Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Still a Skater at Heart

Well, I finally bought a skateboard, a belated birthday present from last October. This past Saturday, Crystal and I went to a nearby skate park so I could test out my new board in the rain. The tricks I used to do 15 years ago didn't come as easily, that's for sure. I think I'm going to need a lot of practice. Nevertheless, I feel like a kid again and realize just how much I miss skating! Skate or die dudes!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Singlehood in the Rear View: Chapter 5

The Newlywed Game
Several weeks ago, Crystal and I had the privilege of taking part in a marriage panel at a church youth group. We were among three couples, and happened to be the most recently married. One young couple had been wed six years, and the other "older" couple had been together for some thirty plus years. We were all seated in chairs on stage under bright lights, and a colorfully dressed and animated high school senior with large glasses entertained the crowd with dry wit and a peculiar english accent. He began by sending us men out of the room. While we were gone, he asked the girls questions such as "How does your man like his steak cooked?" and "If your husband was a sea creature, would he be a shark, a clown fish, or a turtle?" After about five minutes, I and the other two guys were called back into the now bated room. With each question, one of the three wives would flip over an 8"x11" card to reveal her answer. Crystal was indeed right in saying I preferred my steak medium well, but she considered me a turtle, while I thought myself a clown fish. I guess we hadn't ever talked about such things.

Well, now it was time for the women to leave the room. The questions for the men were a bit more challenging. I scribbled my best attempts. Before I knew it, the cheesy game show music resumed blaring, and three smiling ladies returned single file to the stage. The music stopped. The first question. "What would your wife say was the first gift she ever gave you?" Uh oh. At least, this time, the other two couples would have to answer first. I was pretty sure I knew this one. I pretended I was interested in what the other couples had to say. Moments later, the witty MC directed the question towards Crystal, "So Crystal, is the answer crystal clear or foggy as a swampland?" He was funny. Crystal looked at me with a smile and a hint of uncertainty. She paused. "A Starbucks gift card and some chocolate chip cookies." Well, I was close. The cookies had chocolate in them. I turned the card over. The audience responded with a pathetic "ouuuch." The couple who had been married thirty plus years had answered correctly. Something about a "hippo." The next question was even better. "My wife has more (blank) than anyone I know." I wrote patience. I knew this was probably not what she was thinking, but I figured a few points for sweetness wouldn't hurt anything. Crystal said clothes. I turned my card over. A unanimous "awwww" spread across the crowd. Sadly, in the end, we lost the game, and the older couple took first place. Oh well. It was still a lot of fun, and we were reminded that we still don't know everything about each other.

All Hormoned Up and No Where To Go
We've all met the guy who's convinced he's God's gift to women. You know, the guy with the smooth words whose radar is aimed right at the pretty girl with the brown hair sitting alone at the table in the corner. Well, maybe we don't know the guy personally, but we've at least seen him on TV or in the movies. He's got the romantic wit, the flowers, the gleam in his eye, but when it comes down to it, he doesn't have a clue of what to do with that pretty girl after he wakes up with her the next morning. As Christians, most of us aren't this shallow, and most of us live our lives on a higher moral plane. However, sometimes I wonder how many dating believers haven't thought past the wedding dress, the flowered altar, and the tropical get away. During the dating days, the focus can be lost in having fun, and during the engagement, so much time and effort can be spent on planning the wedding while little attention is given to the most significant detail, the marriage itself.

Putt-Putt And Ice Cream
How does one prepare for marriage? Is it even possible to be completely ready for something which is so unpredictable and life altering? Having only been married a bit under six months, I am no expert, but I will say this. First of all, pray often and ask for God's guidance. Second, as you date, ask each other questions. Tough questions. I'm amazed by the number of couples who have apparently climbed all the way to "I do" without ever addressing the most basic of marital topics. Am I saying that you skip the putt-putt, the movies, and the ice cream? Absolutely not! I believe it's critical that a couple can laugh and have fun together (you'll need that in your marriage). There's no reason to be serious all the time, and there's no reason to be serious at all if you're fresh into a dating relationship (or if you're in high school, for that matter). What I'm saying is this. If you're engaged or if you're in a relationship which appears to be progressing towards marriage, take the time to talk about uncomfortable issues. I don't necessarily mean politics or religion (although these can be important subjects to address while dating). Instead, talk about your expectations of that other person. Talk about what you think an ideal marriage would look like. Discuss how your relationship with your parents will change after the wedding day. Open up about your own fears, weaknesses, and failures. Why? The reason is this... if these concerns aren't brought up before you get married, they will inevitably come up after you are married, and at that point, it will be too late to turn around if there's something you can't deal with.

Embracing The Hot Seat
One book I would highly recommend is 101 Questions to ask Before You Get Engaged by H. Norman Wright. Crystal and I went through this before we were married, and are very glad we did. In short, the book is a workbook full of mostly blank pages and lots of questions. One way to approach such a book is to answer the questions individually while later discussing the answers with the other person (that way you really say what you think instead of copying what the other person just said). I don't want to give the book away, but here's a handful of questions contained within.

1. What are five reasons a person would want to spend the rest of their life with you, and 3 reasons they wouldn't.
2. When a person marries, they sever the cord of dependency on and allegiance to their parents. If you marry, which of these will be the most difficult to sever and why?
3. To what degree are you a saver or a spender when it comes to money?
4. How has your relationship with Jesus Christ changed since this current relationship?
5. What are the questions about me you've always wanted to ask but never have?
6. What are your beliefs about p-rnography, and to what degree has this ever been a part of your life? How recently?

Some of these questions may be challenging or even embarrassing to answer, but again, it's important to consider that a strong marriage is built on such virtues as honesty and forgiveness. If you have trouble being candid with each other now, how can you possibly expect to have an open relationship once married? Most married people will tell you that negative traits and tendencies don't generally go away when you are married. Marriage instead usually compounds any issues a person already has. If your man has a drinking problem before marriage, don't expect that habit to evaporate after the honeymoon. If your girlfriend is addicted to credit cards now, don't think for a minute that a ring on her finger will quench her passion for plastic.

Getting To Know You
As you look for a marriage partner, know that whoever you choose, he or she will be imperfect. We all have baggage. We've all done things we're not proud of, and we all have tendencies which we'd rather not showcase. Nevertheless, Christ can forgive, and renew, and transform people. We mustn't forget this. Yet, at the same time, be selective when you date. Don't be a perfectionist, but at the same time, don't be afraid to move on if your spirit is not at rest in a dating relationship (better to get out now before you make a lifelong commitment). As a soon-to-be-married couple, you really should be able to discuss anything (unless talking about a certain issue leads you to sin). There may be a deeper problem if you notice your boyfriend or girlfriend changing the subject every time you bring up a concerning topic, especially if you're narrowing on the road towards matrimony.

When I was single, so much of my time and energy was spent focusing on getting married, even to the point of obsession. Maybe you're there. It's easy to get desperate (believe me, I understand) when you don't think God is listening. It's tempting to lower your standards when you can't believe there's any good options left. Just remember... choosing a mate is a huge decision, and should not be taken lightly. So many dating relationships start with the words, "I'd like to get to know you more." Don't let your marriage relationship end with "I wish I had known more." When dating, get out, have fun, but also make sure you talk. Really talk. Talk with each other, and even above this, talk with the Lord. Find out what He is thinking.

In conclusion, I realize that we can really never know everything about another person. In fact, we can't even know everything about ourselves. However, if we are following the Lord and if our mate (or future mate) is seeking to do the same, we can be reassured that two slightly different compasses will ultimately point towards the same north. Crystal and I are so thankful that God led us to talk about a lot of stuff before we were married. I can say that having those open conversations before marriage really helped in building a strong foundation of trust between us. We still make it a point not to keep secrets from each other (unless it involves a birthday or anniversary), and we try daily to share every concern and every celebration of the heart. It's crucial to see eye-to-eye on key issues, and it's important to at least come to a compromise on the lesser issues... even in such a case that you're convinced you're a clown fish, and she thinks you're a turtle.

To read the The Art of Singlehood (written through many of my single years), click here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What is Worship?

Anyone who has ever attended church has an opinion about worship. I would guess that a lot of people choose a church based on the style and/or quality of the worship music. I'm curious if you have any thoughts about worship? How would you define worship? Should those involved in the worship team be more focused on having their own individual worship time with the Lord on Sunday morning, or should they be more concerned about where the congregation is at?

Through the years, I would admit that my musical tastes have changed. I still enjoy heavier rock from time to time, although I believe I've mellowed a bit in my thirties. I released a mostly guitar driven rock album in 2004, and in 2009, I'm more prone to write mid tempo alternative and introspective piano pop rock tunes, in the likes of Coldplay, the Fray, or Keane. I bring this up because I believe our own personal tastes greatly influence our view of worship.

Here goes my opinion. I believe that way too many Christians are confused about what worship music is supposed to be. And with this I open a huge can of worms. Worship is simply our position of admitting God's worth. It's us looking up and saying, "Lord, I am nothing... I have nothing to offer you except my heart... You are incredible, You are my Rock, You are my Reason for living." I think a lot of people get worship and adrenaline confused. A thumping beat and a tight band may raise your heart rate and make you feel excited, but does that really mean you're worshipping God?

From time to time, I lead worship at our church or at our Sunday night young adult group. However, most Sundays, I am in the crowd, singing with the masses. Here are a couple of my pet peeves. The guy who keeps doing vocal acrobatics around the melody. Dude, sing an appropriate harmony. You're completely distracting. The sound engineer who thinks the PA should be louder than the audience. If I'm in the crowd and I can't hear myself sing, I might as well be at a rock show waving my cell phone. The worship leader who sings the same chorus 14 times. Can we at least change keys or something? I don't even know what the words I'm singing mean anymore.

Well, maybe you have your own opinions, your own pet peeves. That's what makes this worship thing such a sore subject. We all see worship differently, just as if we all spoke slightly different languages. It's easy to walk away on Sunday morning feeling like you were gypped. We so quickly see the imperfections on stage, and I wonder sometimes if Satan is simply distracting us from the imperfections in our own hearts. If we're honest, most of us spend Sunday morning judging the people around us. Why is she wearing that? Do you have to move around so much on stage? Why do we have to hear about that same missionary guy again? I really don't care. I'm already giving my tithe to the local church fund. If we're honest, those are the types of thoughts that can go through our minds.

I believe worship is an attitude, not a song, or an event. Not sure that I'm a big fan of the song "Come, Now Is The Time To Worship" because if this is the time to worship, what happens before or after the song? The reality is, it's tough to always be thankful. It is stretching to always see ourselves in honest perspective of a perfect and holy God.

This morning, Crystal and I read James 1 which says "Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds..." We really needed to read that. Life has been downright tough for us recently, but both our marriage and trust in God have been strengthened through the unpleasant. It feels like every day, we are waking up to another unanswered question, another deferred hope, another slap in the face... and we wonder how much longer it's going to go on. Maybe you're going through some rough times. My encouragement to you is this. Strive to worship the Lord no matter what. Remember you're in a spiritual battle. The Devil wants to destroy your faith. It's the first thing he thinks about when he crawls out of bed. However, the Lord is more powerful than any circumstance, any doubt, and He is greater, so much greater than the one who wants to take our spiritual lives.

1 John 4:4
"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."