Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Valentine Question

It's just a couple of weeks before Valentine's Day now, so I want to make a suggestion to husbands, who probably need to get a clue.  Yeah, everybody knows that men need to get a clue.  The worst of us are those who don't even know it.

Last week at our Ephesians Bible study, led by Keith Street, someone brought up a quotation from Bill McCartney of Promise Keepers fame.  The Coach said, "You can tell the depth of a man's walk with God by the countenance of his wife's face."

It is the husband's job to love his wife.  To cherish, honor, bless, and encourage her.  To make her feel like the most special woman in the world.  As all men know, women are difficult to figure out.  In fact, they are nearly impossible to figure out.  It's like we need divine intervention.  In fact, we do.

So, the most important Valentine question may be the question you ask God: 
What is the key to my wife's heart? 

I encourage you to ask that question, and listen to God's answer.  It may surprise you.  It may catch you off guard.  It may remind you of something long forgotten.  Once God reveals the key, you have to act upon it.  Get creative, get serious, get humorous, get real.  Stop taking her for granted.  Unlock all of that feminine mystery you can fathom, with the key to her heart.

The key won't be material treasure or anything grand.  It will be simple, honest, thoughtful, from the humble depths of your heart.  It won't be a one-time gesture either.  It has to represent an awakening of your own heart to the beautiful privilege of belonging to your bride.

Ask the question, change your heart, pour yourself out for your love.  It may bring a sweet smile to her face like you haven't seen in years.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Love and Suffering

I just finished Richard Rohr's book, The Naked Now.  Every time I read one of his books, I think, "This must be his magnum opus."  Again, I am blown away. 

I have discovered that my pattern of thinking, my perspective, the lenses through which I look at life are flawed.  Like everyone, I have inherited a mind tainted by the Fall in the Garden of Eden.  It takes, Rohr says, a lot to break through this flawed pattern thinking and feeling.  Normally we rock along in life, taking our cues from the world around us.

Generally only two kinds of life experiences can get people to step back and evaluate their lenses of life.  Those two experiences are deep love and great suffering.  Virtually anyone after a near-death experience gains a new, deeper appreciation for life.  Similarly, anyone deeply in love sees all of life differently.

If I want to see life more deeply, I need to suffer or love deeply.  Now it is foolish to court suffering.  Life naturally brings suffering anyway.  But I can choose to love.  I can love with abandon.  I can love with creativity.  I can love unconditionally.  I can love on purpose.

That's how I want to take my heart and mind to a new level.  The suffering will come too.  And that as well will take me deeper.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Pondering the Greats of Battle

Winston Churchill once said, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."  Indeed many have noted that history is written by the victors.

But some military victors are known as evil, while some are thought of as brilliant and benevolent.  Alexander the Great conquered much of the world and is lauded for spreading Greek culture around the Mediterranean.  Julius Caesar conquered most of Europe and is remembered as a hero.  William the Conqueror is hailed as the last military leader to invade Britain in 1066.

Meanwhile, Attila the Hun, Genghis Kahn, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Adolf Hitler are known as brutal warriors, villains of history. 

All of these military men led huge offensive killing operations, yet some are remembered as "great," some as evil.  Of course historians will differ on their assessments of leaders, and probably have more objectivity as the centuries go by.  In the South, General William Sherman is remembered as brutal, cruel, and needlessly destructive in his march through Atlanta in the Civil War.  But his decisive blow to the Confederacy wiped out any hope for the South to win the war.

What sets the good conquerors
apart from the bad?  I have not done much historical research here, but I have some ideas.

Leaders are judged by their methods.  Unusual cruelty hurts a warrior's reputation in history.

Leaders are judged by their motives.  Alexander believed that he was bringing good to the lands he conquered, and history seems to agree.

Leaders are judged by the culture they advance.  Warriors who promote freedom find more favor than those who bring tyranny.

In the short run, it is hard to think of offensive, killing, conquering operations as good.  Yet the long run of history lauds countless military campaigns.  History, of course, is written by the victors.

Ultimately, God will be the judge of history.  Scripture even calls God a Warrior.  I look forward to understanding the truth.

Friday, January 9, 2015

New Books

I recently received an order from Amazon, including four titles by Richard Rohr.  A year ago, as I began a two-month sabbatical, a friend recommended that I read a book by Rohr.  "Which one?" I asked.  "Any of them," he answered.  That's about right.  I have read three of Rohr's books now, and every one cuts through the fog and chaos of this world and drives straight to the heart of connecting with Jesus.

Of the four titles I received this week, one I have already read, but can't find my copy of the book.  I needed another one to reread and lend.  The new titles I look forward to reading are The Naked Now, Adam's Return, and From Wild Man to Wise Man.

I thank God for gifting this author with insight and wisdom.  Reading Rohr helps me become more like Jesus, and that's a miracle in itself.  And I thank God for friends who recommend good books!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dam Wood Tables

In cleaning out a cabin on my farm in 2013, I came across an old rustic wood table, made from tree branches.  My wife saw this piece during the cleanup process, and suggested that we take it home.  It now lives on our back porch, sporting the decorations of the season.  Over time she hinted that she would like me to make her another table like that one.

I meditated on the project for months, mentally putting small logs together.  Finally I reached the point of execution.  I examined in detail the table construction and went after the building materials.  I harvested a number of small trees from the dam of my farm pond.  (Who let those trees grow on the dam anyway?)

My first table creation
I pulled out some cedar planks trimmed off another project and used those for the table top.  Then I crafted the legs, based on the prototype discovered in my cabin.  This whole process took a number of hours as I bent nails, pre-drilled nail holes, and broke off three drill bits.  This project proved more challenging than I had imagined.  With the project apparently complete, I checked its stability:  so wobbly, I would not trust it to hold a stack of Richard Rohr books.  After adding two more stabilizing pieces, I declared the project complete.  Later I learned that hickory logs present particular challenges for nail driving.  So that’s what hickory looks like, eh.

My wife loved the table.  She sent photos to her sister, who of course wanted one for her porch.  I had my second commissioned project.  This time I pulled out my magic tool.  I had never used the nail gun that came with my air compressor, but suspected that it would suit my purposes perfectly.  Sure enough, it turned me into a fastening hardware wizard.  Not only was it efficient, it was fun.

With this second table complete, I had my sister-in-law’s birthday present all ready.  There was only one problem.  My wife liked that table too.  It was a perfect match to the first table, and, well, she really needed it.  Of course.

By now, I found myself enjoying this new hobby.  I selected all cedar wood for this next project, because now I was an artist.  In no time I fashioned another table for the birthday, and it now proudly resides on a suburban porch in Raleigh.

I looked for the next project.  I found some wood from a fallen barn on my farm and popped together tables and shelves of various shapes and sizes.  To raise funds for my mission trip to Uganda in April, I sold tables to my neighbors.

Now I find myself working in the garage in my spare time, taking my natural materials and fashioning one-of-a-kind creations.  This wood from my dam became works of art.  Now I have dreams of marketing my Dam Wood Tables as a small business.

Never meant to be firewood
Last month my family spent a couple of nights in a cabin along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  As we stacked firewood on the porch, a piece of split pine called out to me; its curvy grain could not bear to be burned, so we brought it home.  It is now a small stool sitting on my hearth.  My family protested my plans to sell it, so I suppose we will keep it as a memento of our trip to the Parkway.

Through this brief foray into rustic furniture construction, I have learned some important lessons. First, the materials often determine the project.  When I pick up a piece of wood, I imagine what this piece wants to become.  With one board I planned to make a table, but I could not determine where to cut it.  Then I realized the board’s real purpose.  With two cedar logs supporting it, the board now serves as a small bench on my front porch.  It was never meant to be a table.  I have spent far too much energy forcing my will on objects, situations, and people. 

Second, my techniques improve through trial and error.  I rarely get it right in my first attempt, but I learn as I go.  This applies to everything from parenting to pastoring to building.  My latest tables have firm legs without all the bracing.  The more I do this, the better I get, as long as I keep learning.

Finally, I am learning what it means to be an artist.  God has made me to be creative; I am made in his image, and he is the Creator.  In my work, whatever it is, I seek God’s guidance to make something beautiful and useful.  Some pieces I like so much that I hesitate to part with them.  They may only be sold to good homes where they will be loved and appreciated.  Or we may just keep them.

You can find more photos of my work on Twitter, @damwoodtables. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Prayer Posture

In his book The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson describes a helpful prayer posture.  In prayer, one can extend his hands, palm down, and acknowledge before the Lord those things he needs to put down or let go of.  Today I found myself letting go of selfishness, worry, control, and sin.  Then one extends her hands in prayer palm up, ready to receive all that God has to give.  Today I received his perfection, forgiveness, joy, peace, perspective and purpose.

I find that this posture greatly helps me recognize and repent of sin.

It also reminds me that there is so much that God wants to give me.  He longs to pour out his power in my life.  I need to come to him to learn what he wants to give me, then willingly receive it.  I wonder how much God has wanted to give me over the decades, and I never took time to see it or receive it.

The more I stay in fellowship with Jesus through prayer, the more I will allow him to pour into my life.  He gets the glory, and I receive the joy.  Sounds like a God-plan.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Prayer News Flash

In my personal experiment with prayer, I discovered something shocking today.  Praying first thing in the morning works.  I mean, I am alone, undistracted and focused.  This morning I was also uncharacteristically non-sleepy.  I think that the excitement about bold praying kept me awake.

So, the news flash is that praying early and first helps me pray well.  Too bad that years of biblical and Christian heritage had not already made that point.  I guess I'm one of those people who has to learn things for myself. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Perception vs. Reality

When I was in college, a friend referred to me as a man of prayer.  That sounded so impressive, I have held onto it for decades.  I like being called a man of prayer.

And so I have found myself spending time in prayer so that I can live up to that description.  I want to be known as a man of prayer.  But I see now that there little value in being known as a pray-er.  Spending time on my knees does not really make me a pray-er any more than spending time the kitchen makes me a chef.  I'm only a chef if I can prepare good food to eat.

I'm only a pray-er if I can see God at work through my prayers.  I can only see God answer my prayers if I am specific in what I ask.  I can only see God do great things through prayer, if I ask him to do great things.

I'm not so much interested in the reputation any more.  I would rather see God's glory revealed in his power, as I ask him to do amazing things.  That takes guts.  It also takes a deeper relationship with him, so that I can know what amazing things to ask.

In all this, Jesus is drawing me closer to him.  That's much better than flattery from my friends.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Serious Business

I am realizing that prayer is not something that I take care of, and then get on with life.  I pray throughout the day, whatever I'm doing.  At least, that's the prayer state I'm working toward.

The more I pray, the more tuned in I am to the work of God around me.  Just today I got a piece of information that could turn into an answer to a big prayer of mine.  Guide me, Jesus, as I pursue your will.

This is serious business, prayer.  God uses prayer to shape this world.  Of course I want to be part of that.  I hope I'm catching on.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Prayer Issues

As I plan to get serious with prayer this year, I have some issues. 

Prayer system.  I have used notebooks, cards, and electronic devices to prompt me in prayer.  I have also used pure memory.  Today I got out my prayer index cards again, primarily because of issue no. 2.

Distractions.  I realize more and more the profound distraction of all things electronic.  Using my phone or computer to display my prayer list can be dangerous.  But I don't even need a screen to get distracted.  My mind constantly wanders.  The prayer system can be a great reminder of the task at hand.

Time.  I know that I need specific, dedicated time to prayer.  Somehow I let prayer time get relegated to leftovers.  Real praying takes more than leftovers. 

Substance.  I need to get real with God.  I need to praise him with abandon.  I need to ask him for serious intervention.  If he is to show his glory in my life, I need to ask boldly.  Jesus repeatedly urges us to ask the Father.  So rarely do I make a big ask.  No wonder I don't see more breakthroughs in prayer.

Jesus really wants to impact this world with his goodness.  I want to cooperate on my knees before him.