Sleepy Thoughts on Altruism

It was shortly after 5:00 am Eastern Standard Time and I was laying in my bed awake.  I wasn’t protesting sleep or even tossing and turning fighting to relinquish my consciousness, rather I was woken up by my sporadically anti-establishment 8 month old son. Sometimes he loves the sleep schedule we impose on him and on other nights I think he is trying to recruit the neighbors to be “down with the struggle”.  In a statement of full disclosure, for every minute of sleep I lose, my wife has probably lost 45 minutes (she is a saint in more ways that one).  Nevertheless, I found myself awake just after 5:00 am EST last night. I must have just ended a REM cycle because Britt’s weary request for me to put the baby back to sleep didn’t sound like the equivalent of running a half marathon with cinder block shoes.  Only a slightly reluctantly I left the room to pat my little protester’s bottom until he gives up his latest attempt to shrug the yoke a full night’s sleep.

After a surprisingly quick victory in the sleep battle, I returned to my bed with a mind that was slightly less foggy than when I began.  Eager to claim my last two hours of good sleep before the day began, I started to consider altruism.  “Does getting up to put the baby back to sleep count as an act of Altruism” I wonder, getting closer to sleeping again. “It doesn’t benefit me to admit my consciousness to Britt when he is crying through the baby monitor. In fact, it benefits her to know that I am awake and that she can stay in bed and rest, while I sacrifice my sleep by going to pat Jonah back to sleep.  I guess that is the definition of altruism if you wanted to be technical…”

As I am pondering these things and sleep is just a minute or two away, I hear that noise that makes my heart sink.  The baby is crying through the baby monitor again.  If my thoughts were broadcast out loud you could have literally quoted me as saying, “I don’t want to get up again. I just want to lay here in bed and think about altruism.”  By the time that the irony hit me, Britt was already on her way out of the room (like I said, a saint).

Whether or not my weak attempt to allow my wife to get some more sleep can be considered an act of altruism or not, I was reminded of what a true act of love looks like last night. When I think about serving my wife (or anyone for the most part) rarely do I have the opportunity to be truly altruistic.  Altruism being the act of helping another person at the cost of my well being. Even when given an opportunity to be altruistic, I preferred to stay comfortable and merely ponder the merits and boundaries of altruism instead of participating.

It is precisely moments like these that remind me to be grateful for the supreme act of altruism that Jesus completed by his crucifixion.  He being completely perfect and absolutely innocent was punished for my transgression.  He was completely aware of what harm would come to him and of what benefit would come to me (and all of mankind) and he accepted the terms and allowed himself to be killed.

In the end my half hearted altruism does really compare to that of Jesus, but it did serve to remind me of how far I am from being holy and encourage me to persist to that end.

Advertisements

I am what I am.

image

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

It was not my culture, birth place, family, morals, actions, worldview, academics, time period, church, pastor, or my will that allowed me to know Jesus as savior.  It was God’s grace.  The work I do as a result of this (regardless of amount) is by His grace too.

My Prayer: Father, help me to remember this at all times so that I may remain humble.

The Tortoise Always Wins

Two years ago as Britt and I were preparing to get married we were looking at our finances and making plans for how to pay off her school debt.  We thought we might be able to pay it off within a year or two because of Britt’s diligence to keep her debt to a minimum and God’s blessing for me to make it through school without incurring any debt.  The plan was going well until we had an unexpected C-Section when Jonah was born.  The hospital bills backed up our plans significantly, or so we thought.  As I am writing this, Britt and I are completely debt free!

This is our filled debt thermometer.

This is our filled debt thermometer.

How did this happen?  If you are a listener or reader of Dave Ramsey (as we are), you have probably heard Dave say that the tortoise always wins.  This is a reference to the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  In the story the Tortoise and the Hare are competing in a foot race.  The Hare has the obvious advantage in speed and flaunts it in the beginning of the race.  However, the twist is that the Hare gets distracted and stops racing for a little while allowing the Tortoise to catch up and eventually win the race. What Dave Ramsey means by “the Tortoise always wins,” is that if you are patient, persistent, and diligent with your plan to get out of debt then you will always succeed, just as the tortoise succeeds in beating the hare every time you read the story.

Honestly, I agree with Dave, it took Britt and I almost two years of focused budgeting and saving to pay off all of our debt, but I think that there is more to the story than that.  The story of the tortoise and hare is static and never changes and it only focuses on the power of will and determination.  There is much to be said about persistence and determination, but the story also speaks a lot about the danger of getting distracted from your goal.  Like I said though, I agree with Dave.  There was however a greater power at work in our story I believe.  It was because of God’s provision and plan that we were able to pay off around $11,000 worth of hospital and school loan bills in under two years, not just my and Britt’s persistence and determination.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

This book was very helpful in getting out of debt.

In His perfect timing God provided the money that was being held in an account from the previous year.   Last year I was only getting paid a portion of my full support that was available.  All of that remainder was dispensed to me at the first paycheck of the year.  This “bonus” (if you want to call it that) was actually deposited into our bank account on my birthday.  What is more incredible than the coincidence of the day it was deposited was that it was deposited when we needed it the most.

Only a couple of days beforehand, I sitting at our church staff meeting and looking at my bank account online.  The posted balance was just over $13. As you can imagine, this caused me to get a little nervous about our financial situation.  With $200 dollars in cash leftover from Christmas gifts and $13 in the bank I began to see the beautiful picture that was about to be painted. At our staff meeting, the other pastors and I began discussing my salary and how much money was left in my account from the year before.  Acting as advisers, both Mat and Jason recommended that I take as much as possible from the left over while still leaving a couple months worth of paychecks for the period of time that I was going to be securing my funding for the next year.  This way Britt and I would be able to pay off our most expensive monthly bill and keep that much more money in our wallet each month.  At this point I thought that all we had to do was make it to the next Wednesday and then the money would be in our account and give us comfort again while we continued to pay off our smaller debts.

As I left our staff meeting I was comforted by the fact that we were going to be able to survive without over drafting into our savings.  Then I began to think about the phrase “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”  I thought it seemed appropriate for our situation, going from $13 to paying off our hospital bill was quite an encouraging thought.  Thinking about this I was reminded of Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection.  To his disciples, the crucifixion must have seemed like the darkest and worst imaginable scenario.  In their eyes the person that they had been following for three years that had sufficiently proven his divinity as God in the flesh, had just been executed as a criminal.  Jesus was supposed to be the savior of the world.  All of mankind had been waiting for him to come and reunite them to God and then he came.  However, he was killed before he got a chance to establish God’s kingdom and reunite people to Him.  Jesus was dead and his enemies had won.  Or so it seemed.  Three days later the sun rose and brought the dawn after the darkest hour.  When Jesus came back to life, he validated and proved everything that he had ever told the disciples.  The disciples joy must have been immeasurably more powerful than their previous sorrow had been.  So the crucifixion made the world the darkest just before the resurrection had caused the dawn to come.

This is the greatest story ever told.  Jesus overcame even death itself to bring joy, love, grace, and truth to all of mankind.  I’m not comparing my paying off debt to Jesus’s resurrection, but I am saying that I was reminded of it when I thought of our situation.

There was however a miscalculation on my part.  I thought that we would be able to pay off our hospital bills and have a little left over to pay off some of Britt’s school loans.  I was wrong, but in a good way.  We actually had enough to pay off all of Britt’s school loans after the hospital bill was paid.  I think this miscalculation was even a way that God was trying to reveal Himself to me though.  You see, I was anticipating paying off the hospital bills and having a measure of comfort and a plan to finish paying off the school loans.  However, Jesus’s resurrection wasn’t intended to give us a measure of comfort from the pain of sin and provide a plan to work out our salvation.  The resurrection was for complete freedom from sin.  In the same way, God didn’t want my “bonus” to give us comfort and a plan, He wanted to give Britt and I complete financial freedom.

Because of the faithful giving from our ministry partners Britt and I are freer than we have ever been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and broken world.  We are extremely excited to be able to share with others the story of how God provided for us all along so that we could enjoy his blessing of abundant giving at one time.  This all happened after we returned from Mississippi to find that our pastor had installed a new (used) refrigerator and stove in our home while we were gone.

It took patience and diligence for me and Britt to see financial freedom, but we are focused on something much bigger than financial freedom.  We want to see students find spiritual freedom.  If you have been following my newsletters or blog for a while you might remember that I have been meeting with multiple students that claim no religious belief.  I just wanted to share with you all that some of them are now reading the Bible.  None of them have committed their lives to following Jesus yet, but God is working in their lives, even if they can’t see it.  With your prayer I hope to see “the tortoise” that is God’s unfailing plan, win these ones too.

Should We Cut Toxic People Out of Our Lives?

“I would love to know your feelings about cutting “toxic” people out of our lives. Would and did Jesus do that?” This is a question posed to me in a comment of a past blog post.

(https://openspacetothink.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/honest-advice-2-be-merciless-to-sensitiveness-in-yourself/)

This question has been brought to my attention more than once recently so I will take the time to give my opinion on whether or not it is a good idea to cut “toxic” people out of our lives.

The best place to start this conversation is to actually define what or whom “toxic” people are.  My first thoughts as to who toxic people are involve people that keep you from meeting your goals in life, people that discourage rather than encourage, people that like controversy more than confidence, and people that are most happy when the attention is always on them. As I spent more time considering who toxic people are I approached the Bible to see if there was a description of people that could be considered toxic and what the prescribed action should be in the event of encountering those people.  I think I found a sufficient answer in the book of 2 Timothy in chapter 3.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” 2 Timothy 3:2-5

These are the harsh yet honest words of the apostle Paul.  If Paul’s description of these kinds of people does not qualify as toxic, then I’m not sure what would.  I find Paul’s definition of toxic people to be more useful than my original definition because it provides a more objective definition than mine.  By my description a person might be toxic to me, but not to another.  However, by Paul’s definition a person displaying such characteristics would be equally as toxic to everyone.  While this might seem trivial, I think that there is an important concept at work here that could be overlooked.  When we are considering an action so severe as cutting someone out of our lives we need to be sure that the person is more than annoying to you based on your personality, but the person is legitimately someone that is dangerous to everyone.

Perhaps equally as harsh as Paul’s description of toxic people is his prescribed action when faced with toxic people.  “Have nothing to do with them”, is a pretty bold suggestion.  Paul leaves little room for interpretation in this concise statement.  Paul is writing this letter to his protege of sorts, Timothy, in the period of time when the Christian church was just beginning to take shape.  Paul knew that if Timothy were to allow these people to be a part of the identity of the church that it would certainly mean the destruction of the church.  In a similar way, if we allow these toxic people to become a part of our identity today, we will be putting our future in a very dangerous position.  Both Christian and secular philosophers agree on this point for Paul quoted the Greek poet Menander when he said, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character’ ” in 1 Corinthians 15:33.

If having nothing to do with certain people seems to be a little harsh or vaguely contradictory to what Jesus would have said, then you are probably more correct than you might think.  While it might be more convenient to simply eliminate people from your life, this is not the complete prescribed action that Paul gives Timothy in his letter to him.  If you read further in 2 Timothy you will see that Paul tells Timothy that while he should avoid the toxic people, he is also to “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)  Who would Paul want Timothy to preach the Word to?  It seems to make far more sense to be preaching the Word to those who do not know the Word and display that lack of knowledge through their actions, than to preach the Word to those who already know the gospel message and are living in accordance with it.  After all Paul does continue on to tell Timothy to do the work of an evangelist in verse 5.

So what then is our conclusion about toxic people?  Avoid them, do not associate with them, and do not let their attributes begin to shape your character, AND at the same time we should be sure to take our given opportunities to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus with them.  How will they know that they are exhibiting the characteristics of a toxic person unless we “correct, rebuke, and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction”?

This conclusion that I reach in Paul’s writing is also very similar to what Jesus taught about when a brother sins against you.  In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 18 Jesus describes the three steps that should be taken when someone sins against you.  Here is a quick paraphrase.

Step 1: Go to the person that offended you alone and show him his fault.  If he does not listen,
Step 2: Go back to that person with one or two others so that both sides of the story may be heard by a mediator or two.  If he still does not listen,
Step 3: Take the offender before the church to confront him, if he still refuses to admit wrong doing, treat him as an unbeliever.

There are two things that need to known about this course of action.  First, this is the course of action to be taken only when both the offender and offended are Christians.  Second, in the event of step three not succeeding and having to treat the offender as an unbeliever we need to remember how it is that we interact with unbelievers.  For the non-Christian our job is to display the love and grace of Jesus so that they might come to understand the gospel.

For another perspective on this issue, check out this blog post that I read a few weeks before this question was posed to me.

http://storylineblog.com/2013/10/24/what-jesus-taught-me-about-walking-away-from-people/

Inherited From Your Family

Going through some small group material with the high school students in our church last night I read something that really caused me to stop and consider my upbringing.  “God put you in the family that you are in so that He could shape you into the person He wants you to be.”  This idea seemed like a pretty basic fact (if you believe that God is in control of all areas of your life), but as I thought more about the ways that my family upbringing shaped my life, I began to consider how my life was shaped in some unfavorable ways by my family upbringing.

Every person inherits traits and attributes from their parents.  We inherit physical traits such as height or hair color, and we also “inherit” learned behaviors such as spending habits, dietary choices, or communication tendencies, etc. .  Some of these traits we love, but others we cannot stand.  “We can’t choose our families, but we can choose how to respond to them.”  This is another quote from the small group material that caused me to consider how I have reacted to the traits I have inherited. I realized that most of the traits that I inherited from my family growing up I embrace, or at least I am indifferent toward, however there are some traits that I actively and intentionally fight against having and displaying.  If I am honest, these are traits that I simply cannot stand.  When I see them in myself I cringe because it seems that if I am not actively fighting to avoid such behavior it will become my default action or nature which would in turn make me the same person as my parents.  This is an absurd notion, but it haunts me nonetheless. I should also mention that in the impossible event that I become a complete mirror image of my parents, it would (in most respects) be an honorable accomplishment.

The fight between my inherited traits (and nature) persists nonetheless though. It was in considering this struggle between my inherited nature and my intended nature that God revealed to me the blessing it is to inherit even the undesirable traits.

I think it is the traits that we can’t stand that God uses the most to bring us to be like Him.

I realized that in my life the inherited traits that I fight against most are the traits that seem to be the least Christ like.  These traits that bother me so much point to a conflict of Christ-like behavior and worldly behavior.  I strive to live and be like Jesus in all areas of my life and these bothersome inherited traits keep me from doing so.  I am bothered by the inherited traits so much that I want to be different and I spend concentrated time and effort actively trying to be different (or better). Unbeknownst to myself sometimes, I am in fact fighting to be more Christ-like in my behavior in these areas.

In this fight it is most beneficial to understand that Jesus wants us to fight to be more like Him in all the areas of our lives, not just the ones that do not suit our preferences.  Realizing that in some areas of my life I am desperately fighting to be more like Jesus helps me to realize that I should be bringing that same fight (the fight for holiness) into the areas of my life that suit my preferences, but are not necessarily the most God honoring.

After verbally processing all of this with my wife last night I realized that it was the areas of my family upbringing that were less than perfect or even painful at times that help me to know how to fight for holiness in all areas of my life.  And so the original statement was proven true.  “God put you in the family that you are in so that He could shape you into the person He wants you to be.”

Afterthought:
I want it to be abundantly clear that I am in no way complaining about my parents or family.  I am very grateful to have two wonderful parents that I love and who love each other.  I was also blessed to have two great older brothers that taught me more than I would be able to give them credit for.  I love my family and would not change a thing about our life together.

Kirtman Family Photo May 2013

Kirtman Family Photo May 2013