Singles seeking love encouraged to take it slow, trust in God
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (BP)--Eager Christian singles looking to fall in love and find "the one" should slow down on their race to the alter and keep a firm grip on their Bibles.
Such counsel was heard throughout the Labor Day weekend during a singles conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C., including workshops focused on staying sexually pure until marriage, how to be cautious with Internet dating and, above all, keeping God in the forefront of all their relationships.
Two of the workshops were titled, "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo: An Honest Look at Long Distance and Internet Dating" and "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree: What the Andrew Sisters Really Meant!"
While some singles have found romance in the church pew, at the office or with the neighbor next door, Roger Acton addressed those who have given up and turned to online dating.
Acton, associate director of Adult Ministry Group at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, suggested that people traveling through cyberspace consider easing up on the send button.
"I can't say that God can't use [online dating], but you have to be careful," Acton said. "If you are going to go down this path, you need to be tight with God because He is going to give you the smarts on whether or not this is something you need to continue with."
During the session, Acton showed a clip from the movie, "You've Got Mail," in which characters played by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet online, break off their current relationships and fall in love.
Acton told the group not to expect life to imitate art.
"Don't ruin your current relationship with an online flirtation," Acton said. "You need to realize that Tom Hanks or Meg Ryan are not going to be at the other end of that e-mail. You have to be careful."
Even those taking precautions could get manipulated into beginning a relationship with someone who is not who they say they are. Acton stressed that online and long-distance relationships often lack the chemistry, the power of facial expressions and touch that come with being together.
Communication, prayer and a strong relationship with Jesus Christ are keys to building lasting relationships, Acton said.
"You must be able to communicate and communicate," he said. "You have to be growing spiritually before you can grow in your relationship with someone else."
Acton counseled singles who go into online dating to have a game plan. They need to decide up front how much of a risk they are willing to take, he said, noting that rejection and heartbreak come with the territory.
"The person on the other end of that e-mail could be flirting with 20 other people online," he said. "You have to be tough because you're going to get rejected online, that's just part of it."
One woman in the workshop shared during a group discussion about a past relationship she had started online. The man she began e-mailing and dating had grown up in her hometown. At first, the relationship seemed like a perfect match.
"I thought he was my soul mate, and he told me I was his," she said. "And then it all turned out to be lies. He wasn't who I thought he was."
But, not all long-distance and online dating end in breakups, pain and rejection.
Denny Mack, a singles minister of West Acres Baptist Church in Evans, Ga., shared how he met his wife, Vickie. The couple met on a blind date just before he left Georgia to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
"It wasn't easy, it wasn't easy at all," Mack recounted. "We committed our relationship to Christ and it started to grow. God had a plan -- he had a reason."
Mack recalled the tough times when he went out with friends or to church and wished that Vickie was with him. The good part, he said, was that the distance helped Mack avoid sexual temptation that had plagued his past relationships.
"I never desired to date someone that far away, but God knew what he was doing," Mack said. "And that is part of the reason we are where we are today."
Regardless of how a couple meets and begins a relationship, they must be equally yoked, said Ray Thomas, a single adult ministry consultant in LaGrange, Ga.
During his workshop, Thomas discussed the expectations people bring into relationships and gave advice on finding the right person and staying sexually pure.
Thomas emphasized the importance of making Christ the center of the relationship. He warned that a marriage without two people committed to God could be headed for disaster. That was one lesson he learned the hard way.
Thomas shared how he married a woman who was not a Christian and the marriage ended in divorce 22 years later. Now happily remarried to a Christian woman, he looks back on his first marriage as one of the worst decisions he ever made.
"If one of you isn't a Christian, you're going to set yourself up for a lot of problems," he said. "God doesn't want you to use dating as a witnessing tool. You have to be equally yoked."
Many singles get so caught up in expectations that they rush into a serious relationship before getting to know the other person, Thomas said, noting the importance of taking time to establish a godly friendship first.
"The Lord has to be in the relationship," he said. "It is so vital that we put God first in our life. Listen to God's voice. As you live your life, live it for God."
The Aug. 29-Sept.1 singles conference was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: TAKING NOTES, FOCUSED & LISTENING, INTENT ON INTEGRITY and FREE TIME.