I just want to make a chronological review of this weekend because it was one of my best and longest in a long time. On Friday, Terri woke up with a migraine. Not the most terrible one, but one bad enough that she felt she had to miss school. This is not an easy decision for teachers because it usually entails creating sub-plans, which is not a small amount of work. Friday was especially unfortunate as her kids were performing a skit about the Little Engine that Could.
I stayed home to work to take care of Terri and so I could be here when the windows guys came in to fix some windows whose seals had broken and were clouding up. The workman that took the windows out had to use a hammer to smash the glass to pull the old windows out before putting in the new ones. That was a mess to clean up after in three different rooms of the house. Fortunately, the work is being done on the previous home owners expense (or at least that of their relo-company).
Working from home, I got through as much of my email and through as many tickets as I could and was relatively quiet compared to the problems earlier in the week (mail working intermittently when, according to Courier, it shouldnâ¿¿t have worked at all). After I'd gotten through all the important stuff and assigned the rest to my dudes, I started packing for the New Hope Men's Retreat, "Battle for Your Heart II, Engage".
I tried to pack as little as possible as there is something close to competition among the men at the retreat on how little you can bring. I lost and know what I will not bring next year—ah, who needs to shower when it's just an overnight thing, just shower just before you leave. Terri's friends came over to hang out as I was headed out the door.
The ride to the retreat was only mildly difficult as it was snowing but it was way too warm for the snow to stick. I wasn't driving this year either, which was something of a relief (I get very intense when driving in poor weather). Once there, we picked our bunks and hung out until time to start (just a few minutes later). The first event, as always at these things, was the "sorting ceremony" where everyone is placed with a group leader who will facilitate discussion during the rest of the retreat. This year's sorting technique was to give everyone a piece of candy that they weren't supposed to eat. Then, you had to find the leader with the same kind of candy. Well, some of the candies were near misses (Reese's Peanut Butter cups with gold wrappers and orange writing or gold wrappers with yellow?), some leaders were confused as to what variations matched their candies, and it looks like either through miscounts or the fact that there were fewer guys present than had signed up had further thrown off the count.
After all that was sorted out, we had our learn-your-group-members-names game. Every two groups joined together to form a larger group and then we tossed tennis balls around the group saying the name of the person we tossed to. Our group was the odd group and we also had a seventh member because of a late arrival. We were more or less, unofficially disqualified from winning the candy, but I didn't really need it anyway—yes, that's sour grapes for you.
Finally, we started the first session. Our speaker was Dave Mitchell and he is awesome—yes, a "da Bomb" column is forthcoming. He is a very intense and precise speaker. I don't know if he literally reads from his notes, but I had a look at them at one point and he types his stuff out in essay form. Then he highlights where his points coincide with the slides so the visuals guys can follow. In any case, he sticks very closely to his notes. I think he must just speak his notes nearly verbatim because his phrasing of each statement is nearly perfect. He cuts straight to the heart of the matter and then inspires the listener through his intensity and passion. He's cool. He's a model I would seek to follow if I were ever to preach.
The first session was titled "The Foresight of Provision." The overall theme was "Provision," by the way. His major theme for the session was that we, as men, should be providing vision for those around us. "Being a provider is being part prophet." Looking ahead to see what God is doing in the lives of the people we take care of. Then, casting that vision into their lives to help them face the next challenge of their life. The most memorable illustration of the night was the tsunami illustration. Basically, "some dangers move too fast to outrun once they've come." The picture was of a man who'd lost his son to the tsunami. The question is, what would he have done for 30 seconds of warning? 30 minutes? The answer is, 30 seconds is meaningless. That might not even be enough time to find his son, let alone save him. But, 30 minutes could have given him the warning he needed. Thus, the goal of godly men should be as "watchmen" trying to give each of our dependents that 30 minutes of warning to weather the storm.
I also had the opportunity to pray for a friend, who confessed to having been struggling with pornography and had been caught by his wife. This is tough. I have had the same experience. I hope I won't, but I don't trust myself enough to say I won't ever have that experience again. God is gracious and, fortunately, so are our wives. It's good to have men praying for each other in a situation like this because all men face it and men really know the needs of another man who's wounded in this way. If only we could cast of these natural bodies and take on our spiritual ones to complete the work of sanctification. These bodies drag us down under the curse even after our minds have been renewed. Unfortunately, we don't get to see that happen until after death, so such hope is vain.
After the first session, we had "free time." They also started the movie, "To End All Wars" on the screen in the sanctuary. I came down and watched the movie and it's a good one. It's about POWs in a World War II Japanese labor camp. These men are made to live on barely enough food and forced to build a railroad through Thailand to prepare the way for a Japanese invasion into India. The story itself is based on a book written by one of the men in the camp (and the main character of the movie). The only star I recognized in it was Kiefer Sutherland. The story is, like most labor/death camp stories of World War II, about the horrible conditions of the camp and how these conditions turned the men into animals. However, early in the story there was a turning point that led the men to hope and through following Christian teaching, the men became better workers for their Japanese captors. I don't want to give anymore than that away, but it is an excellent movie.
After that, I hopped up onto my bunk and slept. That was just Friday.
On Saturday morning, I woke up about five hours later at 6:45 and showered, dressed, and headed to breakfast. The guys I rode with slept on the top bunks and another group of guys slept on the bottom. I met Mike, one of the bottom bunkers, and we headed over to breakfast together. At breakfast, I sat with a different group of guys, only Aaron I knew. (I think I actually met him last year at the men's retreat.) I met his brother Kelly, I hope I'm spelling correctly, who's currently studying business. I also met another completely unrelated fellow, Adam, who's studying Civil Engineering.
We then went on to session two. This session was focused upon "The Sacrifice of Provision." A major point of this message was that we cannot work to provide for others without sacrifice. The difference between welfare and provision is sacrifice. Welfare is a purely selfish endeavor: "Here, take this and leave me alone." Provision is when someone needs clothing and all you have is your own shirt to offer. You give it to them in their need. In the movie we watched, this is very well demonstrated when a man who is dying of dysentery (basically, a disease that drains all the water out of your body through your bowels until there's none left) is nursed to health by a fellow prisoner by sacrificing his own rations. The man nearly sacrifices his own life to save the other and then the saved man does the same for the other.
Lunch was roast beef and vegetables. This time I sat with Jeremy, my small group leader, Robbie, Alex, Todd, and one of the guys from the Wichita group (whose name I am not now able to remember). We had some spirited discussions about the sessions and our difficulties, along with mocking Todd a bit for a story he told about nearly winning the high school baseball championship.
Session three was about "The Source of Provision." I'd say the theme was more, "Dependence Upon God for Provision." Men can't be men on their own. We are weak and our masculinity is undermined both from outside by our culture and from within by our own bodies. Men want to be gruff, rough, and tough. We want to club our women and take them home and take advantage of them. This is the natural state of man in the model of Adam. In Christ, our spirit is given a new model through the working of the Holy Spirit, we can take after our new father, the new Adam, Jesus Christ. The ultimate man (to men) in our culture is James Bond. He's untamable. He gets the girl (or several sometimes). He's strong, courageous, independent, and debonaire. He can dodge bullets while sipping a martini. He's a god of manhood and needs no one else. He is an unattainable lie.
When men try to become this man, we get men who have affairs, who abandon their children and wives for money, sex, fun, or self-satisfaction in work and achievement. We have men who don't make commitments to provide for those around them. We end up with boys disillusioned with masculinity and wanting no part of it. We have a culture slowly breaking up like a calving glacier. Our culture is falling apart around us because men don't care for their own, they care for themselves.
Thus, the point of this message is that men can't achieve true masculinity on our own. We must be dependent upon the source of true strength, Jesus Christ through His Spirit. This is how men become fathers who don't just play with and punish their kids, but become role models for their kids. This is how husbands go the extra mile to make sure their wives have what they need to succeed at work and as mothers. Leadership in Christ is leadership through service. We need to sacrifice our personal goals and try to achieve God-sized goals that force us to be dependent on God for their success.
Now we were done and headed home. On the trip home, Brian, Rudy, Jeff, Chris, Peter, and myself discussed what we were most challenged with and I think it helped me focus on a couple issues. One aspect we discussed in the third session about dependence is the difference between working for God's purpose and striving within ourselves to be godly. The first is possible, the second is self-defeating as we just don't have the strength. Yet, the second seems easier because it's straightforward and we can claim the glory for ourselves if we succeed. The problem is, we won't succeed. On the trip home, I focused this down to Paul's discussion of the natural man versus the spiritual man, the new man versus the old. This discussion can be found in 2 Corinthians, Romans, and is a major theme of Galatians and Ephesians too. My conclusion is that to be dependent on God means to pursue God's will our motive. To strive to achieve God's will is to try to satisfy our own will as our motive. Dependence on God is a matter of motives, not a matter of works. We must work because it will bring us closer to God or will serve the same purpose in the lives of those around us. We must not try to work so as to assuage our guilt or to prove our worthiness to God because there simply isn't any worthiness that can be proven nor can guilt be removed without the shedding of blood, and Christ has already paid that price. To strive is to mock Christ's sacrifice. Or, as Dave Mitchell put it, "If we can succeed by our own works, then God becomes a cosmic monster. Why did He make Christ suffer such a horrific death for no reason?"
Once home, Terri and I had our date night and discussed what had happened during the last 24 hours or so. We had a very good meal at Coco Bolos, which reminds me I need to think about Valentine's Day...ahem. We hit Pier One as they're selling out their stock at their current location to move to a new one. We found a mirror to hang above the mantle and a vase. We also rented The Village and Napoleon Dynamite to watch this weekend. We came home and hung the mirror, talked some more, and then went to bed.
On Sunday, we had one of the best sermons Dan has given in a while. It was on Romans 5 and about how we can either keep our natural born ancestry of Adam or choose to take on the new ancestry of Christ. The first leads to death—i.e., eternal separation from God, a state Christians call hell. The second leads to life—i.e., enjoying God and worshipping him for the rest of eternity, a state Christians call heaven. It was a very good message.
Terri and I then went shopping for groceries and folding chairs, which we needed for meals this week and for seating for the friends coming over later that night, respectively. We bought a rotisserie chicken for lunch from Walmart's deli. We had lunch and then cleaned the house up as our LIFE group started meeting at our house last night. We then watched Napoleon Dynamite, which is a truly strange movie. As far as I can tell, the theme of this movie is, "Dorks are cool too." Revenge of the Nerds, but about guys who have nothing going for them. The movie also has no plot. There isn't really a struggle or climax as far as the whole movie goes. There is a small amount of plot in some of the subplots, but even most of those are just pointless. I'd say it's definitely a post-modern movie, but with a happy ending. (I'd expect a truly post-modern movie to have no ending as this movie didn't really seem to have a beginning.)
Once the movie ended and we were able to wipe the incredulous looks off our faces at having enjoyed something so mindlessly stupid, we made final preparations for LIFE group to come over. This was one of the best LIFE group meetings we've had in a long time as well. This weekend has been very good overall. We are discussing the book of First John and specifically discussed the end of chapter 2 and start of chapter 3 yesterday. It's a challenging section that I think I will talk more about in another blog, if I have time.
After the discussion time we had some really good prayer time amongst the guys. We were able to share a bit of what was on each of our hearts and to pray for each other. I understand the women also had a pretty good prayer time.
All in all, this weekend was hard but good. All throughout, Terri and I had some really good intimate discussions as well. I really want to do more of that with her, but it is very hard because I don't like opening myself up. It's much easier to superficial with her as it is with everyone else. Yet, I know that our relationship cannot grow if we only show a mask to each other and let our internal doubts gnaw at us alone.