The Adventure Never Ends

When people find out I’ve been the pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church for 24 years, they want to know how I’ve stayed at the same church for so long. In reality, I haven’t been at the SAME church all of this time. I’ve had the privilege of being the pastor of 4 or 5 churches, all at the same address. Present day Brentwood Baptist Church is a much different church than the one I came to in August of 1991. I’m sure the members of the church would tell you I’m a much different pastor than the one who came as a 35-year-old, know-it-all punk 24 years ago. (The church has been very gracious to me.)

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You know what? The same is true when you talk about my marriage to Jeannie. Jeannie and I have been married for 35 years. Yes, I’ve been married to the same person for all of this time. And yet, the Jeannie I’m married to now is very different than the girl I fell in love with so long ago. If I had to try and explain the difference, here’s what I would tell you, “She’s still Jeannie…only more so.”

I’ve watched her grow more and more comfortable in her own skin. She has embraced what it means to be “Jeannie.” She knows she’s good at some things and not good at other things. She’s learned to spend more time working in areas she’s good at and letting the rest go. For instance, she takes care of the insurance issues in our family. She has the determination to keep calling and calling to finally get the answer she’s looking for. Me? I’d just give up. She takes care of our home. I take care of the cars.

I watched her change when she became the mother of two boys. She found a power and a determination I’d never seen in her before. Seemingly overnight, she developed “Mommy radar” where she could read what was going on with our sons from across the room. Her intuition about them was uncanny.

She never thought she was funny. I think she’s hilarious. She has a quirky way of looking at the world that makes me laugh so hard I choke on my coffee. Now, she celebrates her sense of humor.

Day in and day out, I’ve had a front row seat to one of the most intriguing, captivating, and amazing miracles in all of the world—Jeannie fully becoming Jeannie. Here’s the good news in all of that—she’s showing no signs of slowing down. She continues to discover things about herself, try new things, and grab hold of new adventures. This story doesn’t seem to have an ending.

People do change. One of the great gifts of a committed marriage is finding a safe place to try different things. If you fail, so what? You’ll still be loved. And if you succeed? Well, if you succeed, we all win.

When people ask me how they can know if they’re really in love, here’s my answer, “Are you your best self when you’re with the other person?” True love unfolds and expands like the blooming of a flower. False love causes your life to shrivel. True love always makes you more. False love makes you less.

I find myself falling in love with Jeannie again and again. Being with her is fascinating. And this adventure called love never ends.

A Big Pile of Little Things

Now that I’ve been doing what I do for as long as I have, people want to know about things that have surprised me. Well, that’s a hard one because I’m surprised every day by something. Every day I see something I never thought I would see. I’ve seen a human being walk on the moon and then, I watched as we got bored with going to the moon. Think about that. People got bored hearing about people going to the moon. The evening news doesn’t even cover it anymore.

A Big Pile of Little Things

But what has surprised me the most is how big of an impact little things make. Little things left unattended can add up to a big pile of trouble.

Take marriage for instance. Most marriages don’t fail because of an affair or some drastic, unforgiveable act. Most of the time love is frozen under layers and layers of anger that has built up over the years as small things have not been addressed.

A “thank you” goes unspoken, and a wife feels taken for granted.

An “I’m sorry” isn’t said, and a husband feels ignored.

None of these issues are insurmountable or even difficult to overcome in and of themselves. But, when thrown into a pile with all of the other unresolved issues, you have a big pile of pain before you know it. You can deal with this pile one incident at a time. It’s possible, but it takes a long time.

The other way is to recognize the power of each moment, no matter how small, and use each moment as an opportunity to bring your marriage closer together. Small kindnesses and gentle words are little knots that hold the whole thing together. Just like small things can add up to big problems, little acts of love add up to a very rich and satisfying marriage.

The truth is, it works both ways. Little things add up, and we get to choose whether they add up to something beautiful or painful.

Being a Parent to Your Parent [Podcast]

In this episode of Creating Real Marriages that Last, Darrel and I discuss the reality of having to become a parent to your parents. Recently, I moved my mom closer to where I live. To say I moved her is an understatement; I drug her to Nashville. I don’t think she’s forgiven me yet. She may never forgive me. It’s been a challenging transition for the both of us. But I hear often that I’m not the only one going through this.

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A Firewall for the Soul

All of us are aware of (and more than a little anxious about) the issue of identity theft. Hackers, using stolen passwords and sophisticated software packages, can invade our computers and steal important personal information. This information is then used to set up fake accounts in our names and, well, it’s a mess. Our credit is messed up for years. We lose money along with our patience.

A Firewall for the Soul

Whenever you talk to someone who’s been through this, they’ll inevitably talk about how violated they feel. It’s about more than just losing account numbers. Somehow, they lost part of themselves.

Which brings me to this interesting question: How do you create a firewall for your soul? How do we keep the world from “hacking” into our lives and stealing the essence of who we are and what we believe? And how does someone hack into your soul?

OK, I know I’m beginning to sound like a bad sci-fi movie about some alien life form coming to earth, sucking the souls out of people, and leaving behind nothing but an empty sack of flesh. Perhaps it’s not that bad, but it’s close. Our society is filled with circumstances, people, events, and institutions that literally suck the life out of us. So, how do we protect ourselves from this?

The first answer is counterintuitive. We’re tempted to think that retreating from the world will protect us. It won’t. To be honest, most of our problems aren’t with the world, but with us. You can retreat from the world, but you can’t get away from yourself.

When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well in John 4, He promised her that living springs of life-giving water would flow from within her as she came to know Him as Messiah.

Paul told the Philippians to “think on these things.” That is, fill your life with beauty, truth, goodness, excellence, etc. Pay attention to the beautiful, graceful, wondrous person and work of Jesus. Being filled with good things means you don’t have any room to keep bad things in your life.

Second, pay attention to your thought life. What kinds of images, thoughts, or desires fill your mind during the day? Now, I know you’re going to say that you can’t control what you think about, but Martin Luther, the great Reformer, once said, “You can’t keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.” We may not have control over an initial thought, but we don’t have to dwell on that thought. We can think about something else. We can let the negative thought go. Whatever you need to do, do it. Don’t let unhealthy images or desires take root in your soul.

Lastly, confess to your friends about those things that keep you hung up. Now, I don’t mean stand up on Sunday morning and lay out all of the details about your inner life. I am saying find a friend you can trust with your life and talk about what’s going on with you. Sometimes, just getting the issue out in the open is enough. Other times, if the friend really knows you, he or she can ask insightful questions that help connect your thoughts to what’s gone on in your life.

Here’s why it matters: what you think soon becomes what you desire, and what you desire becomes what you do, and what you do becomes who you are. That’s why we have to guard our hearts and minds so diligently; they determine our character, and character determines our destiny.

So, what about you? Do you have a firewall for your soul? Have you checked it lately?