Brad Ruggles

The Art Of Living

Sex Can Wait. So Can Marriage

I recently read about the growing trend in evangelical circles of couples getting married younger. When facing the possibility of the dreaded “sex before marriage,” some pastors and churches are trying to cut their losses and nudge young adults toward the altar even as many of their peers and parents are holding them back.

When Margie and Stephen Zumbrun were battling the urge to have premarital sex, a pastor counseled them to control themselves. The couple signed a purity covenant. When the two got engaged and Margie went wedding dress shopping, a salesperson called her “the bride who looks like she’s 12.” Nonchurch friends said that, at 22, she was rushing things.

The most recent issue of Christianity Today ran the cover story The Case For Early Marriage that looked at the current trend in the church toward younger marriages.

Better To Marry Than Burn

skitched-091627I’m not debating the damaging effects premarital sex can have on a marriage. There’s no question that no matter how many chastity balls we throw or purity rings we hand out, we’re losing ground. Over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church- going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort.

Many christian leaders raise Paul’s argument that it’s “better to marry than to burn with lust.” (1 Cor. 7:9)

But at what point is marriage simply viewed as a ticket to guilt-free sex? What about the fact that marrying young is the single highest predictor of divorce?

I have my own opinions on this topic that are better shared over coffee than trying to condense into this post. I would however love to know your opinion.

What do you think?

Do you think pastors and Christian leaders are encouraging couples to get married too young? Or is young marriage the key to avoiding premarital sex?

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Sex, Lies and Photoshop

I’ve been working in Photoshop since version 3.0. Photoshop (and design in general) has come a long way. With each new version there are features available to help make my job easier and make the finished product look better. I love how far design has come.

But there is one part of my industry that I’m ashamed of. Photoshop retouch artists have redefined the standards of beauty, health and physical appearance through what has come to be known as the ‘Photoshop Effect.’

Just because we have the tools to completely change the look of a person’s body in Photoshop doesn’t mean we have the right to do that. Especially when what we’re altering distorts the image of what and what isn’t the definition of a perfect body. With so much falsehood in fashion advertising, just how much are we affecting the minds of the younger generation?

70 percent of girls report that images of models in magazines influence their definition of a perfect female body.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Most of you have seen the popular Dove Evolution commercial that shows in detail how easy it is to completely adjust an image to reflect something that isn’t even realistic.

Many celebrities have dedicated retouchers on commission and won’t let a single photo be released until it passes through them. For an interactive look at exactly what goes into a Photoshop magazine cover retouch.

We Live In A Virtual World

The plain and simple truth is that no one can live up to the images of beauty and physical appearance that we see in magazines these days. Research shows that these images negatively affect a girls self-image and yet magazines continue to push the boundaries of what they define as ‘beauty.’


These days, altered images are ubiquitous; the fairytale world threatens to engulf our own. The illusion is more complete, too — with digital technology it’s harder to see the smoothing. Stalin would have drooled at the possibilities.
More here on David Byrne’s Journal.

Beautifully Unrealistic

Here are some examples of popular celebrity photos before and after Photoshop retouching. Observe the completely flawless skin, the reduced waist line, enlarged bust, lack of eye lines, and perfect hair.





There are many people who are advocating a new standard for magazines that will require them to clearly list in the credits for a photograph that it was retouched. I don’t think that will help to rebuild the self-image of countless girls who are trying to measure up to these false standards but it’s a start.

Magazine-retouching may not be a lie on par with, you know, “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” but in a world where girls as young as eight are going on the South Beach Diet, teenagers are getting breast implants as graduation gifts, professional women are almost required to fetishize handbags, and everyone is spending way too much d*** time figuring out how to pose in a way that will look as good as that friend with the really popular MySpace profile, it’s f*****g wrong.

– Anna, Photoshop of Horrors

What do you think?

Should magazines be required to label which photographs have been retouched? Or is this issue blown out of proportion?…

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This Is How Bridges Are Built

I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz in the news about Obama’s controversial choice of inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. It has stirred up a lot of animosity on the part of gays and lesbians who, through the years, have felt hatred and rejection from the Church.

I recently read a column that singer/songwriter/gay-activist Melissa Etheridge wrote in a local newspaper about Rick Warren (ht: Bryan Allain). It offers an interesting perspective on the whole firestorm around this issue. Here is an excerpt from the column:

I hadn’t heard of Pastor Rick Warren before all of this. When I heard the news, in its neat little sound bite form that we are so accustomed to, it painted the picture for me. This Pastor Rick must surely be one hate spouting, money grabbing, bad hair televangelist like all the others. He probably has his own gay little secret bathroom stall somewhere, you know.

As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album I had one more stop last night. I received a call the day before to inform me of the keynote speaker that night… Pastor Rick Warren. I was stunned. My fight or flight instinct took over, should I cancel? Then a calm voice inside me said, “Are you really about peace or not?”

I told my manager to reach out to Pastor Warren and say “In the spirit of unity I would like to talk to him.” They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn’t sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher.

He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn’t want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest.

He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

When we met later that night, he entered the room with open arms and an open heart. We agreed to build bridges to the future.

I’m so glad to have leaders like Rick Warren in the church today who stand firm in their beliefs while responding in love to those who disagree. He sets a wonderful example for Christians today.

This is how bridges are built and the love of God is lived out.…

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Watch. Think. Discuss.

The latest Nooma Video, Tomato is premiering at Neue. It will be streaming in its entirety for the next 24 hours only. Head on over there, watch it, then come back here and discuss.

Do you ever find yourself telling a story in a certain way to make yourself look better?

We pick up at a very young age from the world around us that it’s about winning or impressing. We leark quite quickly that the way to get ahead is to take the path of ascent, to climb higher and higher.

We spend all this energy maintaining this false self, carefully protecting and preserving this image that we’ve created. Jesus invites that part of us to die. The part of us that always has to be right, always has to be better, always has to look good.

Think about how many broken relationships aren’t going to get any better until somebody is the first to apologize. Why is that so hard? Because when we say we’re sorry we admit that our hands aren’t clean, that we may have contributed to this mess – saying you’re sorry is a form of death. It’s a refusal to carry on the false self and prop it up, it’s a refusal to maintain that perfect image of yourself.

Jesus invites us to lose our life so that we can really find it.

I don’t know about you but the message of this video hit me between the eyes.…

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History In The Making

thumbLast night was a historic night.

Regardless of who you voted for you can’t help but appreciate the significance of the events that unfolded.

There were people who voted yesterday who have lived long enough to remember when women and blacks were both denied the right to have a voice in the electoral process. 40 years ago there were still schools that wouldn’t accept African American students. Within one generation our country has come out of the civil rights movement of the 60s to see our first African American President Elect. History was made last night.

You can also say what you want about John McCain but he gave one hell of a concession speech last night (transcript). I only wish his supporters in the crowd at the Biltmore in Arizona shared his gracious attitude and maturity.

Here is one of my favorite excerpts from his speech.

McCain-085218In a contest as long and difficult as this campaign has been, his success alone commands my respect for his ability and perseverance. But that he managed to do so by inspiring the hopes of so many millions of Americans who had once wrongly believed that they had little at stake or little influence in the election of an American president is something I deeply admire and commend him for achieving.

Regardless of where your political affiliations lie there are some very important leadership lessons to be learned from this election. Obama’s brilliant speech last night was the culmination of probably one of the best political campaigns ever.

One of the things that stood out to me the most was Obama’s ability to inspire such a response in his followers. Was it his charismatic personality or his well-laid campaign strategies? Those elements certainly come into play but I don’t think that’s completely it.

Even if you don’t agree with Obama’s policies or political views you can’t help but admire his ability to rally followers to his cause. To borrow Seth Godin’s marketing concept, he built a very strong and loyal tribe.

What drew millions of Americans in was his ability to tell a better story. A story of change.

But most importantly, it wasn’t a story about Barak Obama. It was a story about you and me. A story about how together we can bring change. Yes we can.

The very essence of leadership can be summed up in this quote from Obama’s web site:


You see, a leader doesn’t stand up and say, “I’m going to do something amazing. Come follow me!”.

They say, “Let’s do something extraordinary together.” And that’s something every leader needs to remember.

By this point you may have drawn your own conclusions about who I voted for.

Incidentally, I voted for the other guy.

But you’re not going to hear me whine and complain about how terrible the next four years will be. I refuse to live out of the fear of what could be and choose to remember where my trust really lies. I will also choose to surround President Elect Obama and his cabinet with the same prayer that I would have given to John McCain if he had won.

Here’s something to think about for those who voted for the “other guy.”

What if it’s not really as bad as you think?
What if, instead of our nation falling apart like some of you think, it actually does ok during the next 4 years?
What if Obama becomes one of our best Presidents yet?

Can you be ok with that?

I’ll leave you with this extraordinary quote:

Confirm it in your heart and soul that the day after the election, God is still on His throne, and Jesus is still at His right hand. Certain things are not on the ballot, and the sovereignty of God is not.

When Christians react to elections with despair and panic, they are demonstrating that their faith is in the wrong place. If the election goes badly, do not soak your hair with lighter fluid, set it off, and then run in tight, little circles. Be a Christian. If the election goes well, do not act like you have just been saved. Salvation is not something that Caesar holds in his hand, whether to give or withhold.

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Pay Attention To The Rule-Breakers


photo by Scott Fillmer

Many of the people in my group said the most impactful session at Catalyst for them was the one by Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church. Regardless of what you may think about Steven’s leadership style or church philosophy, there’s no denying that God’s hand is on him in a powerful way.

In the very last session Andy Stanley shared some thoughts on a handful of quotes that have helped shape his ministry. One of those quotes was from Joel Barker from his book Future Edge,

“What do I believe is impossible to do in my field, but if it could be done would fundamentally change my business?”

There are paradigm shifts taking place every day as companies, organizations, and churches are having to re-adjust their definition for what is and isn’t possible. Just because we think something is impossible or highly unlikely doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible. It could just mean that we haven’t discovered the way to get around that obstacle.

Andy’s takeaway from that quote was this:

Pay attention to people who are breaking the rules!

I think of people like Steven Furtick when I hear quotes like that. I just recently read about the Dream Sex series that Elevation is doing. They’re not only encouraging healthy relationships from the stage on Sunday, they’re actually providing an opportunity to kick-start it by giving out $30 gift-cards to local restaurants and 3 hours of childcare!

There is a new generation of churches and church leaders that are fundamentally redefining how church is done and people are reached.

Allow Room for Changing Paradigms

onlinechurch-124125We’re used to the idea of an Internet Campus like LifeChurch and Seacoast are doing but it was only within the last 5 years that those models were pioneered. What new ideas and tools will be available to us in 5 years that haven’t even been thought of yet?

Let’s take that question off the whiteboard and bring it home.
Perhaps you’ve had to adjust your ministry model to incorporate social media. Maybe you’re figuring out ways to utilize current technology tools like text messaging to make your service interactive (check out Jarbyco). Or maybe you’re letting God stretch you in the area of music or methods.

What are the paradigm shifts you’re dealing with in your ministry or organization right now?…

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There’s A Monster At The End of This Post


monster-at-the-end-of-this-book-074256One of my favorite Little Golden Books as a kid was The Monster at the End of this Book. It was a great moment when we received this book as a gift and I was able to read it to my kids.

I got hours of enjoyment sitting down with Emily and pleading with her in my best Grover voice,


She would of course. With each new page turned poor Grover would beg and plead to stop turning pages for fear of finding the monster at the end of the book.

Until we turned the last page and found that the monster at the end of the book? Yup, turns out it was lovable, furry old Grover the whole time.

Anger & Disappointment

This past week the church world was rocked with another disappointment. I don’t need to add any additional commentary to what has already been said by other bloggers I respect. I want to talk instead about how we as Christians are supposed to react to this kind of news. Because if the scandals of the last 24 months serve as an indication of future failures, we have many more of these stories yet to be uncovered.

I’ll be honest with you. My first reaction to these kind of stories is a mix of disappointment and anger. Disappointment, because yet another person I admired let me down. And anger, because I know that once again, the name of Christ will get drug through the mud because of another person who thought they could live a double-life and get away with it.

Looking For Monsters

Why do we find it so easy to point our fingers at the “monsters” we see in the church today? Sure we’re upset about it but can we so arrogantly cast blame when it could have just as easily been you or me?

Far too often I’m so busy trying to remove the splinter from my neighbor’s eye that I’m tripping over the plank in my own.

Don’t get me wrong – I am in no way excusing deceit and hypocrisy in the church. What Michael did was wrong. Nor am I condoning sweeping stories like this under the rug. However, let’s remember that we’re really not that different.

The moment that we begin to think of ourselves as immune to these kind of shortcomings it the moment we’re most in danger of falling. As Paul warned, If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Like Grover, we may find that if we keep turning the pages, WE are in fact the monster at the end of the story. We’re all capable of lust, greed, hypocrisy and deception in the worst way.

There, but for the grace of God, go I.…

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