Wednesday, August 25, 2010

P4E.175 Now What? - Part 5

AS (Ante-Script): Please be reminded that the target audience of this blog is married men who consider themselves "Christians." Of course, women are most welcome as well as singles, but just know that my writing is specifically aimed at Christian husbands. With that in mind, read on!

I recently heard a pastor give his definition of a spiritually mature man as one who reads his Bible, prays, makes sure to take his family to church every Sunday, and is going to a mid-week men's study. This is the man he considers ready to advance from getting the milky fundamentals of The Faith to eat the solid food that a more spiritually mature man needs. I know from personal experience that you can do all of those things and much more without being more than a babe in Christ. See the first part of "Now What?" for the checklist.

Having been in a spiritually barren place myself, my wife would describe me using certain words and phrases that we have since heard other wives describe their husbands with:

Distant, disconnected, disengaged,
callous, numb, disinterested,
far-away, there but not there, uncommunicative,
vacant, unaware, ignorant,
out of it, missing, empty,
distracted, numb, oblivious.

When we are in a spiritually barren place, we men can also be inconsistent and can come out of our spiritual slumber long enough to be explosively angry, impatient and frustrated. This can make our wives and children feel mostly ignored and then really want to be invisible, or want us to just go away. I know this because I lived it.

I went to the dentist recently and had the right side of my face numbed. The dental assistant warned me that since I couldn't feel my lips I needed to be extra cautious because I could damage them without knowing it, because I couldn't feel them. Within a day the numbness wore off and I could feel again. If my spirit is numb I can cause it damage and I won't know if I'm causing damage to others, either.

So, on a day-to-day basis, the practice of my re-born spirit is to become more and more aware of and sensitive to my own spirit and the spirits of those close to me. That means I pay attention to other's spirits to see what I can discern in them and I pay attention to the physical circumstances that come into my life and how they make me feel and affect my spirit. If I make a study of spiritual things, I will become familiar with them, comfortable with them, knowledgeable about them and sensitive enough to become a "spiritual leader."

God help me.

Blessings, Kim

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

P4E.174 Now What? - Part 4

In Now What? - Part 3, I said that I have a problem with the current church/Christian culture because of its instruction to ignore feelings. The Fact Faith Feeling train illustration is the graphic equivalent. What I think the church culture is trying to convey with the Fact Faith Feeling train is that we mustn't allow our feelings to shape or shake our faith. The feelings brought about by our circumstances are trumped by the fact of God's sovereignty and His Word.

I really have a hard time with this train of thought (pun intended). It is counterproductive and dismissive of a whole area of our lives that is so important to our spiritual walk. This type of thinking is what hinders so many Christians from moving forward in their relationship with Christ, with others, and with themselves. Yes, I can robotically say to myself, "I will not pay any attention to my feelings" and will "choose to run to the cross" and "believe by faith in God's word" or I can try to examine why I'm feeling what I'm feeling and get to the root of my doubts and fears and CHANGE to become the person that God wants me to be.

If you lump all feelings together and dismiss them, then what do you do with positive feelings? You can't dismiss the negative ones and embrace the positive ones. Can't every one of the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 be considered an emotion or feeling? God made us to feel and all of our feelings, positive and negative, give us an indication of where we're at in relation to God.

I recently heard a pastor tell his Believing congregation that their hearts were "wicked, deceitful and not to be trusted." If my Believing heart feels and shares love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control is it wicked, deceitful and not to be trusted?

We get in trouble when we just "pretend" we don't feel the way we do. The church culture would tell us that we have little control over feelings that circumstances bring about, as though we cannot exhibit self-control (a fruit of the Spirit) over our own feelings. Some say "what we feel is not who we are." This is dismissive of our feelings. The same people also say "our emotional life is not the same as our spiritual life." It's counterproductive to disconnect our feelings and emotions from our spiritual state. Our feelings/emotions are a good, reliable gauge as to where we are spiritually. We should not dismiss them. Ken Nair, author, lecturer and marriage counselor says that "emotions are the voice of the human spirit." Scripture says that "God is Spirit" and those who would worship Him must worship Him "in spirit and in truth."

On a day-to-day basis, then, we have to overcome our fear of feelings, to embrace them as an indication of where we are in relationship to God, others and ourselves. If we find ourselves in a bad place, our feelings will let us know that we need to move from there. If we have "fruit of the Spirit" feelings, then we know we're in a good place and can stay. Ken Nair says that if we become more aware of our own spirits, then we can ask ourselves if Jesus ever felt what we are feeling (and thereby connect with Him in a remarkable way). We can empathize with others when they tell us how they are feeling. We can ask if we've ever made another person feel what we're feeling. More to come...

Monday, August 23, 2010

P4E.173 Now What? - Part 3

Love, love, love...

In Part 1 of "Now What?" I laid down the premise of a man who considers himself "saved" and has the conventional checklist for Christianity dutifully checked off (I acknowledge that women are reading this blog (and are most welcome), but I repeat that my target audience is men, and especially Christian husbands). In Part 2, I reminded that, as Believers, we must exhibit evidence of salvation in our daily lives and asked the question "What does that evidence look like?" I said we could look to I Corinthians 13 and Matthew 22 for answers.

Once we have established our Belief, Christianity continues to be simple and complex. Simply put, our Belief can be reduced to relationships. A relationship with the Creator, relationships with others and a relationship with yourself (this last relationship is easily overlooked). According to Christ, these relationships are to be characterized by "love." This is complex, and my complaint against the Christian church culture is that it glosses over what "love" looks like on a day-to-day basis.

I am firmly convinced that men (myself included) naturally do not want to hear or live out what "love" is. Why? Because at its root, love is self-sacrificial and we don't want to die. In fact, our nature is self-preservation, not self-sacrifice. But love is not self-seeking. This means that I must die to my own motives, desires, dreams, opinions, talents, goals and objectives and, because I love God, replace mine with His. This means that I must die to my own motives, desires, dreams, opinions, talents, goals and objectives and, because I love others, replace mine with theirs (For those of us who are married, our wife comes first). It's not an easy sell, is it?

The tests (Scripture calls them "trials") of this type of love come in physical circumstances and how I handle them gives me an indication of how much I'm producing evidence of my salvation. By their nature, the trials tempt me to avoid self-denial and towards self-preservation.

So, on a day-to-day basis, I experience physical circumstances that result in temptations to lust, to lie, take advantage of, to compromise, to conceal, to withhold, to dishonor, to envy, to be angry and so many other un-Godly attitudes and behaviors. If I fall to these temptations, I harm my relationship with God, others and myself. These trials cause all sorts of feelings to well up inside me and others around me (husbands, read "wives"). But, if I'm not aware of my spirit, I am caught unprepared and will fall. I say that because relationships are interactions that produce feelings. This is another reason why men do not want to hear about or live out what "love" is. Because it has to do with "feelings." It's another point of conflict I have with current church culture: The instruction to ignore feelings. More to follow...

Peace, Kim

Thursday, August 19, 2010

P4E.172 Now What? - Part 2

In my last post, Now what?, I set the premise of a person becoming a Christian. Let's say he believes his salvation is secure. He believes he is going to Heaven. Now what? Here, and on Facebook, I received answers that ranged from "If you've checked off the list, your done!" to referrals to I Corinthians 13.

First, our churches seem stuck in evangelism mode. The distinction between "saved" and "un-saved" seems lost on many churches. I hear so many sermons on the radio where the pastor is "preaching to the choir." Who is caring for, educating, encouraging, holding accountable those millions who are already "saved?" I want to make the distinction between "Faith by Works" and the "Works of Faith."

Christianity is simple, but complex. The ideas contained in Scripture are really simple. Living them out is complex. The church over-emphasizes the idea that we are not saved by our works to the point that, after we've accepted Christ, we excuse our bad behavior, believing that Christ has "got our back." Let me put it this way: A Calvinist, believing "once saved always saved" must exhibit evidence of salvation or else he wasn't ever truly saved. An Armenian, believing that one can lose his salvation, must exhibit evidence of salvation or else he will lose it. Either way, a Believer must exhibit evidence of salvation in his day-to-day life. He must "bear fruit."

The question is what does that evidence look like? What does the fruit look like? Again, the answer is simple and complex. Yes, we can look at I Corinthians 13. And we can also point to Matthew 22: 35-40. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." Simple! But digging deeper, what does it look like to love God and love my neighbor as myself on a day-to-day basis? Let's find out!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

P4E.171 Now What?

Let's suppose you've checked off all of the pre-requisites of Christianity:

aAccepted Christ as your personal lord and savior.
aMade decision about baptism.
aAttend church every weekend and a demographically appropriate mid-week study.
aPray before meals and read Bible.
aAdopted appropriate views on the authorship, accuracy and infallibility of Scripture.
aAdopted appropriate views of Christ's deity.
aAdopted appropriate views on evolution/creation.
aAdopted appropriate views on homosexuality.
aAdopted appropriate views on abortion.
aAdopted appropriate views on capital punishment.
aAdopted all other appropriate political views and vehemently defend them.
aAdopt the appropriate patriotic stance and defend the Constitution (for US Christians).
aMade decision about speaking in tongues.
aPay tithe and thereby support evangelistic missions.
aLearn everything there is to know about "end times" and decide for pre, post or a-millenial rapture.
aUnilaterally condemn all "cults" who do not share the above views with you or your church.
aVolunteer at church as usher, in nursery, Sunday school, Bible study or home group leader.

Now what?

The reason I'm asking is that as I listen to the mainstream Christian media and culture it seems that this checklist encompasses the whole of Christianity as practiced here in the US. Forgive me for believing and contending that there must be more.

My reasons for saying so are that I used to be the person who had the list all checked off and was still a miserable, horrible, wicked, husband, father and human being. And, that since I've been made well, I know others who have the list dutifully checked and are the same. I'm hoping to explore the answer to "Now what?" If you have any suggestions I'd certainly like to hear them.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

P4E.170 My Dad Always Said: "Attitude is Everything"

I'm writing not what my own father always said, but ideas that I'm hoping my own sons will remember me for holding dear. The next is "Attitude is Everything." If you look at definitions of "attitude," they break down into mental, posture and position.

Mental: "a complex mental state involving beliefs and feelings and values and dispositions to act in certain ways."

Posture: "the arrangement of the body and its limbs."

Position: "relative to a frame of reference (i.e. the horizon or direction of motion)"

The mental aspect affects the posture and position. The mental definition is also spiritual. Many people (especially women and children) are sensitive to other's attitudes. We give off all sorts of communication about our attitudes by our facial expressions, voice volume and inflection, hand gestures, arm placement and body language in general.

On a day-to-day basis, what I'm talking about is "heart attitude." Scripture says "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." I would say, not only the mouth, but the face, the body and the spirit also speak. If my heart is dark, detached, numb, melancholy, mysterious, contemptuous, selfish, cynical, impatient, frustrated, and angry, my mouth, face, body and spirit will exude those attitudes. On the other hand, if my heart is positive, pure, giving, engaged, communicative, uplifted, open, patient and joyful, my mouth, face, body and spirit will exude those attitudes. I know this: The people close to me, especially my wife and children would much rather have the latter than the former.

So, my sons, remember, Dad always said, "Attitude is everything."
Love, Dad

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

P4E.169 My Dad Always Said: "People Over Things"

Actually, I never heard "People over things," until my wife, Gwen, introduced me to the idea. So, it's a saying I've co-opted, but that I've been hypocritical about. Nevertheless, It's a concept I hold dear, that I aspire to and want to pass on to my sons.

"People over things" means that I value relationships and people's feelings over objects. The world places a high value on money and the things that money can buy. God, on the other hand, places little value on money and high value on people. I naturally have a worldly outlook on life and when I go with what comes naturally I get in trouble and act like a hypocrite. So what does this look like on a day-to-day basis?

I did not have this concept modelled for me earlier in life. I remember when I was about 17 years old I drove my younger brother to work in the family car. I got in an accident on the way home, which caused quite a traffic jam. And who would be stuck in that traffic jam on the way home from a long day at work? My father. By the time he was through, I was quite convinced that he cared a lot more about the car (and the consequences of the accident) than he did about me.

It shames me to tell you that years later, I would repeat this scenario as a father with my own son, David. I tell the story here. Again, at a certain point, I'm sure David was convinced that I cared more about the car than I did about him. Even more recently, I unfairly blamed my youngest son, Ben, for making me spill cranberry juice on our beige carpet. A little later I apologized, but I could still see the damage I had done by that one incident in Ben's eyes.

So, on a day-to-day basis part of what I mean by "people over things" is that I forgive, overlook, minimize when people misuse, damage or break my things. The thing is NOT as important as my relationship with the person, especially if that person is my dear wife or child. It's more difficult to put into practice than it sounds and I think men have a more difficult time with the idea than women do.

So, given that I have only sons, I encourage you boys all the more to value "people over things."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

P4E.168 My Dad Always Said: Ask Questions

When I'm gone, I want my sons to remember that I always said, "Ask questions."

In the area of communication and relationships, asking questions is key. Asking questions lets the person you're talking to know that you are interested, that you care about them, that you're engaged and aware. When you don't ask questions you lose the opportunity to gain information and understanding.

Asking questions can be a tricky thing. If I ask questions insincerely or sarcastically or in an interrogative manner I will get insincere, sarcastic or curt answers. The outcome of asking questions many times is not only getting the answer to the question. Many times I also gain insight into how the person is feeling, what emotions the questions evoke. If I watch, I see facial expressions and body language that clue me in to the emotions that are stirred by the question and the answer. If I listen closely, I sometimes hear a quiver of painful sorrow, a clearing of the throat that precedes a lie, exasperation, impatience, but also joy and relief.

Of course, the corollary to "ask questions" is "listen to the answers." If I ask and listen in a disinterested fashion, I'm sure to betray that I really don't care.
As a husband, I know that the question that my wife likes very much is,
"What can I do to help?"
That's a question that I'm sure a lot of people would like to hear.
So remember boys, "Ask questions"
Love, Dad

Monday, August 9, 2010

P4E.167 Others First Follow Up

In my last post, I quoted Jesus out of Mark 9:

"If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."

I used to think that Jesus was warning against thinking too highly of one's self. Looking at it again in context, I think Jesus was actually encouraging His disciples (and us) with a roadmap to spiritual leadership and success.

We hear a lot of Bible teaching at church, but very little in the way of day-by-day application of how it would look to live out what we read there. I hear a lot of expository teaching on who Christ is as opposed to what the "cults" believe. A lot of distinguishing between what "we" believe and what "they" believe. About what "saves" you and what leaves you going to Hell. We hear preaching against abortion and evolution and homosexuality. But, in the end, we hear very little in the way of practical advice and encouragement to be "little Christs."

But, in Mark 9, I believe Jesus was telling the way. He was saying,

"If you want to be the greatest follower of Me, die to yourself. Make yourself last. Serve."

And for us husbands, we have a perfect proving ground. A perfect testing ground for me to gauge how able I am to love in a self-sacrificial way. My marriage. My wife. The question always gets asked, "What if my wife rejects my attempts at Christlikeness?" My response is, "Well, I guess I just found out how Christ feels when His people reject Him."


Did He give up on His people?
Did He express self-sacrifical love conditionally?
Did He withdraw His servanthood and sulk?
Is there such a thing as "Christlike enough" or "too Christlike?"

But, did (does) it hurt Him when He was (is) rejected? It hurt Him enough that He wept over Jerusalem. It hurt Him enough for Him to tell parables about losing a treasure, having a son take his inheritance and leave home, having a son killed by tenants.

We can use the rejection of a wife as an excuse to stop trying or we can feel deeply and continue to serve. My personal experience is that few women do reject their husband's sincere pursuit of Christlikeness.

Peace, Kim

Friday, August 6, 2010

P4E.166 My Dad Always Said: "Others First"

When I'm gone, I hope that my sons will remember me for saying, "Others first." This is the quintessential Christian message of love and self-sacrifice. When the rubber meets the road, it's not an easy sell on this one. It goes very contrary to American culture, which says: "get ahead," "you've got to look out for numero-uno, because no one else is going to," "second place is last place," and "nice guys finish last."

The idea of "others first" carries a spiritual value that is at direct odds with worldly values. I've come to believe that spiritual maturity can be gauged by how able one is to put others first. When we are babies, all we can think about is "I'm wet. I'm hungry. Feed me and make me comfortable." Around about two, especially if we have a sibling, the idea of "sharing" gets introduced. For most of us it doesn't go over very well at first. As time goes by, we become more and more aware of others and (in my view) we grow more mature. In this sense, Christ reached full maturity when He died on the cross and bore our sins onto Himself. The ultimate self-sacrifice.

Like I said, it's not an easy sell. But, I find it invaluable in marriage. Scripture is pretty clear about the self-sacrifice God expects from husbands. Marriage is an incredibly valuable testing ground for gauging how well I'm doing at dying to myself and preferring my wife's values, opinions, desires, goals and life over my own. It's the ultimate "others first" test. God help me to succeed.

"If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Jesus

Blessings, Kim

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

P4E.165 Something Had to Give

Photo from Flickr by Brian Carlson, Houston, Texas

In my last post, I simply said "uncle." Something had to give. I love to write. It is my "play." But, I make every attempt not to write while I have time to be with my wife and son. Therefore, the writing for this blog takes place only in the early morning, at lunch time and some late evenings. With my work, my responsibilities as a husband and a father and an upcoming backpacking trip to the High Sierras I felt so much pressure! So, I just cried, "uncle" and decided to let the writing go for a time. I'm sorry if I gave the wrong impression in stopping so abruptly.

I admit, there were other reasons for stopping as well. I kind of got distracted from my purpose in writing here. I do not moderate this blog, my friend Jim does. Jim tells me that there are not many who visit this blog. Even fewer actually leave a comment. Of those, many of the comments I get are mean-spirited and Jim just deletes them. I had to remind myself that my purpose in writing here has never been to be popular or agreed with. This writing is cathartic for me. I write to journal what I'm experiencing and learning. If anyone is blessed or touched in some way or convicted by what I'm writing, then so much the better. If I upset others, I'll have to live with that. But, I'm reminding myself that I'm really writing for me. It's my play time. My hobby time.

So, I'm going to resume. My backpacking trip to the High Sierras is over and it was great (I'll write something about that). Maybe I'll post at a slower pace. Maybe not. I'm praying that I'll be more focused and determined to make time for me. So I won't have to cry "uncle" again.

Blessings, Kim