as a mate for life; you can never really trust and feel secure.
Type of dates is important. How much do you learn about someone who is sitting in a movie theater being entertained? Not that going to a movie is wrong, but it is passive at best. Interactive outings tell you more. Bowling, tennis, biking, basketball, hiking and mountain-climbing give you a better reading on their competitive spirit, teamwork, willingness to help others, perseverance and capacity to accomplish goals.
It is best to find potential mates with similar family, educational and moral values as yours. Your lives will blend more easily if there are similarities. Do you both like the outdoors? sports? other hobbies? Are your energy levels similar, or will one always want to sit while the other wants to run? Does he like children? Was he an only child or raised in a large family? How does her mother look at age 45? Is she kind and lovable? Would you want him to look and act like his dad does? Don't laugh! Heredity and environment make their greatest effects more apparent as people age.
Religion is critical. Though it may not seem important while dating, it becomes more important later. What will you teach your children? True religion is so important to God that He gives specific instructions not to marry someone outside His church, as we saw (I Corinthians 7:39). Foreign wives caused Israel to stray from God in the Old Testament. God made them divorce those wives along with their children (Ezra 10).
I have personally seen many people marry outside the church, knowing better, but being "so much in love" that they could not help it. In my lifetime in the church, I have never seen one of those marriages work out as intended. Most have ended in divorce, and most of the rest are unhappy. Some few have worked reasonably well, but always there have been problems over teaching the children, tithing, going to the feasts, unclean foods, drinking too much, smoking, moral and sex differences—need I continue? A person in the church has a totally different outlook on life and everything in it from someone who does not understand or care to understand God's way of life.
You may think it worthwhile to leave the church to marry this wonderful specimen of man- or womanhood. They may even promise to "join" the church or "let you do your church thing." Do a reality check!
Some people will promise almost anything to achieve their desires, in this case marriage to you. Can you accept a promise to quit smoking or over-drinking "after we're married"? Your greatest leverage is before marriage. If they will not change bad habits to marry you, what hope do you have after they fulfill their desire?
The other extreme is being so picky no one is good enough for you. All humans are flawed, so perfection is impossible. God may indeed have someone who meets all the qualifications you demand. The problem may be that He is still searching for a match for him or her. Think about that one!
God says that if a child is trained in His ways, when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). That is, he will either stay with it as he grows up or return to it after life knocks him around a bit. Read the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Usually, those who have married outside the church come back a few years later divorced, with children and unhappy with life. They may still be married but in a constant struggle with their mates to be allowed to worship God. God has become important in their lives, but only after many miseries. It is truly sad, but so many times humans have to learn the hard way. Can it be different with you?
Ethnic roots can also be a major factor in a successful marriage. Like other background traits, blending of personalities is far easier the more racially similar you are. Cultures, holidays and religious training are only a few of the variances that can divide. Think of the future of children you might have! If they are of mixed race, they will not tend to feel accepted by one or the other side of the family or both. This can be very distressing as they mature. There is a classic movie called Imitation of Life. If you are even considering a racially mixed marriage, find this movie in a video store and watch it. It graphically depicts the miseries of a half-white, half-black girl.
Going Steady and Sex
It is extremely dangerous to date outside your church or race. Dating leads to serious involvement and marriage just as kissing leads to fondling and sex. In dating or through physical contact, you can find yourself in a terrible emotional predicament before you realize what is happening!
"Going steady" in the teen years is a dating pitfall for several reasons. Couples tend not to become acquainted with as many people and therefore limit their ability to compare personalities. It also becomes easy to "lean on" the personality of the boy or girlfriend and not develop your personality and emotions and stand on your own as a complete, mature and responsible person. Besides these reasons, spending a great deal of time with one person increases the temptation to "get physical."
Sex is a wonderful gift God made for married people. God says, "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4). Sex is exciting and tempting before marriage. God created the body's hormonal urges to lead to marriage, where sex is the greatest physical binding force between husband and wife. If sex is misused before or after marriage, it results in guilt, shame, jealousy, twisted and immature emotions, self-pity and lifelong regret.
Though you may think sex outside marriage will not hurt, do not believe it! It can be physically pleasurable and wonderfully exciting, like the free-floating feeling of bungie-jumping before you discover you are on the business end of a bad bungie! The pleasure disappears when the bungie breaks, and you hit bottom. And you will hit bottom if you take this route!
"Making out" is the part of sex called foreplay. It is a preparation for sex and should only be shared by married couples. You do not need to "try out" a prospective mate before you marry, as is the common practice today. Apart from physical problems with unhealthy bodies, married people have no "sex" problems. They are all "mind" problems. If a person is selfish and impatient as a person, he will be so as a lover. If he is fickle and non-committal as a friend, he will be so as a mate.
Gorgeous eyes on a girl or rippling muscles on a guy do not mean much three years later in a monstrous fight over money, adultery or in whose church to raise the kids. The gorgeous eyes are fine if they have a proper mind behind them, as are rippling muscles. Such physical attributes are easily discernible. Mental and emotional traits are much harder to analyze. If the mind is right in every way, the sex will be also. If the mind is warped or twisted, the sex will be also. Concentrate on the mind and attitude of potential mates.
Patience and Faith
Again, because the church has scattered in recent years, the selection of potential mates is rather thin. God is doing this for a very good and vastly important reason: preparing His Son's bride for marriage! Be patient and have faith in God. He will solve this problem "in a little while" (Haggai 2:6). He knows and understands the plight of our youth today.
Enjoy your youth carefully (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). Travel, get your education, experience some freedom before winding up too early with a baby on each hip or a family to feed. If you can avoid emotional and sexual entanglements before the proper time, life will be much better for you. God will be much more inclined to hear your prayers and work with you. If you are faithful and patient, He will have someone waiting for you—and at the right time.
Perhaps this will occur in a short time, in a place of safety, or if you are young enough, at the beginning of the Millennium where you can have a family under much better conditions than those that face us in the next few tumultuous years. You can never go wrong by trusting God first in your life.
We may experience frustration trying to find logical answers in a topsy-turvy, illogical end of an age, but God will shortly turn mountains and societies upside down to solve man's problems. He is the best and the only real answer to our deepest longings. Trust Him to fulfill your dreams of marriage!
Inset: Learning About Your Potential Mate
Our families profoundly affect us, our habits, lifestyle, beliefs and decisions, and your boyfriend's or girlfriend's family life has had no less effect on them. In marriage, people attempt to meld two, sometimes opposing, "cultures" into one. The more alike they are at the beginning, the easier this melding (called "cleaving" in the Bible) will be. Since no one wants to begin a marriage at a disadvantage, here are a few questions you may want to answer about the family relationships of your intended before you decide to marry:
» Who leads the family? Who does not?
» How are differences resolved? Violently, peacefully or not at all?
» How are final decisions reached? In a multitude of counselors or individually? Emotionally or rationally?
» How does the family treat its children? Elders? In-laws?
» Has the family shunned or rejected any of its members? Why?
» Is anybody in the family a controller?
» How does the family converse? Are they civil and polite or rude and antagonistic? Do they speak about a variety of subjects or just about themselves?
» How do they express criticism? Is "putting down" common?
» How do they use humor? Is it cutting, always at another's expense? Is it sarcastic?
» How do they use body language? Do the family members hug frequently or do they want to be left alone?
» Do they communicate often or would they rather read or watch TV?
» Are they opinionated?
» How does the family perceive itself in relation to the rest of the world?
» How does the family define itself? What kind of stories do the members tell about themselves?
» What race, ethnic group, region and/or economic class do they identify with?
» Who are their heroes? Role models?
» Whom do they dislike or fear?
Rituals and Taboos
» What obligations do family members feel toward each other? Are they loyal?
» What "rituals" bring them together? Formal celebrations? Daily routines? Often? Rarely?
» How do they mark important occasions? Special achievements?
» Do men and women have rigidly prescribed roles?
» What are they uncomfortable talking about?
» What offends them? Are they easily offended?
» What is their religion and/or belief system? How do they express it?
» Are virtues important to them? What personal qualities do they value most?
» How do they measure success?
» What is their attitude toward authority?
» Are they highly competitive or aggressive?
» Are they selfish or generous? Helpful or self-absorbed?