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243 pages
Sep 2006
Broadman & Holman

Recipe for Life: How to Change Habits That Harm into Resources That Heal

by Graham & Treena Kerr

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Chapter Fourteen

What Is
Abundant Life?

It isn’t greed, compromise, and false appearances,
it isn’t fame, affluence, or humongous homes.
It’s selflessness, honesty, hearing, and obeying.
It’s forgiveness, repentance, and it’s doing what He’s saying.

Let’s start off by exploring what it isn’t. “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

If the stream of intent that flows in one’s life is about gain, then it will fill the reservoir of the heart with greed. But what is “every form of greed” that I failed for so long to guard against? My wellspring of gain that led to greed came more through appearances than envy.

My father’s name was John. He and my mother, Marjorie, were hotel managers, or hoteliers, if you long for the upgrade! This meant that I was raised on a champagne lifestyle with a beer income. We lived on the premises of good to very good hotels. Our rooms were made up daily by servants, our food cooked and served by servants. It was almost as if we were to the manor born. And yet, my parents were servants, and I, the only son of servants. My friends were the sons and daughters of customers, customers my parents served. I lived in the company of servants and the upper class, which in England isn’t a glass ceiling. It’s a steel-reinforced concrete bunker.

There were elements of my life that I liked, but others that I hated, and both won! I liked the attention as the managers’ son. I liked to have my bed made and to select my food from a French menu and be served, albeit a little earlier than our customers, but still in the main dining room with its Irish damask tablecloths, silver, and crystal.

I hated to be the son of a servant, to be somehow less than my “friends.”

My parents had sent me to a private boarding school, at which I had acquired my “southern counties accent”—the ubiquitous BBC announcer voice of that era. I had a few good clothes, but they were good. My jacket was Harris tweed; my suit, a country copy of Saville Row. I had a black tie and dinner jacket (tuxedo) so I could attend “hunt balls.” My mother would fix my tie and stand back and say, “Oh, darling, you’ll knock them dead.” I don’t think she liked being a servant either. I have no doubt that it cost them dearly to send me to a private school. My parents were not wealthy, and the war had intervened at a time when they might have done a little better.

I was tall for my age and fast on my feet. During my years at “prep” school, I remained unbeaten in the hundred-yard dash; it was my main claim to fame! Then one day a new boy joined the school. He was my age, slightly taller, and, just by looking at him, faster!

At the main sports day that summer, we took our places side-by-side to see who was indeed the faster boy in the school. I got a very good start, and at thirty yards was well ahead (by a few feet!). At the halfway mark, I could hear him coming up behind me. The gap was closing and I was losing.

I couldn’t lose. I strained forward; he continued to gain. In desperation, having nothing else to offer, I deliberately tripped myself and fell headlong onto the track, only a few yards from the finish.

“Oh, bad luck, Kerr,” my pals cried out as they helped me to my feet. “You had it in the bag,” they encouraged. But I knew better. I didn’t want to fail, and my trip had the appearance of an accident, and not the reality of losing the race.

I have had a hatred for competition from that day on. No matter what the sport or enterprise, I have had a built-in fear of failure largely because of what it would look like to others. Appearance! “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:1–2).

Competition is a brutal taskmaster because it draws a direct comparison with another’s efforts. It makes some winners but most losers, and endurance is only possible if we run at our own speed and with that to be content. “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, . . . and to work with your hands, . . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thess. 4:11–12 NIV).

We entered our Christian race a little like an old Volkswagen bug, firing on only three cylinders, entering US 101 at Los Angeles with the highway full of speeding trucks. We were celebrities, but we were also babies in our faith. All we knew was what Jesus had done in our lives. As we were privileged to meet other Christian leaders, I began to watch what they did and how they spoke. Wanting to win the approval of my new “family,” I copied what I liked and did the best I could to avoid what I didn’t.

By doing this, I took my eyes off Jesus.

What I succeeded in doing was reproducing what appeared to be godly behavior that I now know was an attractive, nonthreatening lifestyle that included good suits, good cars, and attractive, smiling friends. Appearance!

One thing I’ve always tried to do is be unique. I was the son of a servant, but I so wanted to be a customer. I was fast on my feet, but I didn’t want to be an also-ran. I never ever wanted to be a tourist, always a local.

Being a Christian celebrity seemed to fit this bill quite well. I could still be different and yet be seen as trying to be the same. Appearance!

At eighteen years of age, I was called up (drafted) in the British Army as a potential radar mechanic in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). At twenty, I was commissioned as a junior officer in the Army Catering Corps. This I didn’t especially like. If I’d had my choice, I would have loved to be the subaltern that carries the flag at the Queen’s birthday celebration in London each year. I knew every move that young officer had to make, and one night when I was in my early thirties, I did the entire parade sequence in the dead of night right there on the famed Horseguards Parade! I was, however, a catering officer in a service not known for its gastronomic pursuit, and, to some extent, I needed to be camouflaged.

I wasn’t alone. I had a friend, Haden Jannaway, late of the Irish Fusiliers—a grand, well-educated chap who had been injured and “converted” to the Army Catering Corps. Haden came complete with a set of civilian clothes “to die for.” A jaunty, slightly fuzzy bowler hat, a real Saville Row suit nipped in at its waist and cut ready to go riding. He had yellow pigskin gloves, a tightly furled umbrella, and an old school tie. Smashing!

So, I did likewise and ran up an impossible bill at my tailor (also in Saville Row).

One fine spring day on a weekend pass in London, we were strolling as only guard’s officers appeared to stroll (really it was an in-step saunter) down past St. James Palace where the Horseguards, the ones with burnished brass breastplates and plumed helmets, stand guard seated on polished, patient horses. As we sauntered closer, we saw the guardsman sizing us up out of the corner of his eye. As we passed, he raised his sword in salute, just in case we were officers that he should know. Little did he know (until perhaps now!) that he had saluted two army catering corps officers! Appearance! “But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many a pang” (1 Tim. 6:9–10).

I now possessed the clothes and the accent. I was an officer, and I had learned to saunter. I was well on my way to being known for who I was not.

Oh, my goodness, that bowler hat, that silver-topped cane, and those yellow pigskin gloves. I disliked them ALL intensely and had to get rid of them. I threw the walking stick into the river “Dovey” when we were living in North Wales. The yellow gloves disappeared or wore out eventually. But the bowler hat, Ha! That was a wonderful, delightful, and creative disappearance. I was producing an army show with a cast of the soldiers in the camp where Graham was stationed. Graham was to be “Ertha Kitt’s older sister,” Earthier Kitt—our surprise guest. I had a blue bed sheet and used it to make him a slinky sarong-type dress. (I needed the sheet again; hence, the sarong.) The dress had a split at the side for his hairy leg. I then purchased a long, black cigarette holder plus cigarette; but the wig, now that was more difficult. I had some black horsehair—don’t ask me from where; I have no idea. How could I attach the hair and to what? Then came the great and brilliant idea! The bowler hat. Yes, of course! I cut out the top of the bowler, glued the long pieces of black horsehair to it, and “voila,” the wig was an absolute fit to my darling’s head. Genius, right?

The show and Graham were a wow! I can’t repeat the name of the show (it was before we knew the Lord). When Graham eventually went to wear his bowler again, he found, to his surprise, there was a large hole in the top. “Well, darling,” I smiled sweetly, “the show had to go on.”