Canaans Rest

Canaan’s Rest represents a quiet place “set apart” for the purpose of hearing God's voice, growing in intimacy with the Lord, and being renewed in soul and spirit.

Month: January 2010 (page 1 of 4)

Feb. 1st

 Devotions from Haase’s book on forgiveness

When we ask in the Lord’s prayer for God to forgive us we are showing we are aware of our own sinfulness and need. Our forgiveness of others is a paradigm for God’s forgiveness of us.  Jesus is remembered as saying that justice is not served by getting revenge and balancing the ledger but by generously sharing with others what we ourselves have experienced from God.  Forgiving our neighbor and performing selfless acts of sacrificial love is our response to God’s forgiveness. As we are sensitive to our need for forgiveness it helps us to take the first step in forgiving others and reconciling when possible.

Our ego conveniently forgets our own sinfulness due to its emotional need to protect and promote self-concern, self-image, self-preservation etc. It wants to enthrone itself on the seat of judgment and criticize others.  But as His followers we are only too aware of our own fragility, weakness and sinfulness. Because we have enjoyed his gift of forgiveness, we can accept others and renounce our own arrogance and self-righteousness.

Rather than have a “Velcro-personality” that holds grudges and hangs on to hurts, we should become “Teflon-personalities that let the hurts slide off. We might not forget, but we choose to forgive.  More tomorrow!

A Father Who Delights In You (II)

In my my last post I ended by saying in order for men to have a “heart” connection with the  love of God, we will need to learn to “receive” and “see.”  For us to get “unstuck” so we can communion with God, that is, have a relationship beyond thoughts, perceptions and feelings, we are going to have to pay attention to our hearts.  Heart is the innermost core of our being, the meeting place between ourselves and God.  “The heart” observes James Houston, “is not to be identified with intellect, emotions, or will.  Instead all three are held in balance.  To be at home in the heart is to be truthful to one’s self.”  It is in communion, a heart to heart relationship with God, that we experience love.  The great spiritual tradition called it “knowledge through love.”  Theophan the Recluse put it this way, “The principle thing is to stand before God with the intellect in the heart, and to go on standing before him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.”  “To stand in the heart……is a relationship that springs from the deep center of our personality, where we can be directly in God’s presence, and open to divine love.  The distinction between intellect, emotions, and will is no longer needed” (Houston).  In the Cistercian tradition the emphasis is on finding our way back to the heart.  We are explorer moving into the unknown, pilgrims away from home in search of our hearts.  Heart is home.  As Henri Nowen observes, “may of us don’t know our address.” 

So I picture myself, standing in my heart before God.  Can you picture this posture for yourself.  What are your responses to this imagery.  If you are anything like I was when I first read the quote from Theophan over 20 years ago, I was confused, frightened and very uncertain about such a practice.  Why?  First of all, I had never been exposed to the contemplative tradition.  For me it had been  mostly thinking the right thoughts and then trying to do the right things.  This has been big in my life since I have been a pastor, “being paid to be good.”  But I knew the “heart connection” was not there.  Secondly, I didn’t want to be out of control.  I had a need to understand and grasp what I was experiencing in this practice. Thirdly, was it biblical, or was I going to leave my ” Evangelical Lutheran moorings.”  Some men reading this post have already crossed the threshold, having embraced some part of the contemplative practice. In the simplest terms, you are moving from your head into your heart.  But my concern is for those of you, who are at the door of the threshold.  Let me assure you that all is well with going into your heart.  It is the way of Jesus.  He tell us, “Live in me.  Make your home in me just as I do in you.  In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being  joined to the vine, you  can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me” (John 15:4 – The Message). I needed that assurance for quite sometime.

So let’s say, you are at the threshold, or you have gone ahead but pulled back out of confusion or uncertainty.  In this post I have three pieces of advice to give you, as I look back on my own experience.  I will make it short in this post and come back to these points later.  First, take some time to sit and listen.  This might be difficult for you to do.  What I am aiming at, is the need for you to hear the deepest desires of your heart.  They are for God.  There is the inner voice of God calling you home.  You have gone so far away that the voice is rather strange and foreign.  But it is the voice of God. So many other inner voices have been able to drown out the “still, small voice.”   That is what you have to pay attention to on the contemplative path.  Second, give yourself permission to” let go” or as the spiritual tradition says, “detach.”  Let go of preconcieved ideas regarding your relationship with God and how it should work.  If you are dissatisfied with your “connectedness” then you should be letting go.  “Letting go” is going to be like “unlearning” certain assumptions you have had.  Thirdly, if at all possible, find a fellow pilgrim who has been on the contemplative journey for awhile.  It will be of great help.  My pilgrim was,  Hal Green in Des Moines, Iowa.  I will be forever grateful for his guideance as I got on the contemplative path.

I will be coming back to the first two points I made in the past paragraph.  That is all for now, since this has become a longer post than normal.  One word of encouragement.  When you move over the threshold, into the contemplative dimension, you will experience darkness. That is a normal experience to get used to.  Don’t fear or worry about what you preceive to be darkness.  God is allowing the darkness so that he can teach you and help you to unlearn some things.  It is a time to learn new dimensions of trust.  Isaiah give us this exhortation. “If you walk in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God” (Isaiah 50:11).

Jan 30th

Devotions from Haase’s book, Living the Lord’s Prayer

As we think about the part of the Lord’s prayer of Forgive us our trespasses, we are aware that God doesn’t withhold mercy from anyone.  “Don’t set limits to the mercy of God. Don’t imagine that because you are not pleasing to yourself, you’re not pleasing to God.”  God loves us not because we are good but because God is good.  Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Every soul that stands under condemnation with nothing to say of itself has the power to turn and discover it can yet breathe the fresh air of God’s pardon and mercy.”

 We need only to come out of hiding and be found and embraced by our Father.  As His beloved, we are only a heart’s request away from forgiveness.  God is anxious and ready and eager to forgive.

His divine mercy transforms us from a sinner to a saint. He throws our sins into the ocean, forgets the past, and welcomes us home with wide-opened arms.

Jan. 29th

Devotions from Haase’s book, Living the Lord’s Prayer

When we pray “ Forgive us our trespasses” we are recognizing that God frees us from our guilt and forgets our past. In, fact, no sin is written in indelible ink! 
There is debilitating guilt and there is healthy guilt.

Debilitating guilt is when we allow our ego to become judge and prison guard, reminding us constantly of our sin and condemning us. It puts us behind prison bars of shame and our hearts become a straight jacket that constricts us. It convinces us to cower in shame and embarrassment.

But healthy guilt is when we honestly admit our sins, examine their roots and causes, learn from them and move on. Such guilt challenges us never to forget that God has the final word.  We are reminded that God is patient with our sinfulness and lavish with divine forgiveness.  He delights in taking our sins of past and throwing them into the sea where there is “No fishing allowed.”! When God forgives, He forgets.

We are also to be as merciful and forgiving with ourselves as our Father is with us. 
Like the story of the prodigal we need to accept what we are freely offered and recognize that forgiveness is a free gift.
So much of our spiritual formation is coming out of hiding and standing in the light and moving to repentance. The essence of repentance it so be transparent before God about our sinfulness, accept God’s forgiveness, and recommit to being our truest self.

Jan. 28th

Devotions from Haase’s book, Living the Lord’s Prayer

When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” it is not just an act of humility but it is a commitment to become daily bread for others.

Jesus often ate with those who had been ostracized and condemned by the religious leaders.  In his table fellowship Jesus invited people for who they were, the beloved, and did not exclude them for what they had done.
He was the Bread of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness to them.

. There are so many hungry people in our world who are not just physically hungry but starving for affection, craving our time and attention, poor and sick, lonely, longing for meaning etc.

Our challenge is to become the bread that feeds the hungry people around us. We are called to feed others with selfless acts of sacrificial love. As His followers we are called to empty ourselves without counting the cost.

 As He did we are called to give ourselves to one another.  We are the Body of Christ on earth.

A Father Who Delights in You (I)

I wonder if there are not men who are read this blog from time to time, who are living lonely, isolated and frustrating lives, wondering if it is really possible to connect and relate to God on a more personal level.  David Benner points out that the deepest yearning in the heart is spiritual. We were made for intimate connection with God.  For men this is a hard concept.  We prefer to stay on the surface of things.  He observes, “Our need for love, connection, and surrender from the spiritul core of our personhood.”   There are many “church” men going through the motions of the spiritual life, trying to believe the “spiritual stuff” and do all the right activities expected of them.  They just don’t feel they measure up spiritual to their wives and the pastor.  They go through steps and starts and then fall back again into a resignation that accepts a kind of “low grade” sense of failure for not being a “spiritual” man.

I have a burden to communicate with men caught in this dilemma.  I have know a lot of men like this in my years as a Lutheran pastor.  It is only in the last ten years that I feel I have learned how to come alongside  these “good, decent and honest” men and be a beacon of encouragement.  In my early years of ministry I was guilty of encouraging men to do the right spiritual things, such as pray more and have a devotional time.  But the heart and soul of men was not affected.  Not until I learned how to experience God at the heart level did my approach with men change.  I could not give and share what I had not learned and experienced myself.  So I have decided for better or worse to write a series of post entitled “a Father who delight in you” to address this issue.  It will be a work in progress.  I know what I want to say, but saying it in written form is the challenge for me.  So if there is anyone reading this blog who is being helped, give me a “heads up” so I know I am not “whistling in the dark.”

The first thing I would say from my own experience, is  “relax.”  If you are a man who has trusted Christ as your savior, then you have God’s presence within you not just with you.  It is as simple as that.  You don’t have to earn your way, you don’t have to “be more spiritual”  or be more deserving.  Greater intimacy and awareness of God in your life is all gift and grace.  Hang unto that truth on your journey.  The journey that I am discribing can simply be called “the contemplative way.”  Listen again to Romans 8:15-16, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”  You need to know that the very presence of God is not just “up there” somewhere or “around you”, but He lives within you.  We are talking about what Leanne Payne calls “incarnational reality.”  Jesus said the He and the Father would come to make their home in us.  “My Father will love them. and we will come and make our home with each of them” (John 14:23).  It could not be any clear.  God is in you.  That is of first importance.

So this means, men, that you do not have to do anything more about the indwelling presence of God in your life.  You are united with Christ at the center.  He is present at the deepest level of your being.  He is at the core, the very darkest place of your soul.  He knows you through and through (read Psalm 139).  It has all been give to you.  New, abundant, glorious life in God.  The liberating presence of the one who say “I delight in you” dwells at the center.  Don’t let go of that reality.  At the center is love.  You have all you need with His presence dwelling in you.  So what is the problem.  The problem is “awareness.”  We have not been taught to “see what is there.”  That sure was the case for me.  I lived a dualistic life for many years as a Christian man.  God was out there and I was on the inside with myself.  I was more an observer rather than a participate in the life of God.  I thought hard about God and did all the “spiritual” stuff to make it real.  But I was not making the connections.  So the first thing we have to learn how to do is “see” and “receive.”  So with that I will leave you till the next post.  Pray that somehow my simple, humble posts will help a few guys make the “great and glorious” connection in their own hearts.  Hope I have some guys with me.  I guess I will see in the days to come.

Jan. 27

Today I had a lovely prayer walk on a road that no one has walked on since the latest snowfall. The sun was shining through the trees that were all frosted white and was breathtaking!  I saw so many animal tracks and even though I didn’t see the actual animals I know they are there. Often times that is how it is with the Lord as we can’t see Him physically, but He is there and with us. Some times the tracks were just that of just one deer and often times there were all sorts of them together, reminding me of our life with the Lord…sometimes in secret with Him and other times with many of His children, all fellowshipping together.

 Devotions from Haase’s book, Living the Lord’s Prayer

I like what Thomas Merton said: “The whole Christian life is a life in which the further a person progresses, the more he has to depend directly on God and it’s not the other way around at all…..The more we progress, the less we are self-sufficient. The more we progress, the poorer we get so that the man who has progressed most, is totally poor – he has to depend directly on God. He’s got nothing left in himself.

Thomas Merton also said there are two ways of spiritual formation. One is in response to God’s gifts and graces. It’s when we are in control and take charge and are taken up with external actions…like going to church, reading the scriptures, saying our prayers, fasting etc.  The second way is more contemplative and more childlike. It is simply to wait on the Lord, expect the Lord, and then abide in the Lord. The first approach can only take us so far and later we must surrender control, become receptive and have the humility to be led. “The willingness to be led by God shows the maturity and humility of the way of spiritual childhood.”

Jan. 26

Devotions from Haase’s book, Living the Lord’s Prayer

As we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” we come to recognize our dependency and the futility of preserving and protecting self-concern, self-image, self-preservation and self-gratification.

Our ego tries to convince us that what is really important in life is based on what we have, what we do and what other people think of us. If we buy into the illusion we begin to take charge and become manipulative and demanding.

This independent self-sufficient approach is the refusal of grace and the failure to acknowledge God as the giver of all things. 
Self-sufficiency can only take us so far as sooner or later we run up against a brick wall and find out we are dependent after all.
“Growth in the spiritual life is measured by our awareness of our absolute dependence on Abba and our continual petition for daily bread.”  A great paradox: “ to mature is to become a child, poor, needy, helpless and dependent”. This is just another way of saying everything is a gift.

Jan. 25th

 Devotions from Living The Lord’s Prayer by Haase

As we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, we are admitting our dependency, helplessness and need. It is foolish to think we can make it on our own without God or without grace. Little children have no illusions that they are helpless and in need. When Jesus challenges us to become like children, he is saying that we need to like them in complete dependence on, and trust in their parents…just as we  are to be in respect to God.
St. Therese of Lisieux  describes what it means to remain a little child. It means we acknowledge our nothingness; that we expect everything from the Lord. It means to worry about nothing. It means to offer “flowers of little sacrifices” to the Lord which is selfless acts of sacrificial love for God and others.  It is affirmation that we are beggars and everything is a gift from God.
As His children “we walk the path of life with confidence in the generosity, forgiveness and compassion of Abba.”  Let us stay little before Him!

Jan. 23rd

 Devotions from Living the Lord’s Prayer by Haase

When we pray “Give us this day our daily bread” we are recognizing the grace, goodness and generosity of God and trusting that He will provide for all our needs.
We are not independent, self-sufficient beings but really beggars in absolute dependency and poverty before God.
God is the starting point for everything but our ego wants to ease God out and take the credit that belongs to God.

Suffering can unmask our ego’s illusion of Self-sufficiency!

Everything is a gift. We can claim nothing as our own.  But through Jesus selfless, sacrificial love He transforms our poverty and dependency into the experience of life in abundance. ( II Cor. 8:9)

When we pray for something as ordinary as bread, it teaches us that nothing is too trivial for His concern. We can bring everything that concerns us to Him, no matter how small or insignificant.  God’s love has no limits; God’s grace has no measure; God’s concern has no boundary. We are the beloved of God and He is on our side.

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