The Straight Razor Experiment

20130219-094757.jpg

That is a picture of my new bull horn, Damascus steel straight razor purchased after “The Razor and Pipe” inspired me. I’ve shaved with it twice and wanted to share some thoughts for those men out there (or bearded women looking to avoid a circus career) who would like to take the plunge.

1. It is harder than the internet makes it seem.
I was under the impression that shaving with a straight razor was akin to running a hot knife through butter – the whiskers would just fall off in fear of something so manly. Not the case. Hold the blade with too small of an angle and the razor takes off your lather, but not much else. Hold the blade with too big of an angle and it a a good way to razor burn and/or cuts. Apply too little pressure and the coarse beard hair refuses to budge. Apply too much pressure… well it isn’t called a cutthroat shave for nothing.

2. Your skin needs to adapt.
I’ve traditionally worn a beard for two reasons: one, my wife likes it (score!) and, two, I have sensitive skin and the least amount of shaving I have to do the better. After many moons of not shaving, learning to shave with a straight razor has been hard on my skin. Everyday shaving is not feasible, so I’m testing out every other. My hope is that I will toughen up and learn the skill quickly so that shaving can be part of my daily ritual.

3. Learn on your legs.
Let’s face it, the upper thigh on a caucasian male is extraordinarily unattractive. So, since no one ever sees it, what a great place to practice! This allows you to hone your technique, learn what it feels like when the razor cuts hair and see how the razor works. Only a small portion of the razor scrapes your face with each pass and learning how to properly angle it is key.

4. Straight Razor shaving is awesome
It is true that straight razor shaving makes one feel very manly. It is a traditional ritual that men have engaged in for centuries, earliest evidence was the Egyptians shaving with copper blades, and quite exhilarating. It definitely makes me feel ready for the day. It isn’t as fast as modern shaving and requires a great deal of skill – absolutely perfect for someone looking to live a more intentional, thoughtful and slower paced life.

All in all, straight razor shaving has been a success. I like it and am looking forward to experimenting with technique to get a close, comfortable and razor-burn free shave. Hope this helps encourage others to try it out.

Advertisements

The Nehemiah Fast

I laid a challenge before the congregation this past Sunday after hearing my wife teach from the book of Nehemiah. She preached a timely word and Holy Spirit was speaking to me a lot during it. After she was done, I challenged the people to what I’m now calling an Inverse (or Nehemiah) fast. Before I say more, let me quote the passage Dani taught from:

They (Ezra and the Levites) read from the Book of the Law of God, making it plain and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of The Lord is your strength.’

In this text, Nehemiah and Ezra gather the Jewish remnant who were freed from captivity and are now rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. Ezra opens the Book of the Law and begins reading and great conviction falls upon the people as they hear God’s standard for their lives and realize just how far they’ve fallen short. That seems completely natural, doesn’t it? Conviction, repentance and grief are natural responses when we discover just how sinful and rebellious we have been. But God desires something else.

God, through Nehemiah, commands the people to knock it off – to stop mourning and grieving and repenting for it was a holy day in God’s sight. Nehemiah commands the people to do the exact opposite of their feelings and culture – he commands them to feast and celebrate and party for an entire week! It was only after this time of celebration that they gathered together for a solemn assembly to confess their sins and show their repentance. But what gave them the ability to repent so whole-heartedly was the time they had spent celebrating the goodness and kindness of God. It was His joy at their return that enabled them to make the necessary changes in their lives in order to live in accordance with the Law. How beautiful is that?

It is just like God to flip things on their head. The King of the upside-down, inside-out Kingdom loves to take us outside of ourselves and into His Reality. And what I felt He was speaking to me was this – Lent is “traditionally” the time when we as the church enter into a time of fasting, confession and repentance. We spend 40 days (46 actually) in supposedly strict discipline in order to identify with Jesus’ trials and temptations in the wilderness. We then break our fast on Easter morning with a huge celebration. And before Lent, on Fat Tuesday, we’re supposed to gorge ourselves on all the stuff we can’t have during Lent and that is supposed to “see us through,” and give us the resolve we need to make it those 40 days. I’m going to call baloney here.

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, has become a worldly spectacle. There is more drunkenness, loose sexuality and rebellion on this day than I care to imagine. What was supposed to be a beautiful picture of the Lord’s joy in His people has been turned into a day of debauchery. What was supposed to be 40 days of purification and separation to The Lord has become an excuse to try out the latest fad diet. The rituals and traditions of the Church have been corrupted by the world and it’s time to take it back through spiritual violence. And when I say spiritual violence I mean a day of fasting followed by a 40 day festival of joy where we eat real, good food, invite our friends over more and generally try to celebrate one another and enter into the joy of The Lord.

So my challenge is this: fast today, Fat Tuesday, and repent, on behalf of our nation, for what it has become. Then, starting tomorrow and ending on March 29, don’t stop dancing, singing and celebrating The Lord. Where others are going through the motions of religious discipline, call their bluff. Religion benefits no one, love benefits all. Then, on March 29, Good Friday, we are going to gather together for a solemn assembly. I can think of no better time to confess, repent and re-up than on the day we remember Jesus’ betrayal, torture and crucifixion. We’ll fast on Saturday and have a blow out party on Easter to celebrate Jesus’ triumph over death and our hope for everlasting life. Sound like a plan? Good. I’m looking forward to dancing with you before The Lord and entering into His enjoyment of us.

Leave a comment if you think of any fun things we can do during this time to help us celebrate more fully. Thanks!

Overcoming a Bored Spirit

Dani and I have been talking and teaching lately on how we are predisposed to overcome. We’ve been made into the image of the One who says, “Take heart, I have overcome the world.” Our natural inclination is to be victorious in battle and to overcome any adversity. I view of yesterday’s post, I’d like to share a little about overcoming spiritual boredom.

My premise in writing this entry is “that a bored spirit will always turn to sinful behavior in order to feel alive.” Overcoming spiritual boredom will keep us living in our true identities as overcoming sons and daughters and will also guard us against sinful behaviors we really don’t want to be doing in the first place. The following are simply my opinions on where to begin overcoming spiritual boredom.

1) Relationship with God
It’s probably no surprise that this is where we should begin. God is the Source of every good and perfect gift and He is endlessly fascinating. But we have to have a revelation of God as a Person and not just a set of principles. When you begin interacting with Jesus as a man, the whole dynamic of your spiritual life changes. Christianity ceases to be religious rules and sentiment and becomes a real-life adventure you are fighting for a place in. Knowing that you were created by God to live in this hour and do the things He has placed within you in huge, it adds dignity and worth to your days.

2 Being a resting place for Holy Spirit
As Bill Johnson says, “the Spirit is in my for my sake and upon me for yours.” Every believer has the Holy Spirit within them to some degree, for the Spirit is what draws us to God and gives us Grace to believe. However, it is possible to experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in greater dimensions. I firmly believe that we should experience the power of God regularly in our every day life. This could be words of knowledge, divine appointments, seeing people healed when we pray for them, financial power encounters, dreams, and many other ways The Lord speaks to us. Having the power of the Spirit manifest in your life is really wonderful – we want to jealously guard this gift because it is a tremendous amount of fun to be used by God to minister to others.

3 Having a routine
Boredom frequently occurs when we have long stretches of unaccounted for time. It is good and Godly to rest and relax, but I’m talking about the wasted hours that become Facebook or youtube binge sessions. Knowing that you just spent three hours looking at garbage is soul killing. It beats down your will and you are less resilient to temptation. Your thinking becomes, “well, I’ve already wasted this much of my day, I might as well pile it on.” Instead, have a routine that gets you up and out of yourself and focused on the things God’s made you to do. I notice that when I have a set a solid routine I am much happier, healthier and more productive.

4 Party
I mean party in the sense of having fun, doing what you like to do and doing that with other people. Some of the most enjoyable things in life are simple and easy to do once you decide to do them. Have some friends over and cook a mean together. A homecooked meal with good red wine is one of my favorite ways to party. Dani and I love to get together with friends to worship. The possibilities are quite endless, just stay away from soul-killing activities like drunkenness.

Well, that is a good start for now, but I’d love to hear what you think. How do you overcome spiritual boredom? What tips and tricks do you have to share that keep your heart alive? Have a great weekend my friends.

The Longing for Fascination

I had an unusual and enlightening experience last night. I had the opportunity to minister with two other people to someone who had consumed tainted drugs and was experiencing side-effects. We were able to pray for and counsel this young man and I’d thought I would share an insight I had.

Obviously, this person is alright. God did His thing and removed the worst of the side-effects and we were able to talk with him and make sure he was alright.

When I asked this person why he tried to homebrew hallucinogens, he replied with one word, “Mystery”.

Mystery. This kid, very intelligent and diligent about tracking down small details, was bored with life. He was willing to risk his own life and health in order to create the unknown. Because he has previously chosen to use those gifts in rebellious ways, the enemy has been able to afflict him with night terrors (read: demonic attack), boredom, depression and social isolation. But I believe this impulse for creativity, risk and adventure is of Godly origin, not demonic.

We were all created with a deep-seated need to be fascinated. I had reservations about saying that before, but after last night I am convinced. We want to be fascinated, we want to be captivated by Mystery, and we will do just about anything to fulfill that.

Hunger is hunger, it is a blunt instrument that we need to use discernment with. How we satisfy that hunger is intensely important because it can set the course for our life. If “our god is our belly” as Paul says, then we will be driven by hunger to satisfy the desires of our sinful nature: sex, drugs, intoxication, gambling, etc. However, if we walk in the Spirit then the Spirit will lead us to satisfy our hunger in God honoring ways: by being great in God’s sight, by serving others, by seeing the sick healed and the dead raised, by knowing that others are better off because we are in the world.

What is interesting about this young man is that, in his own words, “I never miss church. Never.” Church for him isn’t Sunday morning, but Wednesday night, that is where his community of faith comes together to worship, hear the Gospel and be with one another. This young man loves God, but is not fascinated by Him. I wonder how many other people in the church are in the same boat? The side effects might be different, but the disease is the same – a bored spirit will always resort to sinful behavior in order to “feel alive.” We will look for fascination somewhere, and if we don’t find it in God we will try to create it for ourselves. This is known as idolatry in the bible.

So how do we help people to be fascinated with God? What is the difference between those who are fascinated and those who aren’t? Is it anything we have control over or is it totally the work of the Spirit? I don’t have answers to these questions, but I believe the salvation of a generation is wrapped up in them. If we, as the Church, aren’t fascinated with God and His Kingdom, how can others be? Faith is more caught than taught – are we contagious with our faith? Are we living whole-heartedly and doing work worth doing? Do others really want to be like us, or is that just something we say to fool ourselves?

I would dearly love your input to these questions. This needs to become a much larger discussion within the community of faith. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Preparing for a conference

On February 15 and 16, my wife and I will be hosting a conference at our church called “Make It Plain: Anticipating Jesus’ Return.” We are both very excited for this conference and what it means for our church, community and state. We are believing that God will use this conference to do a number of amazing things in people’s lives – giving them focus and purpose, imparting and activating spiritual gifts, increasing hunger and passion for Jesus, refreshing and reviving the weary and a whole host of other things. The more I prepare for this conference, the more excited I get.

Needless to say, there has been a lot of preparation on our end of things – preparing teachings, organizing, administrating and planning. To be honest, it has all been a little overwhelming. This is the first conference that I’ve ever hosted, shucks, its the highest profile event I’ve ever done and I don’t even know enough to know if I’m forgetting something. As the days crunch down to “go time” I find my anticipation growing (“its going to be awesome!”) as well as some fears (“what if no one comes or I totally bomb out?”).

I totally believe that fear and doubt are from the enemy and are unhelpful emotions when something is going to happen anyway. So I find myself reminding myself of why we are doing this and what motivated it in the first place. So here is a behind-the-scenes look into what God has been speaking to me about this conference.

I choose to live as though Jesus is going to return in my life time and I look for evidence of His return. Why? Because it keeps me focused and steady on the things that really matter. Jesus said “I am coming soon!” over 2,000 years ago, why don’t I think it will be another 2,000? Well, to snatch a phrase from the Apostle Paul, “because the day of our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” It is super easy to get caught up in things that aren’t eternally important or even temporally important in the long run. I can blow away time with the best of them, but having a Purpose tends to keep me on track. Knowing I’ll have to give an account of my days helps me recalibrate my life and make better decisions.

But more than that, I really do believe Jesus is coming back soon, and it has me tremendously excited! For the first time in history the Great Commission is going to be fulfilled! It will happen within the next 10 years according to YWAM and other missions organizations. Never before have we been able to make that claim. We’ve had wars and famines and earthquakes around the globe for years, but “this Gospel will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14) takes on startling sobriety when you realize that the fulfillment of that verse may well be before you retire.

Sure it will get bad on the earth before Jesus returns, but Jesus likens it to “birth pangs”, terrible in the moment and soon forgotten as soon as the baby is born. The Church is simultaneously mother and midwife – birthing people into the family of God and also helping to deliver a 12 pounder called “The Kingdom of God”.

The purpose of this conference isn’t to sow fear or talk about how bad it is going to be. The purpose of this conference is to help people fall in love with Jesus as they see new and deeper facets of His character. The book of Revelation is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ.” Most people think of it as the book about the end, but the true purpose of the book is to reveal the man, Jesus, the emotions, motives and desires of His heart. The Gospels give us a true picture of Jesus’ character, but not a complete one. There is more to this man than we know and Dani and I hope to explore and impart some of that with those who come.

So, if you have a free night and day, please join us at Vineyard Community Church in Waverly, IA for the “Make It Plain” conference. The details are below.

What: Make It Plain Conference
Where: 319 W. Bremer Ave. Waverly, IA
How Much: $10 ($5 if you are a student)
What’s Included: booklet with notes for the 4 teaching sessions, copy of my commentary on the book of Revelation, entrance to the conference and all the coffee you care to drink.
Schedule: Friday, 7-10 (Registration from 6-7p)
Saturday, 9-noon and 1-4 (lunch is on your own)

If you have any other questions or want to invite others, you can find this event on our Facebook page. We hope to see you soon!

The Razor and Pipe

* Warning: This is a long entry, more for my benefit than yours, but I’d love if you read it and share your own stories. *

The Razor and Pipe. If I’m ever in a position to claim a garage or outbuilding as my own, this is what I’m going to name it. My hope is that it will become a communal meeting ground for the men in my life to come and hang out around a fire, smoke a pipe or share a pint of homebrew. More and more I’m feeling the need to have a dedicated “man space” where I can just be with my friends and talk, or not talk, about life. It is a niche in my life that needs filling.

In my mind, straight razors and pipes combine tradition, ritual, manliness and contemplation with a bit of edgy adventure. I’ve stories about each and I’m finding only now just how much those stories have shaped me.

My great-uncle Harold was a good, old-fashioned barber. He and his wife used to run their own barber shop/salon. I would get my hair cut there as a kid (except for the time I wanted a mohawk – that Uncle Harold refused to do) and I remember feeling different when I walked into his shop. Here was a “man space” where men from multiple generations would gather to talk or look through the various magazines as they listen to the latest gossip around town. It seemed to me that Harold knew everything that everyone was doing and could converse about anything. I admired that about him and I think my varied interests come from overhearing those half-remembered conversations.

Well, one day, when I was a teenager and had started shaving, I asked Uncle Harold about getting a straight razor, like the one I’d seen in his shop. He put up quite the fuss and launched into an extended monologue about how much safer cartridge razors were and how I had no business messing around with professional tools. Danger, tool, professional – three words that hooked me instantly. I remember walking away from that conversation convinced that I would one day make straight razor shaving a part of my life.

It’s been a little over a decade since then and I’m slowly assembled the tools of the trade. The last two items I’m looking for are a quality razor and strop. I’m close to finding both and I couldn’t be more excited. Since my wife likes me bearded, we will have to forge a facial-hair compromise.

Some of my earliest childhood memories come flooding back when I catch a whiff of pipe tobacco. My maternal grandfather, Hank, was a pipe smoker and every infrequent trip to his house brought about an onslaught if smells. Wether it was the pipe tobacco in the living room, the sawdust in his basement or the fish in the lake, every trip to Hank’s was a new experience. I don’t actually remember my grandfather well, he was really distant as a dad and grandparent, but I do remember the smells and associating them with some solid, stoic and unchanging. Hank wasn’t much of a role model for many things, so I was surprised as I was walking and thinking about this entry that memories of him came to mind. But in my boyhood memory, Hank was set apart in hazy, aromatic manliness. Though I didn’t particularly like him, there was something about Hank that demanded my respect. I can’t articulate it better than that, but I get hints of it whenever I smell pipe tobacco or look at pipes.

I’ve been wading through these memories recently because I feel like I’m on the hunt for authentic masculinity. The role models I see for my generation (mid 30’s to mid teens) are atrocious. One can either choose to be a disengaged gamer, overgrown meathead or trendy effeminate. Very few of my generation think about “careers”, instead they think about the various jobs they need to take in order to make ends meet. I feel like my entire generation is adrift in meaninglessness and ennui. There are few quality role models and no one seems quite sure how to make the jump from boy to man – does it happen at 18 or 21? Does it happen when you father a child or buy a house? No one seems to know and we have a huge percentage of young men living at home, living below their potential and squandering their time on World of Warcraft. Yuck.

The Razor and Pipe is, for me, a call to arms against the slipshod manliness that I see. I want a breeding ground for men of honor, courage, integrity, compassion, creativity, ingenuity and grit. I want to be surrounded by men worthy of respect, who hold me to a high standard and who call out what is best in me. I want to be surrounded by a group of men who challenge me, support me, lead me and follow me. I want to learn the skills that they have to teach and to share what I’ve acquired through the years. And, more than anything, I want to help the younger ones, and the generation under them, make the jump from boyhood to manhood with certainty.

So, who’s with me? Who wants to see if this dog can hunt? I don’t care how old or young you are, only that you are a man looking for more who wants to help other men be men. Ladies, I appreciate you and your support, but you can’t come. But you can send your husbands, brothers and sons with your blessing, giving them to stretch and grow and become the men God created them to be.

It is not polite to “should” on people

This entry will be shorter than usual, because I’ve done a lot or writing recently and my brain is about ready to go on strike. But I was inspired to write this quick entry because of some comments I received from my readers regarding my last entry on enjoying life.

It’s not polite to “should” on people. This includes telling people what they “should”: do, wear, look like, act like, talk like, sound like, enjoy or just about anything else. It isn’t that we throw out standards of behavior, we just need to let people be who God created them to be.

Each of us who belong to Jesus was re-created into an image of God. We bear different aspects of His character in our personalities, in our likes and dislikes, in our interests and hobbies. Part of living fully is, as Brene Brown puts it, “Letting go of who we think we should be and embracing who we are.”

Some of us have lived the majority of our lives chained to the plow of “should” and we have sacrificed much joy, life and creativity. It is good to be responsible and men in particular seem inclined to sacrifice what’s inside of them so that they can make ends meet for their families and live respectable lives in the “real world.”

So, if you find yourself hollow inside, going through the motions of life/work because you are hoping to buy freedom in the end, perhaps it is time to reexamine your life. Don’t trade the creative image of God inside of your for dollars. Don’t sacrifice yourself to Mammon.

And if you have found a way to blend your passions and desires with your work and family obligations, I want to hear about it. How have you made it work? What have you had to adjust in your schedule and expectations in order to synthesize the two? What makes you come alive?

As always, thanks for reading.