Wednesday, April 22, 2015

P4E.261 My Own Personal Firing Line

The recent martyrdom of Ethiopian Christians in Libya at the hands of ISIS must have some Christians asking themselves, "Would I die for my faith?" The reality is that very few of us American Christians will ever have to actually answer that question with our lives. So, for most of us, the question is hypothetical. And in the comfort of our own homes, it is relatively easy to answer in the affirmative.

A more pressing and relevant question for me has been, "Would you be willing to die to enter and continue in your Christian faith?"

I became a Christian when I was 16 years old. After some initial enthusiasm, I didn't let it bother me too much. I was married at 21 and now I've been married for 37 years. But, under my poor spiritual leadership, I shouldn't have made it past 10, or 15, or 25 years. Fortunately after 25 years, with the "help" that God gave me and a para-church ministry, I was able to save my failing marriage. 

What I've come to believe is that the state of my marriage is a near perfect reflection of the state of my relationship to Christ. I must be willing to practice my Belief on the person closest to me; the person I vowed to love and cherish. If I can't or won't, I have little chance of successfully practicing it on others. I will have lost any credibility that I might have beyond my own home.

So, when Paul says, "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her," it is not only a teaching about how to love my wife, but how to enter into the Faith. The example of Christ is self-sacrifice. When Jesus told Nicodemus that one "must be born again," and when Paul says that we are to become "a new creature," the implication is that we are to die to our natural selves and be re-born as spiritually alive creatures.

If you ask most husbands if they'd give up their lives to save their wife's, they might answer something like, "Sure, if we were in a room and somebody threw a live grenade in there, I'd jump on it to save her life." But, that's never going to happen. What's far more likely is that my wife will want to watch a Jane Austin movie at the same time the big ballgame is on. What then?

I had to come to grips with the fact that my conversion as a 16 year old was incomplete. As heretical as it sounds, I needed to be born-again, again. I had to be willing to bring myself to my own personal firing line. My natural-self had to die. It was an essential part of entering into the Faith.

Frankly, I didn't want to die to myself. I have a strong sense of self-preservation. What good will it do for me to die? Who will replace me? I have big plans. I want to be somebody. But, I have since come to believe that it would be very rare to achieve worldly success and spiritual success simultaneously. I looked to Christ as my example.

In a worldly sense, when Pontius Pilate declared "Ecce homo," he presented a Christ that had been stripped, scourged, and crowned with thorns. He put on display a thoroughly beaten man with no prospects other than to be crucified. A dead man walking. But, in a spiritual sense, he introduced an incredibly powerful man. One who was willing to die for others. A servant-leader in complete self-control. I wanted to be like Him.

Now I find that, to continue in my Faith, I must bring myself to my own personal firing line every day. As Paul put it, I'm crucified with Christ. As Jesus put it, I take up my cross daily and follow Him.  When my old natural-self dies, I know who I want to be replaced by: A spiritually re-born man in whom Christ lives. A man who will produce the fruit of the Spirit. A man who will continue to die to himself every day and put others' opinions, desires, thoughts, and interests (especially his wife's) before his own. It is a daunting task. God help me. 

This piece was written as part of The High Calling Writer Network community link-up theme: Called to The Firing Line

The High Calling

Thursday, March 19, 2015

P4E.260 The Spiritual Discipline of Contemplative Prayer

Our numbers rarely approach 100 when we meet on Sunday mornings at the Community Clubhouse.  Almost all of us are over 50 years of age.  Many share in common that we've experienced protestant evangelical Christianity in all of its mega-church grandiosity and have opted out.

Our leader prefers to call us a "spiritual community" rather than a "church."  He's the son of a prominent pastor with whom he had well documented disagreements, personal and theological.  They've come to a peaceful place in their relationship, but our mentor doesn't want to be referred to as a pastor.  Even if the shoe fits.

There is no "worship team" performing "contemporary Christian worship music."  Our gatherings usually begin with a time of silence.  We're reminded that our purpose, as a community, is to experience God.  We present ourselves to God and He meets us where we are.  "Get in a comfortable position," we're urged.  Sometimes we're encouraged to focus on our breathing:

Inhale grace.  Exhale judgment.
Inhale peace.  Exhale anxiousness.
Inhale love.  Exhale fear.

The tone of a brass bowl gong fills the air and we begin our contemplative prayer time with God.  Thoughts of the past or the future might come into our minds.  We acknowledge them and let them slip away, leaving room to hear from God; to experience Him.  If someone were to walk in during the next ten minutes or so, they would find all souls sitting in silence with eyes closed, breathing fully and deeply; at peace.  Personally, I have found myself feeling as though I'm floating on a cloud, with the breeze flowing past me; an exhilarating, yet peaceful experience.  The gong is struck, giving notice that we are about to come out of our meditation and then again to complete it.

-        -        -

The spiritual discipline we are practicing is something that may, ironically, slip past many Christians: The practice of seeking God.  In our sensory overloaded, confused, and distracted world it seems that many of us have a case of self-inflicted ADHD.  We need to move.  We're compelled to act, read, sing, pray, volunteer, and teach.  But, what we seldom have the spiritual discipline to do is to simply sit in silence, focus, and experience Him whom we claim to love.

The harvest of spiritual discipline is spiritual fruit.  When I'm able to tune everything else out and experience God, I feel love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in His presence.  They infuse my heart.

When I experience Him from the inside out, I more easily understand my place in the world.  I'm much less likely to judge and much more likely to live with my neighbor in an understanding way.  Instead of forcing myself to perform Christianity, I am calm in the knowledge that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.  If God is in my heart, I'm not anxious about what I'm supposed to say.  Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

The practice of contemplative prayer acknowledges the high value that Scripture places on being slow to speak, being slow to anger, and patience.

I wait for the Lord.
He hears me.
He lends help, strength, and courage.
He gives hope and rest.
He saves me.

Of course, being human, I will fall short.  And, that's OK.  Then, I must have the spiritual discipline to be reminded that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be; allowing God to extend His grace towards me.  And, begin again to pursue Him by getting closer and experiencing Him more deeply and intimately.

This piece was written as part of The High Calling Writer Network community link-up theme: Spiritual Disciplines Christian 
Blog Network

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

P4E.259 The Flesh Out List Reprised

It's time that I re-published my "Flesh Out List" as a reminder to myself and as an encouragement to others. What's on your list?

"The serious (Christian) man diligently searches out God's ways!"
Ken Nair - Life Partners

As a part of my search, I am compiling a list of the times when I feel weakest to falling to my flesh. What I mean is that there are physical circumstances when I fall prey to being angry, impatient, frustrated and/or other temptations that lead to sin (flesh). The reason it's important to identify these times is that they cause me to hurt the ones closest to me. If I'm to conquer my flesh, I need to pinpoint my own areas of weakness so that I can go to God for His strength at the very moment when I am weakest. I'd be interested to hear if yours matches mine and/or if you have others that you would add from your own experience. So, here goes:

I am prone to fall to my fleshly ways when I:

- am hot
- am cold
- am hungry
- am thirsty
- am tired
- am stressed out
- am sick
- am pressed for time (running late)
- am short on money
- have to wait
- have lost something
- am in pain
- make a mistake
- feel unprepared
- have to depend on someone else
- feel ignored
- feel like things aren't going my way
- am doing something that takes longer than I thought it would
- have an idea that's challenged
- experience unusual circumstances
- experience the same darn thing happen over and over again
- am wrongly accused
- am rightly accused
- am confused

Remember, the list is not the end. It is the means to identify moments when I'm weak and need to count on God's strength so that I don't do spiritual damage to those around me (or myself). Here's more:

I am prone to fall to my fleshly ways when I:

- am alone (they even have a saying for this one: 'you can gauge the character of a man by what he does when he's alone')
- have nothing to do (this one has a saying too: 'an idle mind is the devil's workshop')
- believe there is no hope
- have to take the blame when it's not my fault
- have to take the blame when it is my fault
- see (what appears to me to be) incompetence in others
- my directions are misunderstood or not followed (I thought my instructions were brilliant!)
- am driving (this is (or should be) on every guy's list)
- am driving and lost (I wouldn't think of asking for directions!)
- forget something (as in, I'm driving two blocks away from home and remember I left it at the house)
- am in a crowd of people (the last time I really 'fleshed out' was (ironically) at a Billy Graham Crusade)
- am inconvenienced
- see (what appears to me to be) an injustice
- am treated unfairly
- am at Holiday functions (I can't tell you how many I've ruined!)

What's on your list?
Peace, Kim

Friday, September 5, 2014

P4E.258 Regrets Reprised

After reading my post, called SNAFU, Marcus Goodyear commented that he asked himself some tough questions:

1. What am I doing right now that I will look back on in the future and regret?
2. How can I be fully present with my family right now when they need me?
3. How can I not fall into the trap of making my family into just another idol that I worship and twist into an enemy?

Marcus liked my answer and I thought I'd turn it into the next installment of P4E:

Well, I don't know what you are doing that you'll regret later, but I know what I regret now (in no particular order):

- Putting those blinders on and focusing the majority of my energy into my work.

- Not listening to (and acting on) the "help" that God gave me (my wife) when it came to relationship issues. She is still the "expert" especially when compared to my feeble relationship abilities.

- Not understanding (and therefore screwing up) how becoming a "Christian" was supposed to change the way I think, act and talk.

- Holding "deep convictions" that I believed were based in my "Belief" and expressing those in a way that was detrimental to relationships with those close to me.

- Not asking questions of my wife and others who could have helped me avoid disaster.

- That by not asking questions, I did not remain teachable and therefore became arrogant and stayed ignorant. These characteristics squelched creativity and hindered growth in understanding and wisdom.

- Not establishing reasonable boundaries between my family of origin and my wife and children.

- Not taking a more active role as a husband and father in the spiritual development of my self, my wife and my children.

- That I have been a hypocrite, in the "whitewashed tomb" sense of the word. I was one person in public and another at home or with those who were close to me.

- Being exposed to and becoming a consumer of pornography.

- Not believing that I could exercise some self-discipline in my life and therefore being un-disciplined in much of it.

- Being a proud, explosively angry, impatient and frustrated man.

- Making decisions without being "one" with my wife.

- Not understanding the differences between men and women and how they are meant to glorify God.

- Not valuing my emotions or the emotions of others so that I became spiritually and emotionally dead.

- Not handling my finances in such a way that my sons could see a positive, balanced example of what that should look like.

And that's just to name a few! I know that I've heard other men express some of the same regrets.

As far as making your family an idol, I don't think that's something that most of us men have to worry too much about. Especially as time goes by it will be much more likely that you will have to worry about the other extreme of taking them for granted, having unrealistic expectations of them, being disappointed in their performance, spending less and less time with them, disregarding them and generally being un-Christlike towards them.

Of course, the antidote to all of this is the pursuit of Christlikeness. All of our future regrets could be avoided by purposing to be fully present for our families right now by being sensitive, gentle, kind, humble, peaceful, self-sacrificing, patient, faithful, generous, spirit-filled and disciplined (among other Christlike characteristics).

Peace, Kim