Archive for September, 2013

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The Danger of Dishonor

September 23, 2013

Stuart and I prayed for a half hour about his wife. She was suffering  through a series of painful attacks, bizarre maladies that seemed unrelated to each other. Her doctors could not find the cause. She had migraine headaches, chest pain, nausea, joint irritation, ear infection, low fevers, foot pain, tremors and panic attacks.

During the previous six months, she had seen a gynecologist, neurologist, arthritic specialist, gastroenterologist, pain specialist, physiotherapist and immunologist, and was now being sent to both a psychologist and psychiatrist. Having failed to find any physical cause which would tie in all of these symptoms, the doctors decided they needed to check if her emotional state caused all of these problems. This referral to the psychiatrist seemed to mock her pain, and she gave up trying to fight it all.

As I was praying, I had a thought that this may not have a physical root cause. I sensed an enemy of the soul, an unclean spirit, was attacking her. Though I have not seen this happen often, I know it does occur. But because this is not a common reason for people being ill, I kept quiet about it. I continued asking the Holy Spirit for more insight into this, and as I did, another thought went through my mind. I acted on it.

“Stuart, do you have a problem with pornography?”

“Sometimes. I don’t like to admit it, but I view porn every couple of weeks.”

“Just porn? Have you ever acted on your fantasies with other women?”

He hesitated and looked down. This, coupled with his worried expression, lent me courage to press further.

“What have you done, Stu?” He then began telling me about a web site he had joined several months earlier which allowed married people to find sexual partners with other married people. After telling me about a number of women he had talked to, he assured me he had never met any of them in person. He was quite adamant that he did this because of curiosity, not because he wanted an affair. I had heard variations of his story from a lot of men and women.

I knew my next question was most critical. His answer may hold the key to his wife’s illness. “Stu, did you talk about your wife with any of the women?” He blanched openly at my question.

“A lot of the women wanted to know why I was on the web site. It bothered me that they asked what was so wrong with my marriage that would lead me to seek out an affair. So I told them some stories. I have to admit Mike that many of the things I said weren’t true. I lied to a few women.”

“What did you tell them?”

“I told them all that my wife didn’t want sex any more, that she was only interested in the kids and her business. Which, of course, is not true at all.”

What I told him next is the basis of this article. Stuart had dishonored his wife. To honor someone means to show respect to them, to show how they are important and special in our lives and in general. Therefore, to dishonor a person means to disrespect them, lie about them or act like they are unimportant. I explained to Stuart how his dishonor had started with his porn usage. By looking at hundreds of women in various sexual poses and situations, he had downgraded his wife to lesser status. This made it so much easier for him to lie to other women and tell them how unimportant his wife was to him. I explained this was only the beginning of his problems.

After a while, he stopped me and asked “So, what you’re saying is that my wife’s illnesses are God’s judgment on her for the way I’ve acted?”

“Stu, that’s not it at all. God forgave all your sins on the cross. He has washed you clean by the blood of Jesus. You are not guilty in God’s eyes. The Bible says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No, it is not God who is bringing these illnesses upon your wife. God himself does not bring disaster and illness upon us. God is love and would never harm us. But there is a class of beings in this universe whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy our lives (John 10:10). Collectively, we call these beings “Satan”, but they really are a host of opportunistic spirits looking to attack and destroy our lives. However, they are not allowed to attack us unless they have permission.”

“How do they get permission?”

“If people commit certain sins over a period of time, then the enemy is allowed to attack in those areas.” I explained to Stuart some of the verses from the Bible which show this, and then came back to my explanation of events.

“Stuart, your relationship with your wife is a covenant relationship. In spiritual terms, the covenant is the deepest promise you can make to a person. You may not know it, but to do harm to that covenant is to do harm to yourself and to her. Satan’s name means “accuser”. He loves to act as the Prosecuting attorney before God, claiming that we are guilty of crimes and need to be punished. When those crimes are against God, he will not allow us to be attacked. But when the crimes involve others, especially when we hurt those closest to us, we incur the wrath of the Accuser. You have dishonored your wife. There are few ways you could have acted worse than this.”

Here is the end of his story: He repented before God for his actions, quit the website and stopped viewing porn (this last part took a longer time to correct, but that’s another blog entry). He then anointed his wife with oil and we prayed for her.

From that day, her symptoms stopped and have not recurred.

Often, we dishonor our spouses a lot more than we realize. In order to see what this does, let’s look at 9 categories of dishonor.

  1. Gossip: When we break a confidence of a friend or loved one, we are dishonoring the relationship we have with them. I probably have done this more than I want to admit. Often, I make this mistake when complaining to a friend about people closest to me. This can even be done with a counselor, and if the counselor is unwise to allow it to go on too long, gossip can devolve into slander. This is what Stuart did to his wife. 2 Timothy 3:3 puts gossipers with some other nasty offenders.
  2. Broken Promises and Oaths: Once again, most people do not know how important an oath is in the Spirit realm. God tells us that broken oaths will have serious consequences (James 5:12). Many times in the Bible we are told not to break our vows or judgment will come. The enemy loves to prowl around looking for those who have broken their promises and oaths. Obviously, adultery is the classic example of this. But we can also make promises on many other levels, and each broken oath brings destruction on our heads.
  3. Violence and Abusive Language: Malachi tells us that God hates divorce. But it also tells us that he hates when a man covers his wife with violence as if it were a garment. Violence is a severe break of the covenant relationship. And violent words can also sever that covenant. When the enemy sees these things, he initiates a spiraling pattern of violence, fear and anguish. Few actions dishonor a person more than taking power away from them through violence or violent words.
  4. Threats: Threats can appear non-violent and still cause harm. If someone threatens to leave, to cut off intimacy, to get even, to take something away, then all of these dishonor the marriage vow. Most marriage vows contain the word “honor,” which means to count someone as important. If you deem a person valuable, you will not threaten them.
  5. Resentment: John Bevere calls resentment “the bait of satan”. Our enemy loves to dangle this in front of our noses. Resentment is not unforgiveness or hatred. It occurs when we decide “I will never let go of this hurt you have caused me.” More marriages are dishonored when partners will not release resentment than from any other cause. It is that common.. Resentment often becomes bitterness, which we are told in Hebrews 12 can regress into “a root of bitterness which grows up to defile many“.
  6. Curses: When we wish harm or ill on another person, we are cursing them. The stronger we wish these things, the more power the enemy has to bring them about. Unfortunately, many spouses say foolish things like “I wish you would die” or “I hope you get everything coming to you” or “I am done with you” never once knowing there is an enemy who views these as open invitations to wreak havoc in a household. The bible is clear that curses and blessings work (Luke 6:28, James 3:9).
  7. Reveling in hurt: There is a more passive way we can dishonor our spouse. When they fail or are wounded, if instead of bringing comfort and love we hold onto a smug attitude of “I told you so” or “You had that coming”, this reveling can give room to the enemy to drive a wedge between spouses.
  8. Neglect: Instead of actively hurting our spouse or betraying them, we neglect our duties to love, honor and cherish them. By withholding support, love, information, help, partnership, affection, or any number of other essentials, we leave them to their own devices and act as if they are meaningless to us. This neglect of our covenant responsibility offers the enemy an open invitation to attack.
  9. Humiliation: People rationalize their active criticism of their spouse in public. They think it helps to push them to make changes. But we often take it way too far. When we actively humiliate our spouse, it is the most public way we can use to say “You are not special to me.” When we do this, not only do people see us as weak and our marriage as troubled, the enemy sees it as dishonor and uses that springboard to cause trouble.

I believe there are four keys to overcoming these pieces of dishonor.

  1. Repent. This means more than just saying you’re sorry to God. It means to acknowledge and understand what you’re doing wrong and choose actions that counter-act it. Breaking off bad relationships, apologizing for hurts, cutting off access to things or people that make it worse – all of these are repentant actions.
  2. Change: Get to the roots of why you do what you do. A counselor or coach can help with this.
  3. Accountability: Admit to others what you have done and ask them to watch for it from you and call you on it if you persist in doing it.
  4. Pray for Blessing. The Bible tells us we are to bless others and not curse them. If we have cursed our spouse through dishonor, dedicate the future to blessing them through word, deed and prayer.
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Transmission Fear

September 13, 2013

laurentianI fear driving my car into a remote region and then breaking down. I fear being in remote regions. I’m not sure which one I fear more: The car breaking down or the remote region. But I know where it all started.

My dad, Jack Phillips, liked the whole world to think he was a brave man. He put on brave airs, did manly things, took risks, drank too much, smoked too much, swore way too much. His friends believed he was the epitome of courage and manliness. But his children knew differently.

My dad feared one thing recurrently. Whenever we would go on vacation, he would begin the mantra: “I hope the car is okay”. The moment we backed down the driveway on a trip he started worrying his way through the miles. Every time he heard the slightest noise, we were all hushed so he could identify which part on the car was about to explode. He favored two areas more than the rest: the transmission and the tires. He knew just about everything there was to know about the transmission, having dismantled ours and reassembled it several times. He had bought the Pontiac Laurentian because he had heard from a buddy it had an indestructible tranny. He heard it was indestructible, but my brother, mother, sister and I knew he didn’t believe it.

“I think it’s the transmission” he would say. When he made this announcement of doom, we all grew silent.

“Audrey, did you hear that? I told you it was the transmission. It’s about to go. We should turn back.” I hadn’t heard anything and neither did anyone but dad. He carried on this way for miles and miles, stopping occasionally to purge his soul of its excess fear, and then launch anew into another round of hearing disastrous noises.

One time, we drove out of Kamloops, British Columbia on what would eventually become the Yellowhead  highway (but was in those days only a narrow two-lane road), making our way up to Prince George, B.C. On the way, Dad wanted to stop at Bridge Lake and do some fishing. So we turned off at the town of Little Fort and headed west. It was 1968, and during those years, not every road was paved all the way to the next town. Often the towns would maintain a paved road for about 3-5 miles and then it would be dirt until 5 miles before the next town. We were on one dirt section 20 miles outside of Little Fort when we came around a sharp curve. Dad had been making dire predictions for an hour. On this trip, he was sure two of the tires were “out of round” and would soon pop.

Silly man. This was the only time in all the years we had gone on vacation he should have stayed with his Transmission theme.

At the far end of the curve, several five-inch rocks rolled off the embankment onto the road. Dad swerved to miss the biggest one and another one rolled under our car just as we passed. Every one of us heard the rock as it hit the undercarriage of the Pontiac. The impact sounded like a hammer striking a cooking pot. Dad immediately pulled over the car.

He got out and bent down looking under the car. When he stood up again after about a minute, he was pale. He took a cigarette out of his pocket and walked up the road about 100 feet, puffing anxiously. He picked up several rocks in succession and threw them at nothing in particular. I could make out some choice profanity as he stood a distance from us. Then, after venting, he walked calmly back to the car, opened the door and plopped into the front seat.

“It’s the transmission” was all he said.

The moment we had been waiting for all those years had arrived. It felt like we had been emotionally saving up for this disaster like people would squirrel away money for college. But nothing can prepare you for that moment when your deepest fears are realized. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere. Our car was incapacitated. The rock had come up under the car and drilled a hole right through the transmission casing. All the fluid had leaked out and was now forming a small river flowing past the back tires. In those days without cell phones, we had to wait for someone to drive by so we could flag them down for a ride.

An hour passed before someone came by; and they didn’t stop. The third car that came (about 20 minutes after the first two) did stop and offered to drive my dad into the next town, Bridge Lake, which was another 40 minutes down the road. As he went with the driver, mom made us a picnic lunch, sang songs, played road games, refereed two fights between my brother and I, took a nap, smoked a half pack of cigarettes and never once complained.

She was a saint and a wonderful alternative to my dad’s approach to fear.

Finally, dad arrived with the tow-truck and we were taken to Bridge Lake where we got a motel room and stayed for three days while our car got fixed. I caught the biggest fish I ever caught there and I enjoyed our time.

As I said, I fear my car breaking down in the middle of nowhere. I don’t blame my dad for that. He did jump-start my mind in that direction, but I am the one who accelerates the fear every time I go on a trip. At least, that’s how it was for years. It wasn’t my dad’s fault that I mirrored his fear, because I could have chosen a different path. Every person has freedom of choice and can copy anything or anyone they want. I could have been serene and composed like my mother. I could have lived in a world of optimism and joy like some people do. But I decided that fear of cars breaking was the family tradition I wanted to emulate.

One time, when my wife was several months pregnant with our second son, I drove her down to a doctor’s appointment. We lived in a very small town and the doctor was a two-hour drive. Within minutes of leaving town, I began listening to the noises I thought the car was making. My wife had learned to tune out my fearful descriptions of car sounds, choosing to live normally instead. I had appointed myself Chief Fear Predictor and my favorite subjects were the transmission and the carburetor.

A half hour from our goal, the car started to run rough. For several minutes I would step on the gas and the car would almost stall out. I looked at the landscape around us and confirmed we were essentially in the middle of nowhere. My anger and fear combined together to make an explosive combination. As the car went slower and slower, I started to make dire predictions about what would happen to us. I am too embarrassed to admit what I said, but you can ask my wife. She remembers every word.

Finally, the car took one final lunge, stalled and coasted to a complete stop. No matter how many times I turned the key, it would not re-start. We were stuck. Our oldest son John was in the back seat strapped into his car seat and he witnessed the worst outburst I had ever done. I got out the car and lifted the hood. All I could smell was a pervasive odor of gasoline. It filled the air. Just as my dad had willed the death of his transmission, I had somehow brought about the demise of my carburetor.

There I sat on the side of the road in misery, with no idea how I would get my wife, child and myself to the town we needed to be at. I was locked up in a straitjacket of fear and miserable that my black imagination had come true.

God took that moment to speak to my heart. I decided to go for a short walk down the highway to cool off (I now know why my dad had walked the hundred feet ahead of the car) and I decided to ask God what I should do. God didn’t want to talk about that. Into my mind, instead, came the following insight.

“Mike, you do realize that fear is destroying your life. You have lived with fear for so long you are causing others around you to be genuinely affected by it. Do you want fear to be the defining factor of who you will become?”

I admitted to God that everything He said to me was true. But I didn’t know how to fix it. So I asked God what I could do.

God asked if I truly believed he was speaking to me. I did believe. Did I believe God would ever leave me or stop speaking to me? I did not believe God could leave me. Two days before, I had underlined Hebrews 13:5 in my Bible: “”I will never leave you; I will never forsake you” says the Lord.”

“Then why are you afraid?”

That really was the question. I have since learned that fear is based on any number of different beliefs. But at the core of them all is the idea “I am not safe.” All fears are based on some variation of that belief. For most people who have life-altering fears, this belief started early in their years. It certainly had started at a young age for me.

“God, what can I do about it?”

“Mike, this would be a great place to surrender this fear and believe that I will never leave you in any circumstance.” So in that place, on Highway 93, 20 miles north of Cranbrook, B.C., I surrendered my fear that I would break down in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight. A great weight lifted off my soul and I was set free.

From that day forward, I have broken down six times in the middle of nowhere. You thought I was going to say I never broke down, didn’t you? Nope. I have broken down six times, and every time God brought along someone to help me in the midst of my problem. Two of those times, the supply was miraculous. But those are other tales.

If you live in fear today, let God show you the source. Then, if you like, surrender that fear and let God prove his love for you. The trade is worth it.

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Ecstasy: The Real “Brave New World”

September 10, 2013

SomaA recent article in The Daily Beast chronicles the latest attitudes toward the drug MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. From what author Abby Haglage reports, it is not only teens at raves that are using it. It is actually the same group, but now they have matured into their early 30s. They see it as the safest alternative to pot, alcohol or amphetamines.

One of the women interviewed for the article is Sarah, a 26-year old who has a Master’s Degree in Public health. Here is her assessment of the first time she used MDMA:

She says she uses Molly (Molly is the nickname for Ecstasy) regularly. Thirty minutes after taking it for her first time (while working in England at the age of 22) Sarah was happier than she’d ever been. “Don’t you just wish it could stay like this forever?” she told her friends, something they still laugh about today. Now, working as a public health professional, she says it’s not uncommon to hear her colleagues talk about doing the same thing

It is this idea of Sarah’s that she would want this feeling to stay with her forever that perked my ears. I mentioned this to several friends and they couldn’t see the significance of it.

It may be time for all colleges (and maybe high schools) to require that certain classics of the modern era be required reading. I am pretty sure that Brave New World is still on most reading lists for high school, but because none of my friends caught the reference in this article, I felt it was time to shed some light.

Brave New World is set in the distant future, at a time where humanity is controlled from birth to death. Everyone, at conception, is divided into five groups. The Alpha and Beta groups rule the world and the other groups are the drudges. In order to help the drudges cope with their existence, they are given a free drug called Soma. It has very few side effects and causes the person who takes it to feel content, passive and happy. Any time a person feels discomfort, they immediately take Soma, something they have been mentally conditioned to do since they are born.

The prevailing attitude toward Soma is that it is safe and is the essential ingredient that keeps the world running smoothly. At one point in the story, several people decide not to take Soma when they feel discomfort and realize in the end that they are left with no way to cope with fear, pain, loss and grief. Most of them quickly go back to Soma and then can’t remember why they ever wanted to live without it. At one point, one of the main characters, Lenina, is challenged to lay off the Soma. Here is her answer: “I wish I could feel this way forever.”

This is why the quote above set me off. This world now has two great sins it seeks to avoid at any cost: Boredom and discomfort. With drugs we can now eliminate (temporarily) both of these “horrible” conditions. The rampant use of Methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, crank,  ecstasy and even milder drugs like Adderall show a culture that cannot deal with inner relationship problems any more.

It is not much different with people who drink more than they ought, who smoke dope more than they ought…for anyone who takes a substance to give them inner peace.

Jesus says he came to offer a peace “that passes understanding.” The level of contentment we reach with his peace is one that a drug cannot touch.

Soma’s role was to control and hold in abeyance. The role of God’s Holy Spirit is to give us victory over the discomforts of life by facing them square on with God’s truth.

You choose: A brave new world or a True New Life.

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You’re the Only One Available

September 2, 2013

For several years, I have started out every morning the same way. As I am taking a shower (though sometimes I do it while sipping tea in my office at the front of the house) I tell God that I am available if God wants to change my day. I then think through the events of that day and see if any of them need adjusting.

Occasionally God chooses to speak to me. On those days, I make alterations to my daily schedule. And it is good.

Several years ago, I spent Sunday night tossing and turning. I wasn’t nervous about anything, but I did have a big weight on my mind. The next day I was going to be playing at one of the most exclusive golf courses in Northern California. As I tried to sleep, I felt like that child who knows Christmas is coming – or the other child who realizes tomorrow is the day for Disneyland. Golf is my Disneyland; it is my Christmas.

Finally, I couldn’t sleep any longer, and I went to my office to pray. But I couldn’t concentrate; all I could think of was the Olympic Club (site of the 2011 U. S. Open Golf Championship). I was going to play there that day. I envisioned every nuance of the course. I had played it many times on Tiger Woods computer golf program.

I gave up on praying and took a shower. During my time in the shower, I asked God if any part of my day needed to be re-arranged.

God answered me. I could not believe the thoughts going through my mind. God wanted me to go down to the State Legislature and pray for the budget impasse. The State of California had been without a budget for several months and God wanted me to forego my golf game and spend the day in prayer.legislature

Three things you should know:

First, I am non-political. I don’t care about budgets

Second, I love golf; and I yearned to play the Olympic Club

Third, I had a choice to say no. God does not force us to serve. We are free to bail out any time we want. God would not strike me dead or cause seeping lesions to form all over my body. I don’t think.

I asked God to explain why I, a golf-loving, politics-hating Canadian was being called to pray over the California State legislature and their “stupid” budget problems.

God’s answer in my mind was strange: “Because you’re available.”

Doesn’t that sound strange to you? There must be thousands of people who are praying for California, for the budget, for politics, for the members of the legislature. At least, I assume there must be. But I was the one available – how is that possible?  Yet, I cannot see why my brain would make this up. And the enemy of my soul never tells me to pray, so I can rule out the thought coming from that quarter.

I was the only one available. I firmly believe that God values our Freedom of Choice so much that some prayers will not get answered unless we accept the offer of partnership in praying.

Because I believe that, I called my golf partner and politely begged off our golf game. He quickly found someone else to go and I went down to the legislature.

The first thing I found is they were not in session! I was there alone. Well, not quite alone. There was one solitary security guard who followed me around as I prayed through various rooms. For instance, I sat in the balcony of the Senate chambers and asked Holy Spirit to show me what to pray. I filled up five pages of my journal with insights from the Spirit as I sat there for a couple of hours praying.

At the end of the prayer time, I looked up and saw the security guard on the other side of the balcony. He was just staring at me. After several moments, he walked over and sat down beside me.

“Are you praying?” he asked.

“Yes” I said softly. “Is that allowed?”

“It is. Can I join you?’

He had asked God that morning to give him a prayer partner to intercede for the Legislature and their budget problems. There were hundreds of thousands of state employees who had not received a full paycheck in months. Various vendors were going bankrupt because the budget had not been passed.

This security guard decided enough was enough. He and I prayed for several more hours. We went outside various offices and Holy Spirit showed us which people would broker the deal that week to end the budget standoff.

Two days later, the very people we prayed for did get together to hash out an agreement on a state budget. It was a monumental thing.

I still don’t care about politics or budgets. But I love knowing that on that day, when the world had better things to do, a security guard and I were the only people in the world God had available to him to change things.

That’s pretty special.

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Review of Chapter 3 – “You Lost Me” book

September 1, 2013

You Lost MeStarting with this chapter, Kinnaman delves into the nuts and bolts of his thesis, as he begins to describe some of the various types of dropouts from Christianity. This chapter contains descriptions of the first two of these and from that he builds a template for how to view the dropouts as a whole.

What this chapter is about: He is describing the two most common types of dropouts: Nomads and Prodigals. Nomads are typified by Stephen Colbert (the famous television comedian). In the beginning of the chapter, he quotes Colbert as saying:

From a doctrinal point of view or a dogmatic point of view or a strictly Catholic adherent point of view, I’m first to say that I talk a good game, but I don’t know how good I am about it in practice. I saw how my mother’s faith was very valuable to her and valuable to my brothers and sisters, and I moved by the words of Christ, and I’ll leave it at that.

Colbert is not someone who is disillusioned by Christianity or desiring to walk a different path. He is simply unclear of the path he is on as a follower of Christ. Because of that, he feels strangely distant from the church. He represents the feelings of many nomads.

Kinnaman poses the following question: Isn’t this just what every generation goes through as they seek to validate the Faith for their own lives, in their own way? He then takes a lot of the chapter to describe how the Nomads of this generation face different challenges and sometimes come to different conclusions.

Moving on from Stephen Colbert, the author then points out the life of Katy Perry, the young pop singer who became famous for the song “I Kissed a Girl”. Perry says

“I was like, wow there are a lot of choices. I began to become a sponge for all had missed; I was this curious as the cat.”

Perry is the type of Nomad that just wants to find out what she has missed in her sheltered Christian experience. Because of this, she admits she had to loosen some of her moral stances. But she has every intention of sticking to her Christian faith, even if she experiments with other ways of living.

Nomads are described as those who, at some point in their lives, decide to go their own way and discover the world (and their faith) for themselves. They don’t wander away forever; but they do wander away.

The Prodigal is a much different animal according to Kinnaman. They leave the faith entirely, often for a taste of living without faith’s restrictions. Many of these become Atheists, agonistics or skeptics and many do not return to faith or the church. Unlike the Nomad, they don’t often go back to church to compare it with their new lives – they are done with Christianity. And when they do come back, they often do so because of a major disaster in life.

The Valuable thing about this chapter:  Kinnaman accurately identifies both types of dropouts, but also makes decent distinctions between them so the existing church can identify its dropout grownup children and fashion a response to each kind. It is heartening to know that most of them are Nomads and not Prodigals. But it is also hard to read the comments of those in the chapter who write about their prodigal experience.

Kinnaman also gives some compelling surveys, answering questions asked of these two types of dropouts. These surveys depict the inner mindset of both groups so they can be studied and understood.

Weakest Part about the chapter: Though Kinnaman states that this generation is different because of the vast online resources available to them, I still don’t see how their inner heart attitude is different. In the same way that they have access to many more resources to fuel their doubts and fears, so too the church has many more resources to reach out to them with. I believe the differences cancel each other out. Today’s nomads compare equally well with nomads of every generation.

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