New Book | Letters to a Romantic: The First Years

 

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We set out to write the Letters to a Romantic books because we saw an opportunity and need.

The opportunity struck us as we began to write regularly on dating, engagement, and romance. Dating and engagement is a unique season to be salt and light in the world.  Also, there were very few books we knew of that wrote briefly and practically using the perspective of a peer on these particular topics. 

The need we saw was for a resource on this season of life that was both committed to the sufficiency of Scripture and a radical alternative to the world’s emphasis in romantic relationships. We also saw a need for a resource that would not lay burdens on our brothers and sisters by advocating for a strict dating “method”. We sought to start a conversation, not have the whole conversation for couples.

With this same opportunity and need in mind, we’re thrilled to announce the beginning of a new project, the final installment in the Letters trilogy –  Letters to a Romantic: The First Years.

In this book, we plan to use our same brief and practical approach to address the topics that arise in the early years of marriage.

One difference with this book is we won’t be writing as those who have just come out of a season. Instead, we’ll be in it with our readers. This isn’t a book by experienced tour guides at the end of the journey; these are letters from the trail by fellow pilgrims. We believe that this can be uniquely helpful for those in the first years with us as we again seek to “start a conversation” that is committed to the sufficiency of God’s Word to navigate every twist and turn.

This book is slated to release in late 2019 with P&R publishing. With this in mind, we’re asking you to commit to praying for us in the following ways:

  1.    Pray for clarity of mind and an accurate handling of God’s Word. We know that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain (Psalm 127:1-2). We are desperate for God’s Spirit to illuminate his Word to us, and to enable us to write in a helpful, clear, biblically faithful way.
  2.    Pray for productive times of writing. We are both in seasons of life that are much more full than when we wrote our last two books. We’re both fathers, working in ministry, and committed to caring for our families. Pray that the times we set aside to write will be productive and efficient.
  3.    Pray for fruit. Begin praying now that God would use these books as resources for young marriages, local churches, and wherever else they are used. We long, not first for our writing to have a wide reach, but a deep one – an influence that produces real fruit in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Thank you for supporting our writing and this new season. If you have any questions you would like us to address or topic suggestions for us to consider as we are working on the project, please send us a note. We would love to hear from you.

Until then,

Spencer and Sean

 

Can you ask a girl out more than once?

Hey Sean,

    I like what you talk about in the book about being loving and doing all to the glory of God in terms of pursuing a relationship with someone. I also picked up that you were declined at least once to go on a date with your now wife. How do you persist as you did lovingly?  How does one do that lovingly? Gentlemanly? How did you do it? …. I have great pastors and access to sound wisdom from a myriad of other sources, but when you said your now wife turned you down, I really wanted to hear your thoughts.


Dear Romantic,

Thank you for your email. I am grateful for your humility and your desire to glorify the Lord in this situation. It is obvious that you are seeking him and want to be loving to this woman in your church. That is rare and I’m grateful for it.

You are also not alone in asking this question. Regarding my story, it is true that I asked Jenny more than 13 times to be in a relationship with me. But I must confess that my situation with Jenny is rather unusual. Jenny and I knew each other very well in high school and I didn’t pursue a relationship with her until after graduation. We had been in the same friend group and were together in numerous classes and extra-curricular activities. This is one of the reasons why I was so resolute after graduation. I knew that she was a godly woman and that I wanted to be in a romantic relationship with her. I had plenty of time to laugh, cry, hang out, and get to know her in a variety of settings over the course of three years.

After our first official date, I asked her to be in a relationship. I called it courting at the time. She thought about it for a little and then told me that she wanted to wait. I was going to Kentucky for school and she was going to Virginia. I knew that I had caught her off guard by asking her and that she wanted to focus on her bible studies and degree. Things were changing in our lives. I knew she was romantically interested in me, but the timing was off. She needed some space and I gave it to her.

Another interesting element to this whole matter is that we grew up in the same area. Each school break we would return home and be near each other. It was easy for me to ask her to visit and to check in on things. I would ask her to be in a relationship each time we were together and her answer was “No… not yet.” I was able to see that she was intentionally leaving the door open for me. She also allowed me to call her a few times a semester while she was at school and I would read biographies with her over the phone.

There was only one time that she told me that she didn’t want to be in a relationship at all and that was because she had just come back from a missions trip (was rather emotional) and decided she wanted to go overseas and knew I was going to be a pastor. That time was pivotal in our relationship and was actually really clarifying for both of us. That is a longer story and I can explain that later if it is helpful.

All of that to say… our situation wasn’t normal. I knew Jenny very well before asking her out on our first date and was able to know when she was putting down signals and when she wasn’t. I knew her friends and family very well. Jenny was allowing me to pursue her even though she was telling me that she didn’t want to be in a relationship at the moment.

When a girl says she doesn’t want to be in a relationship at the moment, it is typically because they are looking for a reason to turn a guy down gently. Spencer and I talk about this in our dating book and why it is best for a girl to be clear that romance isn’t on the table at all instead of using another reason to decline a date.

Regardless, I think the burden is on the guy (as a leader) to be able to discern what a woman means when she says “no.”

Here are some general thoughts I would offer:

  • Assume that when a girl says she isn’t interested right now that she means she isn’t interested in the relationship at all.
    • If she says she isn’t interested in the relationship right now, there must be an obvious signal coming from her that would give indication that she would want to be pursued in the future. With Jenny, she wanted me to call her. She looked forward to getting together each school break. She hinted that I should keep coming back later to ask her again. She asked me to pray about our relationship.
  • Don’t be afraid to let time and space enter into the relationship. If the girl is interested in you in the future, she will likely come back and give hints. She can find a way to be around you or have a girlfriend invite you over to her friend group for an event or something. Ruth and Boaz are a good example of this. Ruth found several ways to drop hints and signals to Boaz. Don’t try to force something and don’t be afraid to let time and space enter into the relationship. This will ensure that you are not too eager and it will give her time to decide further. This is also a good opportunity to trust Christ.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarity if you think there is a real possibility that she might be interested. After allowing time and space, it is reasonable to ask for clarity. You can wait for an opportunity to talk with her in person and say “I know it has been a while since we talked last, but I would love another opportunity to take you out to coffee and get to know you more. I also know that last time you said that it wasn’t a good time to be in a relationship. I want to make sure that I honor you and I don’t want to put any pressure on you. Do you think now is a good season for us to go out to coffee? Or are you only seeking friendship in our relationship?” You can even acknowledge that these conversations can be awkward and you won’t be offended. You can always say, “I want to honor you as my spiritual sister. I thought the best way to do that was for me to tell you that I respect you, I’m thankful for you, and I want to let you know of my interest in asking you out. I won’t be offended if you aren’t interested in exploring the possibility of a romantic relationship. I want what you want and thought it would be best to ask you before assuming anything.”
  • Pray for wisdom (James 1). The Lord loves to give us wisdom and provide grace for all our dating awkwardness and mistakes.
  • Find some way to encourage her even if she turns you down again. Find one non awkward (and non romantic) way to encourage her as you would your sister after she says “no” again. If you don’t have a sister, think of ways you would encourage your mom. It could be like, “That is totally okay. I wanted clarity in order to honor you. Thank you for letting me know. As your brother in Christ, you should know that I really am thankful for your godly example at church and your joy in the Lord. I’m grateful to be church members and friends. Let me know if you need anything in the future and I will be praying for you. I’ll see you around next Sunday.” Or something like this!
  • If she turns you down again, for any reason, assume the door is slammed shut. Unless she takes initiative later or gives some obvious signal otherwise.

I hope this is helpful in some way. Thanks again for reaching out.

Regardless of what happens, I will pray for you that the Lord will cause his face to shine upon you and bless you and your ministry (Psalm 67).

Until then,

Sean


For more information on relationships and romance, check out Sean Perron and Spencer Harmon’s books Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement, (P&R, 2017).

The Top 5 Books We Read This Year

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By now you have probably scanned half a dozen “best of” lists. Writers, critics, and commentators typically release these lists to summarize what books, films, or stories made the biggest impact. We’d like to share with you just five books that impacted us this year. We share these books because we think they’re important and were personally helped by them in some way.

Happy reading!


Sean:

A Small Book about a Big Problem by Ed Welch

If you are like me, you probably don’t think you have anger problems. But you’re wrong. This book may look like a small fist, but it will knock the breath out of you.

If you are like me, you probably don’t think you have time to read another book. But you’re wrong. It is a 50-day devotional. The chapters are no more than 1 normal book page. You could read a chapter while brushing your teeth or while waiting for the microwave to warm your left over dinner. The only downside to this book is that it is a bit pricey. But no more expensive than the nice dinner that gave you left overs. Nothing to get angry about anyway.

I guarantee you that this book will help you walk more wisely. I have found it to be crippling and healing. It will bring peace to you and those around you. Above all, it will help you become more like our great God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The New Living Translation “The One Year Bible”

For 2017 I decided to read through the NLT using the One Year Bible plan. I have never actually read through the entire Bible systematically in one year. Still haven’t! I made it 75% of the way in 2017 but stopped the Old Testament reading due to my Ph.D. work. Jenny read through the same plan in the ESV. We loved reading it together. We loved how it stretched us and kept us on track. Reading two different translations was enjoyable and allowed us to compare and contrast at times.

After becoming a Christian, I received a NKJV Study Bible and devoured it. After that, I consumed the original NIV. Today, the two translations I use the most are the ESV and the NASB. The NLT Translation has its pros and cons. I found it helpful during Old Testament narratives and the Proverbs. There were numerous times that I saw the Scripture better because of it. It does have its shortcomings in the Epistles and other places, but not enough to stop reading it. I’m going to stick with the ESV for personal devotions in the future, but I will keep the NLT handy for when I need a fresh translation to jumpstart my mind or heart.

Spencer:

The Warmth of Other Suns – Isabelle Wilkerson

My wife and I care how the gospel impacts racial reconciliation. We aren’t experts. We have a lot to learn. That led us last year to try to expose ourselves to literature, articles, and conversations that would aid us in getting small tastes of the complexities of the issues. The Warmth of Other Suns significantly impacted the way I now see racial issues in our country and the church.

Neither a political proposition nor a reaction to recent events, the power of this book resides in its narrative power. It traces the story of three African American “immigrants” who journey from the the southern lands of their parents or grandparents to start a new life in parts of the country promising greater freedom.

I’m convinced the best path toward racial reconciliation is for majority culture Christians to listen long to the voice of minorities around them. This book is a good doorway into those conversations. You won’t be the same.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

It’s been 18 months now since I became a bi-vocational pastor. I have learned that one of the main challenges of this type of ministry is not necessarily finding time for everything on my calendar, but being fully present for everything on my calendar. Deep Work by Cal Newport offers a vision for work and life the emphasizes depth in the areas most important to you to create real value in your area of influence.

I don’t know if Cal Newport is a Christian. But the thought that kept striking me was: if a non-Christian has this much zeal to use his time strategically to make a lasting impact in the world, how much more zeal should mark Christians?

I’m still working to implement some of his strategies (he recommends you quit social media!), but I think about this book almost every day after reading it. If you are in a job or ministry in which you are required to do most of your work through thinking and creating, you should read this book.

Delighting in the Trinity – Michael Reeves

There are very few books that I would give to non-Christians, new Christians, growing Christians, and mature Christians. This book is one of them. What makes Reeves’ book captivating (it’s rare to have a theology book that you consider a page turner!) is that the truths he writes about are truths that he obviously believes are beautiful and good. That’s why I would give this book to a non-Christian – I want them to be introduced to Jesus by someone who actually enjoys Jesus.

I needed this book this year. It reminded me of the beauty of the Triune God, and why his love for himself is good news for me and everyone else. If that statement intrigues you (God loves himself? That sounds strange…), and you wonder how that could be good news – and perhaps even news that changes your life – then pick up this book.

Less Impressed, More Influenced: Honoring My Mentor

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I’m not original. Neither are you. Whether we like it or not, who we are is largely shaped by who we admire. We reverberate the voices we value most, a collage of influences that have shaped us over time.

This isn’t new. The Bible recognizes the power of others: wear the wisdom of parents like a necklace, says Solomon (Proverbs 1:8-9), and the surest way to victory is to surround yourself with counselors (Proverbs 15:22).

These truths bloomed for me in college and coalesced with the arrival of a person who shapes the way I live in almost every facet of my life today.

The “new guy in Student Life” attended a welcome back dinner for my college. I was 19, a sophomore, and in a small leadership position.  I don’t remember much about that first interaction, or about his first year at my school for that matter, except for two things of unequal importance: (1) things began to change at my school, and (2) he had a very redundant name – “Who names their kid Gunner Gundersen?!”

My knowledge of the new guy matured as our lives overlapped at the school.  He preached more, led more, and attended more events. Each time I sat under his influence, even at a distance, it shaped me. This regular impact from a distance led me to amble into his office one day and ask, “Can we spend regular time together?” That was almost seven years ago.

I can’t tell you how he invested in me. There was no organized program. We engaged in a intentional and providential immersion into each others lives. Eating, counseling, working, camping, teaching, worshipping, traveling, writing, walking, correcting.

The only pattern I’ve identified in Gunner’s investment was that it matured as I matured, and grew as I grew. It changed with me. There were three movements in his investment:

The Leader and Teacher

Gunner spent most of his time leading and teaching me at the beginning. He was either cleaning up my messes, or correcting my work. Then he would teach me how he took out my trash, let me ask questions, give me another shot, and made more corrections.  

During an opportunity to preach to a group of fellow students, Gunner looked at my preaching notes before my sermon and sent me detailed (painfully detailed!) feedback on my sermon manuscript. Then after the sermon he sent me a long email with encouragements and areas of growth.  

There are probably 100 other stories I could tell you about my mistakes, his corrections, and my consequent growth. His investment during this season was marked by quantity time, energy, and conversations.

The Mentor and Counselor

Don’t get the wrong picture. Gunner was not a pontificating sage while I silently took notes. To know Gunner is to be listened to – which gave this second movement of investment so much power.  

I remember very little of the millions of words Gunner spoke into my life. But one thing I remember very clearly: he always asked me questions.  As our relationship matured, I found the dynamic changing. Most of his investment started with one solitary question: “How do you think that went?”  

That question was a portal into worlds of wisdom. I took that girl (who is now my wife) to coffee – ”how did that go?” I went home for a weekend to see family – ”how did that go?” I was studying a topic for class – ”how is that going?” It wasn’t overly formal, and the conversations were often ad hoc things, happening in small crevices in our daily lives. Yet Gunner himself was always intentional, always listening, postured toward pursuit.

The Brother and Friend

One night I found Gunner sitting alone on campus. I joined him, and soon Gunner began describing how he was tired and discouraged. It wasn’t a “teachable moment” of strategized vulnerability. It wasn’t a testimony. It was confession. He shared a burden with me – from one friend to another. This was the last, and current, state of Gunner’s investment in me.

Conversations weren’t marked by him instructing me. He simply partnered with me in whatever thing we were doing. We talked about our families, our marriages, theology, parenting, and goals for the future. We shared burdens and received help. We shared ideas and sharpened each other. We laughed a lot and enjoyed our time.

Less Impressed, More Influenced

Over a year ago my Dad died suddenly. Gunner was the first person I called. And that call initiated a wave of care that could only be given by a brother. He mowed my grass, called and listened, and even drove 130 miles to sit with me for 20 minutes. He preached at my church while I was gone. It was an incredible moment of care.

About a year later Gunner – my teacher, mentor, and friend – moved to Texas to pastor a church. A few months before he left, we had lunch and reflected on our friendship. Gunner said to me, “You know, I would say that after all these years you are probably far less impressed by me than you once were, but also far more influenced.”  

He’s right. Actually, I’m far more influenced because I am less impressed by him. Gunner is a real person with real weaknesses and sin, and he invited me in to watch him in his gifts and deficiencies; joys and sorrows; victories and defeats; maturities and quirks. 

I’m not writing this to give you a list of practical ways you can invest like Gunner. This isn’t that type of article. It’s a public monument to one of the most impactful relationships I have. This is a monument to a leader, teacher, and brother who loved through intentional pursuit.  

Gunner once told me: “Most people won’t remember what you invested, but that you invested” This article is a tribute to that principle. Very few have shaped me like Gunner. But the curriculum of his investment wasn’t books and lectures. It was a persistent pressing into my life over time that left an indelible imprint.

That imprint, though embossed through Gunner, doesn’t look like him. It looks like Christ. That’s because his investment was translucent, allowing me to be less impressed with him so I could see through him to that truer Teacher, Mentor, and Friend – Jesus Christ.

For the sake of Christ, let us be less impressive and more influential.  



Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of 
Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement(P&R, 2017).

Controversy Among Christians

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by Sean Perron

I’m finally reading through the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. This book is a response to “evangelical feminism” and it is now in its third edition. It is one of those books that I bought years ago. You know, one of those books that you mentally reference, look at on the shelf, admire, want to read… but alas.

I have been convinced for many years with the basic premise and thesis of the book, but now am greatly benefitting from reading through it. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the book is how the authors handle controversy among Christians.

There is no doubt that feminism, headship, submission, etc. are hot topics. Yet these scholars are winsome, kind, and convictional. Below is a section from the concluding chapter that I resonate with regarding how to think about unity vs. controversy. Perhaps you will also find it helpful when it comes to processing controversial issues among believers.

“Yet one of the groanings of this fallen age is controversy, and most painful of all, controversy with brothers and sisters in Christ. We resonate with the Apostle Paul – our joy would be full if we could all be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2:2).

But for all his love of harmony and unity and peace, it is remarkable how many of Paul’s letters were written to correct fellow Christians.… The assumption of the entire New Testament is that we should strive for peace by striving to come to agreement in the truth. Peace and unity in the body of Christ are exceedingly precious… “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable” (James 3:17). But it is first pure. Peace is not a first thing. It is derivative. It comes from hearty agreement in truth….

For the sake of unity and peace, therefore, Paul labors to set the churches straight on numerous issues – including quite a few that do not in themselves involve heresy. He does not exclude controversy from his pastoral writing. And he does not limit his engagement in controversy to first-order doctrines, where heresy threatens. He is like a parent to his churches. Parents do not correct and discipline their children only for felonies. They long for their children to grow up into all the kindness and courtesy of mature adulthood. And since the fabric of truth is seamless, Paul knows that letting minor strands go on unraveling can eventually rend the whole garment….

The point is this: We do not love controversy; we love peace. We love our brothers and sisters who belong to Christians for Biblical Equality. We long for a common mind for the cause of Christ. But we are bound by our conscience and by the Word of God, for this very cause, to try to persuade the church that the vision of manhood and womanhood presented in this book is true and beautiful. It is a precious gift of God to the church and to the world.” (404-406, second edition)

 

Counseling Q&A

2017 ACBC Truth In Love Live from ACBC on Vimeo.

 

During the recent ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors) Annual Conference, I interviewed Dr. Heath Lambert about biblical counseling. Questions were submitted from all over the world. You can watch the interview or listen to it through the Truth in Love Podcast.

Below is a list of the questions asked during the interview:

6:55 “If the Bible is sufficient, then why do we have a bookstore at our conference?”

8:50: “Are there any benefits in psychology that we can use to help the heart restoration of our broken counselees?”

13:26: “In light of recent events, how is you talking about the differences between biblical counseling and integration not speaking the truth in love?”

19:28: “Seven years ago I was having what seemed like focal seizures. I was tested by two neurologists and was told there was nothing wrong with me. I sought counseling from a NANC counselor who recommended more Bible study and that I should search to relieve these symptoms. My seizure activity continued and with the improvement of technology and an impatient week at Dartmouth-Hitchcock hospital, it was found that I’ve had a brain tumor and a frontal lobe epilepsy deep in my brain. The scans confirmed and clearly showed the medical evidence. Here is my question or concern with your ministry: for seven years I was told that I did not need medication, but that this was a spiritual issue. How can you really know if something is medical or not? My experience has left me with bitterness for NANC counseling when it comes to what are perceived as “mental issues.” Please provide input as our church is considering being a part of your ministry and I have some deep concerns. I do appreciate your counseling ministry and have seen wise and fruitful results for many.”

26:24: “Where is the best place to start with a new church that is trying to start biblical counseling within their church?” And we had another question that’s similar: “How do you introduce biblical counseling to a church?”

29:36: “Do you feel that promoting certification creates an unnecessary bar for people who want to help other people by making them feel like they are not competent to counsel unless they have received extensive training?”

36:14: “What are some, if any, differences between ACBC and CCEF?”

38:39: “What is the role of women in biblical counseling?”

44:56: “Do you think there is a time for separation in marriage other than when there is imminent danger (i.e. emotional abuse, sexual addiction, etc.) and what would be your biblical defense for your position? If your answer is no, how would you suggest a woman can be best shepherded when extreme cases arise and there is much to sort out but there is not physical violence?”

51:02: Why would ACBC or the Bible not be supportive of trying to go and dig up suppressed memories? And if the person can’t remember abuse, they need to try to figure out how can they be healed.”

53:46: “How can we discern whether someone suffering from a transgender identity (gender dysphoria) is struggling with mental illness, a physical disorder between the brain and the body present since birth, or a spiritual identity issue? These seem like real possibilities to me.”

59:15: “What is the theme of next year’s conference?”

When someone asks you for relationship advice

If someone asks for dating advice, where do you begin?
There are only three categories of dating problems.
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This is the fifth unspokenblog podcast. Other episodes include Intro to the Bible, Dating, and Courtship and Early Marriage: Are You Ready?