Monday, September 29, 2008

Marriage, or "Convenient" Arrangement?

I was driving home last night from a church function, and was listening to the Allen Hunt Show on the radio. Allen's producer read a story recently that custom home builders receive many requests from married couples to put two master bedrooms in the home. Apparently, there is a trend today for married couples to sleep in separate beds.

Anyway, I find this story fascinating - and, I gotta admit - tragic. This is not about a spouse snoring, being sick, or tossing and turning. These are married couples who "co-exist" in the same household with their children, and are making the choice to sleep in separate rooms.

One lady called in and said that she didn't necessarily see the big deal. After all, she commented, she and her husband had no passion in their marriage, and the intimacy they experienced earlier in their relationship was extinguished. As discouraging as this sounded, what alarmed me most was how long they had been married. You would have thought they had been married for 15-20 years. But, no! They have only been married for six years!

I cannot imagine having an empty marriage - one without excitement, joy, friendship, and intimacy. But, the longer I live, the more certain I am that the great marriage relationship Amy and I share is the exception - not the rule.

The woman I mentioned a moment ago stated that she typically reads for a little while, then goes to bed early - around 9:30 p.m. Her husband, on the other hand, stays up watching sports and late night talk shows, and comes to bed around midnight. So, her argument is, "Why would having a separate bedroom be any different?"

And, if this is your marriage arrangement, then maybe there's not much of a difference. But, I would implore you to begin thinking about your spouse and not yourself, and try to begin seeing things through their eyes.

Amy and I agreed years ago to try and go to bed at the same time - together - every night. It doesn't always happen that way, but 95 per cent of the time it does. And, that's a big deal. It demonstrates a mutual love and respect, and it lets your spouse know that you actually want to be with them!

In the end, how convenient is a loveless and lifeless marriage? Even with a fancy separate master bedroom, the perks of vast personal space cannot possibly make up for the fulfillment you get from making your spouse a priority!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Escape Predictability and Embrace the Adventure

I just started reading a new book by Mark Batterson called Wild Goose Chase. I can already tell that it's one of those books that will be on my "must read" list that I share with others.

On page two, Batterson goes ahead and hits you over the head with a mallet with some words that may hurt your feelings. Here's what he says:

Intellectual analysis usually results in spiritual paralysis.

Ponder that for a moment. It may sting a little, but it'll wear off...eventually. Actually, I hope the sting sticks around to remind us of this deep truth.

Some of the most exasperating people are those who fit the mold of Batterson's words. They would prefer to debate than to take action. They are those who want to make sure they are absolutely certain they are correct before getting off their collective duffs.

Now, I am not advocating carelessness. In fact, I would say I am one of the most cautious people I know. But, you can be cautious and still move forward. You can tip-toe through wisdom rather than plunging into recklessness.

I believe God does expect us to wrestle with deep spiritual truths, and he wants us to meditate on scripture. And, he certainly hopes that we consult others when struggling to make important and difficult decisions.

But, at some point, the rhetoric has got to stop, the questions have to be silenced, and we have to free fall (metaphorically speaking) into God's arms, being certain that He will not only catch us, but that He will equip us for the journey. And, at the end of the day, He gives us an incredible story to share with others about His faithfulness.

It all starts with (as Batterson says) stepping out of the cage of comfortable Christianity. It means that you do more than think about things and talk about things. It means you do something.

It means, in many ways, that we go on a "wild goose chase" of sorts. It entails trading our boring, mundane lives for an exhilirating adventure in which we have no idea what's in store for us.

So, are you paralyzed by fear? Do you spend too much time thinking and questioning, and not nearly enough time doing? If so, I encourage you to pick up Batterson's book and begin to seek out the adventure God has prepared for you!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sad But True

I went for a long walk Saturday morning. Man, the weather was just perfect. About 65 degrees with a slight breeze. Birds chirping, lawnmower engines revving up, sprinklers showering newly seeded soil. Welcome autumn.

So, anyway, when I go walking, I always take my iPod. I mean, I love the sounds of nature and landscaping, but I gotta have a little sumthin'-sumthin' to keep my legs moving and keep the adrenaline pumping.

On this occasion, I sauntered to the soothing tunes of Metallica (the Black Album from 1992). This is arguably their best album of all-time. Lots of great hard rock tunes filled with cynicism and angst. But not only that, there is actually truth in many of the lyrics that accompany these heavy riffs.

Perhaps the most gripping lyrics are those to a little ditty called Sad But True. The song is written from Satan's perspective. Read these words, and you'll see exactly how "on the money" these sentiments are when viewed through the enemy's eyes:

You, You're my mask
Youre my cover, my shelter
You, You're my mask
Youre the one whos blamed
Do, Do my work
Do my dirty work, scapegoat
Do, Do my deeds
For youre the one whos shamed
(view all the lyrics here)

Is this the kind of tune I want my 8 and 4 year old boys listening to? Well, no - not exactly. But, the underlying truth - a hard truth - is this is exactly who Satan is. He's behind the scenes, yet we are the ones who wear the mask, we're the ones who are made to suffer needlessly when we make poor choices.

The fact is that we are all mirrors. We can either reflect the glory of our Creator, or we can wear the mask of the enemy and get caught up in the current of what the world values as important.

Let those lyrics sink in. Stew on them. Ponder those deep truths.

Then fight tooth and nail to avoid falling into the enemy's traps. Refuse to believe his lies. Because Satan's fate has already been determined. His reputation and future are not on the line. It's yours. And often times it's those who mean the most to you who suffer.

Sad but true.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Parking Perks for Pastors? Preposterous!

I tend to be pretty easy-going. I don't get too riled up very often (only when the Georgia Bulldogs football team enters the season #1, wins three straight games, and drops two spots in the polls).

But occasionally, I'll come across something that flies all over me. For example, when I come across an inconsistent message, or someone or something sending mixed signals about who they are or what they are about.

I refuse to name names here, but I went to a church earlier this week that I had never been to before. I had heard about it, and had seen the billboards, but really knew nothing more. And, I learned all I needed to know when I pulled into the parking lot.

Smack dab in front of the main (and only) entrance to the church was a parking spot labeled "pastors." So, being a pastor, I parked there - even though I knew the spot was "reserved" for the lead pastor of the church.

I immediately thought to myself, "If I was starting a church, and I wanted to completely alienate my congregation, and send them the message that the pastor is the VIP, I would put a Pastor Parking sign in the spot absolutely closest to the entrance."

Talk about mixed signals. As the leader of a church, a pastor should demonstrate humility through serving others and setting an example by placing others' interests before his own. By putting something as trivial as a reserved parking spot for pastors - literally front and center - the leaders of that congregation immediately have a "sacred cow" and an obstacle to reaching lost people.

You may be thinking, "Well, it's just a parking spot. The church just wants to honor its leader. No big deal." The problem is not the parking space itself. It's what people see and perceive. And, Jesus warned against this repeatedly when he met with the spiritual leaders of his time on earth:

"You're hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You love sitting at the head table at church dinners, love preening yourselves in the radiance of public flattery. Frauds! You're just like unmarked graves: People walk over that nice, grassy surface, never suspecting the rot and corruption that is six feet under." Luke 11:43-44 (Message)

Are pastors with privileged parking frauds? Most of them probably are not. Nonetheless, the shepherd should be most concerned with the health of his flock. And their collective health can be compromised over something as silly and insignificant as a parking spot.

In the end, what good can come of it? Can more harm come from having a reserved parking spot, or not having one?

And, lest you think I am just ripping churches, I feel the very same way about privileged parking for corporate big wigs, or even Employees of the Month. Customers (and the "little people" in those companies) see these signs and immediately feel ambivalent - perhaps a loyalty or a respect for the organization or employer, but disdain for the privileged few.

Again, it's sending mixed signals. The church or corporation says, "You are the most important person to us...except when it comes to getting the best parking spots."

Ultimately, it's a heart issue. And, I am by no means perfect. Believe me, I want that primo parking spot at the mall or ball game, too. But, sometimes I'll catch myself being a little too selfish, and I'll choose to park further away, so someone else can be closer.

And, quite honestly, the feeling of giving up something for someone else is far greater than the temporary satisfaction of saving myself a few steps on my way in.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Today's Yutes

Around 6 p.m. Sunday evening I decided to take Chaz to the ball field to practice hitting and pitching. He moves up to "kid pitch" next season, and he'll be playing with 9-10 year olds.

So, as we're walking to the field, I can see and hear four kids playing on the field next to ours. It's certainly not unusual to see kids playing on vacant fields. In fact, it's a great thing to be able to do that as a kid!

But, what I heard out of these kids' mouths aggravated me. They probably ranged in age from 10-13, and all they did was argue with each other and put one another down. Further, the comments were not along the lines of "you stink." These were far worse cut-downs with language that would make a sailor blush.

I attempted to tune it out for a while, but it become too much. I finally walked over to the field and asked where their parents were. I immediately felt eight eyes shoot daggers at me, as the collective response was, "Why?"

I asked these kids if their parents would appreciate the language they were using, and if they'd like the way they spoke to one another. I asked them to stop using foul language, but you would have thought I asked them something completely insulting by their replies. They said things like, "I can do and say whatever I want to" and "I know someone who owns this park, and he lets me do what I want (it's a city park, so that was definitely not true)."

This went on for about a minute, when a gentleman playing tennis behind the field hopped the fence and ran over. He said, "I have little kids over here, and I am tired of hearing the cussing. It's gotta stop."

I then picked up a glove and bat and told the kids that they were either going to leave the park, or I was going to take the equipment over to my field until they decided to clean up their act.

The oldest kid said, "You can't make us leave." The other man (the one who hopped the fence) said, we may not be able to make you leave, but we'll take this equipment and toss it in the dumpster, and you won't be able to play."

At this point, I was just beside myself. Not really angry. More disappointed than anything else. I mean, when I was 10 or 12 years old, I would have absolutely loved to be able to play baseball on a REAL field any time I wanted to. And, I certainly would have respected any adults who talked to me. But, these kids didn't have respect for anything - for each other, for adults, or for the very park in which they were playing.

I came to find out that these kids are living a pretty rough life. Their family situations are not good at all. Their homes are infested with bugs. Sometimes they don't get enough to eat. One or two have fathers rumored to be in prison.

I told the kids before I left that I had no problem with them playing ball on the fields. In fact, I told them I was glad that they were out there having fun. But, I explained that they needed to show respect to others and watch their language.

I wonder if any of them will look back one day at their interaction with me and the tennis-playing fence-hopping guy. I hope they do, and I pray that for them it may have been the wake-up call they needed to turn their lives around.

Because at the end of the day, we're all responsible for our own actions and words, despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I hope those kids make something of their lives, and can remove the reputations they have already established for themselves as troublemakers.

As one person already told me today, "You can only earn so many chances for yourself; but, at some point, your chances run out when people are trying to do things for you."

I wish today's youth could somehow see how things like disrespect shape their character, and can cause irreparable harm to their futures.

Only time will tell.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

OK...I Surrender

So, a couple weeks ago I wrote a blog entry about the whole Facebook and MySpace deal, and how silly it all seemed. Well, much to my own chagrin, I have broken down and become a part of the Facebook generation.

Click HERE to view my profile

Within two minutes of joining, I had all kinds of messages from people "congratulating" me and welcoming me on board. It was strangely invigorating. I mean, everyone likes getting attention, so when you get messages and wall posts from people, it makes you feel good.

And, you can connect with people you haven't seen in 15 years (or longer). And, if there are people you don't want to see or hear from again, you don't have to add them as friends. The choice is up to you.

You can jazz up your profile as much as you want. Join groups. Add photos. Post messages. Create "flair." It's wild.

But, as opposed to it as I was initially, the benefits far outweigh any negatives. Really, the only negative is that you can spend hours on the darn thing, and it'll seem like just a couple minutes. It can seriously curb your productivity if you are not careful.

So, all you Facebook people out there, go "wall to wall" with me. Send me some smack talk about your college team. Throw some flair my way.

Cuz I'm in, baby!

Monday, September 8, 2008

You, Too!!

Have you ever responded to someone's question or comment with an response so asinine that you looked and felt like a complete dork? Of course you have (I feel better already)!

Before I defame myself yet again, I gotta tell you about my favorite comedian. His name is Brian Regan, and he is absolutely the funniest dude I have ever seen perform live. Tim Hawkins is a close second, but Brian Regan takes the cake with his facial contortions and over the top goofy mannerisms.

Anyway, Regan does this entire bit on making completely idiotic responses when engaged in everyday conversations.

For example, when people say, "You, too!" at the wrong time. Regan tells of a time when he took a cab ride to the airport. As he was exiting the taxi, the driver said, "Have a nice flight."

Regan's response: "You, too!" He goes on to say how foolish he felt as he stood at the curb with his hand waving back at the cabbie. "You, too! You have a nice flight too! If you ever fly someday!"

He also talks about standing in the line for popcorn at the movie theater. The person behind the counter hands him his bucket of popcorn and exclaims, "Enjoy the movie!"

Regan's reply: "You, too!"

Well, you get the point.

There are many times when we just say ridiculous things to people - usually thoughtlessly and unintentionally.

So, back to my moment of sheer genius. It was after church a couple weeks ago. I was heading into our office building to put away a couple of items, and someone approached me with a question.

"Excuse me, C.A.? I was you know if our church (NorthStar) offers any type of ministry for deaf people?"

My complete bone-head response: "Not that I have heard."

OK, it is pretty funny, I have to admit. But, as soon as I uttered those words, I realized how terrible of a response that really was. I uttered an awkward little chuckle, and apologized for my insensitive response. But, it was too late. The damage was done - mostly to myself.

There are countless other times when I have tripped over my own tongue. Things I have said, words I have typed that marred my reputation for a lifetime. Things that are hilarious to look back on, but things I would change if I could do them over again.

I'd love to hear from you!

What's YOUR best, "You, too!" moment?

P.S. - You can catch a clip of Brian Regan's comedy bit HERE. This particular clip is about 15 years old (you can tell by the mullet). And, he has a couple hilarious DVD specials you should check out! (he's a clean comic, FYI. No foul language)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sneezes of the Heart

I was at a wedding rehearsal dinner recently, when I heard someone in the room sneeze. Besides wondering if she covered her mouth in time, I had another thought in the wake of her air expulsion. It hit me that it could really benefit us if our hearts had a sneezing mechanism or reflex. Let me explain (you’ve already read this far, so why not)?

There are a couple different reasons that we sneeze. The first – and most obvious – is that our bodies need to eliminate undesired pollutants from our lungs or airway. When our nasal cavity (or, if you want to be technical – the mucous membranes in our nose) becomes irritated, our body reacts by sending a message to our brain telling it that we need to sneeze in order to release air and bioparticles that contain the cause of the irritation.

Essentially, our bodies know when foreign substances have invaded, and it protects itself by eliminating these unwanted particles. In short, the body knows when something doesn’t belong or isn’t good for us, and it does it’s very best to get rid of it.

That’s why it would benefit us to have a similar defense mechanism for our hearts. No, not the aorta, the ventricles, or the septum (no, I am not a doctor, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night). Instead, when unnecessary pollutants enter our hearts, we’d be well-served to kick those suckers out. Things like envy, pride, lust, insensitivity, depression, low self esteem, duplicity, and selfishness can lead to heart failure much more quickly than smoking, lack of exercise, and poor eating habits could ever hope to.

The second kind of sneeze is called a photic sneeze reflex. The primary cause of these sneezes is sensitivity to light. And, more often, it is what results from exposure to direct sunlight. Basically, many of us automatically sneeze when we look directly into the sun.

With respect to our hearts, this is also a common response when we come into direct contact with the powerful light of the Son. Whether we are seeking Jesus Christ, or whether he confronts us, there are times when our hearts are so touched by his love and mercy that we immediately humble ourselves, and our weaknesses are immediately overpowered by his strength.

In the end, there’s another word for a “heart sneeze.” It’s called repentance. Repentance (the word) has gotten a bad rap over the decades. It’s almost always associated with bullhorn guys and street preachers who utter the “R” word as they condemn passersby with messages of hellfire and brimstone.

But repentance is actually a beautiful thing. Repentance is defined by as “deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin, wrongdoing, or the like.” When we repent, we are turning away from those things that separate us from God – and His best for our lives.

All too often, we are aware of the pollutants, the irritants – the JUNK – that weighs our hearts down and holds us hostage, but we refuse to admit our weaknesses to ourselves, to others, and even to God. But, we have a choice. We can repent – offer up a hefty heart sneeze – and turn away from the past, and instead begin to look to God to guide us.

Maybe it’s been a while since you sat and had a heart-to-heart with the One who eagerly awaits the opportunity to speak with you again. All it takes is humility and honesty – with God, and with yourself – to become reacquainted with His undying love for you.

And, this time, when your heart sneezes, God will Bless You! You can count on it!