Friday, February 26, 2010

P4E.130 If God Can Make a Man From Mud, Can He Make Stone From Nothing?

We wanted to have a platform/patio in our back yard. I designed and drew it and we hired a contractor to build it. We got a deal from a local materials supplier, so we bought the stone for the floor and steps in bulk and stored it until we needed it. Everything was going swimmingly until I got a call from our contractor, Frank.

"Kim, I'm calling to let you know that we don't have enough of the stone for the floor and steps. We need 300 square feet and you only have 275."

In the past, this was just the sort of thing that would start to get me angry. I would say to myself, "Great, some architect you are. Can't even take-off the square footage of your own little patio. What an idiot!" That would be just the beginning. But, having recently been encouraged to exercise some self-control (a fruit of the spirit) I tried not to even sound upset. I said,

"That's ok, Frank, you were headed to the materials yard anyway, go ahead and pick up some more when you get there."

Problem solved. No fuming or fussing. Until the call came a couple of hours later:

"Uh, Kim, I'm here at the materials yard and they don't have any more of that stone that you bought...They checked their other store and they don't have it there either."

Another chance to be upset. Normally, this kind of thing would send me over the moon. The stone I had bought was actually mounted on a sort of plastic mesh. An unusually colored slate, it was manufactured specifically for this material supplier who only had two locations. On top of it all, I had purchased what I had on sale. There was a real chance that I wouldn't be able to use the stone I bought at all and that I would have to buy a whole different stone.

But, I had been studying some Scripture about anger and I remembered that Proverbs 14 says "He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly." I really wanted to get more understanding and I had been working on softening my spirit. I simply told Frank,

"Frank, don't worry about it. Come on back and we'll figure something else out."

They say that attitude is everything. I remember actually being self-aware that this was a test and that the outcome would depend on how I handled my attitude towards the situation. I remember feeling truly peaceful, not forced. Not like I was barely holding it together, but that I was a bigger better person than to let something as small as this get my goat. The phone rang again...

"Kim, I've got some good news!"


"You know how I told you that they didn't have any more of the stone here? Well, that was based on them checking the computer. As I was walking out, I thought 'I wonder if they actually checked the yard?' So, I asked them to check it and, sure enough, they found exactly the amount we need to finish the job."


"And, I have more good news!"

"What's better than that?"

"I told them who I was buying this for and they saw that you had purchased a large amount during the sale, so they're going to sell this to us at the sale price!"

So, my question is, "If God can make a man from mud, can he make stone from nothing?" I'm wondering if the computer was correct about there being no stock in the yard. I know people will think I'm crazy, but I imagined God poised, waiting to see my reaction to the bad news I was hearing and when He saw that my attitude was right, He materialized exactly the amount of stone I needed to finish my project. Everybody say "hmmmm"

I wish I could say that I always have control of my temper. I don't. But, I'm aware of the circumstances that lead to my losing it and do what I can to keep them in check. That's my story and I'm sticking to it...

Peace, Kim

Monday, February 22, 2010

P4E.129 Buying a Truck, 101

I'm remembering one of the first times I was self-aware enough to take Gwen's help to avoid an emotional train-wreck. At that time, we were in the market for a new truck. I was self-employed and, as usual, I set aside way too little time to go out and buy one.
So, late one weekday afternoon, I took off from work and took Gwen and Ben along to buy a truck. I had done a little research and so we went to a nearby dealer. When we went to the office the salesman told me that the truck I was interested in was in a remote lot. I was a little put-off by this, but we got in our car and drove to the remote lot. When we got there, the salesman realised that he had forgotten the key back at the office. He arranged to go back to the office in a golf-cart that was at the remote lot and asked Ben if he wanted to hop in and go back with him. For whatever reason this all put me in a really foul mood. This guy was wasting my time. This was inconvenient. Now we aren't even asked if it's ok and this guy, who I don't even know, is taking my son away in a golf cart. I'm ticked, and I show it. This was not headed in a good direction for me emotionally. My spirit was definitely getting cynical, hard, agitated, frustrated, angry, impatient, and explosive.

Of course, having been married to me for many years, Gwen could see all of this building up. In the past, Gwen would have ignored my oncoming volcanic eruption. She would not have wanted to get in the way of the lava flow that was about to ensue. She could not trust that I would receive any input from her in a positive way. We had recently come under some very helpful teaching from Ken Nair and his Life Partners ministry. I had softened to the idea that Gwen could be "help" in a situation like this. I had given her permission to let me know when I was acting offensively and promised to listen. She took a bold step...

"We're here looking for a new truck."
(I thought "well, duh")
"You should be happy. Not everyone can afford to buy a new truck right now."
(I thought "Happy, huh?")
"This should be a happy time for you. It's not that salesman's fault that you didn't allot enough time to buy a truck. Why should you be upset? You should relax and enjoy this time. By the end of the day, you're going to be driving home in a new truck."

For one of the first times in my life, I let Gwen influence me with her positive outlook on life. I didn't dismiss her. I didn't put up the defenses. I listened to what she was saying. I softened. I accepted her help. I acknowledged that she was right in everything she had said. I took a deep breath and mentally/emotionally flicked a switch in my brain and spirit that allowed me to enjoy the rest of the experience. I did ultimately drive home in a new truck.

I won't lie to you. This hasn't worked every time. But, thanks to God and his servant, Ken Nair, I am so much more aware of how I let my flesh get in control that it's much easier to accept the help that God gave me. I'm a much better person for it and I know Gwen and Ben are thankful for that! Thank you, Gwen, for risking all to be my help.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

P4E.128 Streamlined - Part Quatre

The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that man's cold detachment has anything much to do with modernity. I'm thinking it has much more to do with just being fallen men.

Yes, some terrible, horrible examples of man's inhumanity to man have happened after the modern movement began. The Holocaust. The Killing Fields of Cambodia. Remember the Munich Olympics? The Bosnian Genocide. Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing? Remember September 11, 2001? Remember Columbine? How about Jonestown? I could go on and on.
Certainly the machine age, the industrial revolution, the automobile, the television, the computer, the Internet, modernity have had their further impact on man. But, the very things that were supposed to make life easier for men, to streamline our lives, have also been the vehicles for our moral demise. We seem to be morally devolving before our very own eyes. So, is it a modernity thing or is it a fallen man thing? To my way of thinking, a little of the former and mostly the latter.

There are certainly many examples of man's cold detachment that predate modernity. How cold and detached would one have to be to say to the Creator, the living God, "The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate"? or "Am I my brother's keeper?" What sort of men would sell their brother to slavery? Some of these examples have even been done in the name of the Faith! Does anyone remember how Martin Luther was rejected? Does anyone remember how Galileo was treated when he threw his support behind Copernicus' heliocentrism? Remember The Crusades? Remember the Salem Witch Trials? All inexplicable, except for being fallen men. I find it hard to swallow the idea that, in his current state, "man is inherently good." I assert that, ultimately, there is no denying that we are fallen and that modernity has exacerbated our cold detachedness.

So, what glimmer of hope is there for fallen man? And how and why am I trying to tie all of this together in a blog about marriage? The answer is simple and complex. Knowing the God we believe in, He was able to anticipate that we would struggle in the ability to relate, spirit to Spirit with Him. He anticipated that we would need "help" and provided it to us in the form of women/wives. (By this I don't mean to reduce women exclusively to the role of helping men. We can discuss that later.) Our God-given wives are physical, tangible, individual persons with whom we have the opportunity to relate, spirit to spirit. They are a sort of "testing grounds" for us, to practice being like Christ, i.e. a sacrificial relationship.

Modernity or not, we have and are failing this test, as evidenced by the divorce rate among "Christians." (What sort of men would treat their wives so treacherously that their Creator would ignore their offerings?) The individualism initiated by our fallen state and fostered by modernity (and American culture) runs directly counter to our Creator's desire for us to count on Him (for everything). Relationships are inclusive, not exclusive.

The glimmer of hope is that if we become self-aware enough to understand our marriages and their role in our spirit to Spirit relationship with God, we might actually stand a chance of saving both. So, when I begin to feel myself thinking treacherously towards my wife, to minimize her role in my life, to dismiss her opinions, to become jealous of the time and effort and energy and resources that she demands of me, to exclude her, to think of her as "the enemy," I have a motivation to catch myself in these feelings and to counter them.

If I can begin to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (as a reminder, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) towards my wife and exhibit self-sacrificial love towards her the way Christ did towards His church, then I'll be overcoming my selfish, sin nature. Not an easy task, but it can be done (as with all things) with God's help. In doing so, Christ's plan of salvation will be played out in my own life and I will be closer to (dependent on) Him. This foils my fallen nature and counteracts the cold detachedness of modernity. Does that give some hope and reason for working (hard) on my relationship with my wife? It does me.

Your ally in the pursuit of Christlikeness, Kim

(p.s. - any good thoughts that I have concerning these matters, I attribute to Ken Nair and his Life Partners ministry Any heresy is completely my own!)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

P4E.127 Streamlined - Part Trois

(The third part in a series considering the streamlining effects of modernity on Christianity)
Let me make sure and say this first: I do not judge or condemn anyone who has suffered through divorce. Far from it. I have been so close to it myself, that I completely empathise with those who have actually been divorced. All I am hoping to do now is to connect the dots. Divorce has been around almost as long as marriage has been around, so it's nothing new. The fact that the divorce rate among Christians has increased and recently plateaued is telling. As with all things in the popular culture, the Christian culture lags behind by several years. The dots that I've tried to connect are the divorce rate and the human detachment in the Christian community that accompanied modernism.

The superficiality that is the outcome of streamlining Christianity has had several negative consequences:

1. When we reduced Christianity to the formula of "Four Spiritual Laws," it became inevitable that some followed those laws and experienced little relief from the pressing lives that they led. This combined with the "name it and claim it" and "prosperity" messages causes these same poor souls to feel judged, condemned or condescended to by the rest of the Christian community.

2. When we narrowly define what Christianity is, we force a fragmentation of the Body into groups (that we politely call "denominations") and become a house divided, to the Enemy's great delight.

3. We focus on the mechanics of our relationship to God, which we refer to as "theology," instead of the actual spirit to Spirit relationship.

4. We focus on the mechanics of studying Scripture, which we refer to as "exegesis," instead of garnering and benefiting by the spirit of what The Word is trying to convey to us.

5. When we focus on our own interpretation of the temptingly dangled material promises held out by "conversion" to Christianity, we may fail to acknowledge that lives given to Christ may continue (or begin) to be messy, chaotic, unorganized and impoverished.

6. When we overlay expectations of what the "ideal" Christian looks and sounds like, we set up a standard that is impossible to achieve and assure the perception of failure when we compare ourselves and/or others to it.

I have personally experienced ("perpetrated" might be a better word) this streamlined version of Christianity on myself, on my wife and sons, and on God. I've suffered the consequences of it too. There are certain aspects of all of it that could be seen as positive, to be sure. But, in the grand scheme of things, my own personal modern movement left me spiritually barren, detached, robotic, judgemental, and quite frustrated.

I do not believe that I am alone in this. As I said, my wife and I see many "Christian" husbands who are mired in their own detached, cold modernity, and their marriages are suffering for it.

There are answers and Scripture does hold them, but they are, and always have been, matters of the heart. Matters of the heart are never clear-cut, iron-clad, or black and white. They are relational, spiritual, emotional, feeling matters that most men need "help" with.

That's why God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."

Frankly, it was only when my "help" began to confront my offensive behavior that I began to see the light...It was then that I began to believe that certain Scriptures might actually apply to me:

"...while seeing they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear but not understand..."

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven...Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you, depart from me...'"

"Truly, truly, I say to you unless a man is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God...If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"

Until next time, Kim

Monday, February 1, 2010

P4E.126 Streamlined-Part Deux

(This is the second part of a series on Streamlining in which I'm discussing the idea of our having streamlined the humanity out of Christianity.")

What exactly do I mean when I refer to "humanity" in this context? I mean the best parts of being "truly human." I mean the "humane" part of us that is kind and wants to reduce suffering of any kind. I mean the part of us that feels with emotion and empathizes with others. I mean the part of us that God originally created in His image and that Christ felt worth sacrificing Himself for. In contrast, the part of us that wants to make and apply rules, to judge, to approach relationships mechanically (robotically) is what we may have streamlined our Christianity down to.

Why do I believe that we have streamlined the humanity out of Christianity? I believe that divorce statistics within the Christian community bear out the idea that, as a group, we are losing our humanity. Barna Research Group's latest data shows current US divorce rates among "Christians" no lower than 21% and up to 34% for "non-denominational" Christian groups. Why am I tying marriage and divorce into the conversation regarding humanity in the Christian community? Because I believe that marriage is a very important (maybe THE MOST important) gauge of man's ability to be kind, to feel with emotion, to empathize and sacrifice himself for another. If a man is not willing to do this for his wife, then his movement towards being like Christ is severly hampered.

I write with some experience with this because around seven years ago, I was closer to divorce than I want to think about. I believe my own experience to be fairly commonplace in the Christian community. My own personal streamlining looked like this:

- I took a cerebral/intellectual/mechanical approach to Christianity.

- The rules and expectations that I superimposed on others reflected how I thought God viewed the world.

- I judged others (including God) based on those rules and expectations. As I critically examine my attitudes of the past, if their lives were messy, chaotic, undisciplined and/or impoverished, I judged harshly. My own shortcomings were conveniently overlooked.

- I believed (as I was taught by the Christian community) that feelings and emotions were fleeting and could not and should not be trusted.

- I reduced my own Christianity down to a mirror of the moral/political/patriotic beliefs of the conservative (fundamentalist, get it?) Christian media.

- The way in which Scripture was supposed to be interpreted that I (and others like me) had distilled was the only possible way that they could or should be interpreted. Scripture and Truth were more of a hammer than a salve.

- The hypocrisy of a failing family life and marriage and raising my hands while singing praise songs at Sunday church service was lost on me.

Gratefully, God has healed my marriage to the point that Gwen and I minister to other couples in crisis. But, what I see in that capacity is, many times, disheartening. We men, who call ourselves little Christs, unwilling and/or unable to love our wives like Christ loved the church. It is truly a sign that we have streamlined the humanity out of Christianity. But, it doesn't have to be that way. If this is what would be considered "post-modern" or "emergent," then I guess you'd have to count me in.

Your ally in the pursuit of Christlikeness (giving credit where credit is due, a term I borrowed from my good friend Dave Taylor)