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: April 2011 (Page 1 of 3)

The Mushy Middle

One of the author- pastors I admire is Tim Keller, pastor or Redeemer Presbyterian church in Manhattan, N.Y.  He has had an amazing impact on the secular minded residents of that city.  He was interviewed by ABC news journalist, Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s “This Week” aired on Easter Sunday.  He agreed with Amanpour that secularism and religiosity are both growing in our culture.  Keller made this observation. “What’s happening is secularism and devout religion is growing together.  And what’s going away is the kind of  ‘mushy middle,’ where people are just part of the synagogue, the mosque or the church because it’s expected.  So what’s actually happening is polarization.”  I would like to make a few observations about this very perceptive insight regarding us, wild men,  as it relates to this polarization. 

First, the need to move away from “the mushy middle”.  It seems to me that with the threat of Islam in our culture, along with other growing expression of faith, Christians are being forced to think through and reexamine their faith and practice.  We are no longer able to take our faith for granted in a pluralistic culture.  We cannot afford to be lazy in our thinking nor asleep in our spirit, thereby being a part of the mushy middle.  We have to be awake and alert.  Paul challenges us in Romans 13:11-ff, “But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God.  The night is about over, dawn is about to break.  Be up and awake to what God is doing”  (The Message).  God is calling men to be clear in their thinking and deeply alive in their spirit.  God is pouring out his grace so that we might be transformed and renewed for such a time as this.  It will take renewed minds and awakened souls.

Secondly, it critical that in our deeper commitment to Jesus and the gospel that we engage in civil discourse. The decline of civility in our culture is alarming.  As men, we need to be concerned that we are not contributing to the polarization that is occurring.   The church in our day has lost a lot of credibility because followers of Jesus have been too closely identified with a type of politics or some of the scandals that have happened in the last years.  I like to think that Jesus and his kingdom are part of a “third way.”  I keep reminding myself that I am one who desires to “humbly and lovingly follow Jesus.”  I pray every day that “his kingdom would come” and that ” his will might be done here on earth and it is in heaven.”  I know for myself that I have to keep my focus on Jesus and his kingdom or else I get discouraged by cultural conditions and become negative.  My focus on Jesus helps keep my positive and hopeful.  Wild men can be agents of loving and caring dialogue in our day.

Thirdly, I agree with Keller that our focus should be on serving others.  I really identify with his comment that “I’m loved by God but I’m a sinner.”  There needs to be a humility and graciousness about the way we express our faith and the way we treat others, especially in such a skeptical culture.  Listen again to the advise of Paul found in Col 4:5-6. “Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders.  Don’t miss a trick.  Make the most of every opportunity.  Be gracious in your speech.  The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out” (The Message).  My goal is to be a servant of Jesus, desiring to see beyond the difference in opinions and lifestyle.  A wild man in my opinion is secure in his identity in Jesus, allowing him to be open to others, giving them space to be who they are.  There is a desperate need to our day for men to practice “hospitablity” that welcomes the other, no matter what they believe or what their lifestyle might be.

April 30th

Devotions based on Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life

We may affirm and confess that God is love but have a much harder time embracing the God who is love… to really know He actually loves us.

Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, says we assign personalities to God that is neurologically based on our own personality. 1. The authoritarian god (32% of us). 2.The critical god (16%) 3.The distant god (24%) 4.The Benevolent God (23%). The authoritarian /critical gods activate the fear part of our brain, the limbic areas. So we have a god shaped by fear and judgment and authority. If we have the benevolent God which activates the prefrontal cortex than we have one shaped by love and peace and compassion. As Christians we see God as both holy and loving –God produces a both –sides- of –the-brain kingdom.  Our God will be with us and He is for us! He wants to make us into what God wants us to be.  In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus lets us know that God is waiting for us,  will accept us, and will throw a party in our honor when we tell the truth about ourselves, turn from our sins, and turn back to God.  He is our gracious Father who forgives us and welcomes us and has a seat waiting for us at the table in God’s family!

April 29th

Devotions based on Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life

“The wise learn to live now but to do so in the light of eternity.”

Jesus believed  there was life after death and that after we die we will meet our Maker and have to give account. Those who reject God will not inherit the kingdom of God and will experience a final endless death after physical death. Those who accept Him will experience the “new heaves and the new earth.”  This New Jerusalem is love, and it is peace, and it is wisdom, and it involves everyone loving God. This kingdom is “the people of God, living with God and living with one another in perfect shalom and love and justice.”  Everyone will be in direct contact with God . Our author defines heaven as a ” person’s awareness and overwhelming delight in being absolutely present in the utter presence of God.”.

God will make all things right. Even though we may experience horrific tragedies, one day justice will be established. God is the judge and we’re not. God’s justice will be soaked in God’s own grace. We’ve only got one life and may we live it now in light of the longer stretch of life.

April 28th

Devotions based on Scot McKnight’s book, One. Life

What really matters is that we do what God has made us to do and that we live that piece of God’s dream that God gave to us.

This generation wants to make money, have a career that combines fun and challenge, and do something that is significant for the world. We need to examine our vocation and do it in light of God’s kingdom. His kingdom vision can turn what we do into something that matters and can give purpose to our lives. For example-Teaching matters when we treat our students as humans whom we love and are helping. Jobs become vocations and matter when we connect what we do to God’s kingdom vision. It’s easy to see mission work in the slums of India as something that matters . But we also have to believe that the mundane matters to God too. God is at work in whatever we do!  “What we do matters when what we do is seen as something designed for others.” It’s not just about making money etc. Harriet Beecher Stowe did what she could and was perhaps the single most powerful voice on behalf of slaves. What she wrote had a great impact and then she acted on her convictions.
God’s will and what we dream about line up well. We need to focus on the Lord and be attentive to listen to Him and discern what He created us to do in this world. We need to do what we do best and let others do what they do best. In order to do the one thing well, we must guard from trying to do too many other things.
“So keep your eyes on the kingdom, make it personal, do what you do well, do only that.”

April 27th

Devotions based on Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life

“There is no such thing as free sex. It always comes at a cost. With it, either you give your heart, or you give your soul…you can have sex without giving love, but you can’t have sex without giving a part of yourself.”  Medical research shows that whenever sexual relationships occur there is a bonding that occurs chemically. . The brain creates pathways of connection that make that experience easier to repeat. When people sleep around they feel shame and our God given brain gets confused. “Sex devoid of relational commitment confuses our brain’s neurochemicals and begins to corrode our capacity for one of our deepest yearnings: the yearning for commitment and faithfulness, or bonding with someone who loves us.” Love is a rugged commitment to be with someone.  Sex is about relationship and about love. Without relationship and love, sex wounds. We were created to love God and to love others, including ( if chosen) a bonding relationship with one person. Sex flows from genuine love and genuine love craves commitment. That is not what our culture tells us today and it results in a generation that is cynical, empty, selfish and anxious about love.  God has wired us to connect with others deeply- emotionally, spiritually physically and sexually.  It’s not all about what is in it for me? But a kingdom lover loves the other and lives his or her life for that other-the way the lovers do in Song of Solomon who take delight in the other.

April 26th

Devotions based on Scot McKnight’s book, One. Life

As followers of Jesus, He expects us to sell out to Him and for Him and to give Him everything, including our deepest passions. He wants a kingdom commitment that doesn’t care about what others say and what others do to us; a commitment that loves our enemies, that cares for the poor, that forgives others, that gives our entire self. He doesn’t just want our talents or dreams, our mind, our job, our gifts etc. He doesn’t want anything from us!  He wants us, our One life! This is not a commitment to a system or an idea or an ideal. When we give ourselves to Him, He transforms our talents and our dreams, our abilities, our mind, our job, our gifts. He converts them into something for His kingdom. This happens as we give our total life to Him unreservedly. In every act of love we either give our heart or trade our soul…Jesus invites us to give ourselves to Him which is an act of heart and soul.”

April 25th

Devotions based on Scott McKnight’s book, One. Life
God’s kingdom happens when people are empowered by His Spirit to do His work in our communities. The Spirit transforms our human abilities and also transcends our human inabilities so we can participate in God’s kingdom community right here and now.  ”Where the Spirit is there is community. Where there is community, there is Spirit.”  Because we are not naturally loving and forgiving, it takes his Spirit for us to live in community. Community happens because the Spirit is designed to draw us to God and to one another in fellowship and community. We may have had bad experiences with annoying people or cliques etc. but it is still Jesus plan for kingdom community. A professor  and researcher from San Diego State said this present generation of 18 to 35 year olds are marked by anxiety and depression. They have been taught to be independent and to make it on their own. But the truth is we are wired to need others and to love them.. The church needs to offer this generation fellowship, caring, and real community. If we are looking for a perfect church we won’t find it. We fall short and we also live with others who fall short. But let us make a commitment to our local church for it is the way His kingdom takes root and where we strive to become a loving community. For this to happen we need God to flood us with His Spirit so we are empowered to become the community He has dreamed for us.

April 23

Devotions based on an article by Daryce Nolan in The Lutheran Woman Today.
Sometimes traumatic things occur in our lives over which we have no control and we may ask why. Instead of asking where is God in all of this, we should ask where am I in relationship to God?  Sometime we throw up barriers to Him and push others away rather than clinging to Him or sharing our need with others. Jesus experienced the most horrendous suffering and wants to be there with us in our suffering. We may not know where He is unless we look for Him in the scriptures, in the sacraments, and in the voices of family and friends. They are the hands and voice of God to our hearts. God’s love is even in the flowers sent to us by a friend. Some times we have to replace the lie that we have brought this on and replace those thoughts with hope of Christ’s resurrection power and new beginnings. We must choose light and love and to embrace the resurrection. The greatest example of God’s life-giving love is the resurrection. We can experience His touch and know that God will resurrect and bring life from our hard situations that make us feel so helpless. In our suffering He is there with us to comfort us and to guide us and never to leave us. All of us have times like these.  Let us remember God makes a resurrection for all of us!

Mercifully forsaken

I am writing this blog on Good Friday.  Good Friday is “good” because of what God did for us on the cross.  Good Friday brings us face to face with the great dilemna of our personal sin.  We are found guilty with no way to rid our selves of the guilt.  We cannot by our own effort make life right because of sin.  As men, we are wired to fix things – make thing right, by solving the problem. But we can’t fix our ingrained patterns of sin.  The effects of original sin will not yield to our attempts to make things right.  God had to suffer, making it clear that we are incapable of setting things right.  Remember you are powerless to set things right.  Only God, the offended party, could undo the mess we have created. The Message says it straight and simple, “God put the wrong on him who never did anything wrong, so we could be put right with God” (II Cor 5:21)

This process of becoming right with God will include times of forsakeness, due to the idols we create in our minds and experience of life. In this regard,  I read an article by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today, entitled “Mercifully Forsaken.”  Using the cry of  Jesus from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Galli talks about our experience of forsakeness.  Be assured men, this will happen to you.  It was a difficult lesson for me to learn that times of forsakeness are part of the growth experience in following Jesus.  I am more accepting of these times now, but I still have a hard times accepting the occurance of forsakeness as I grown in my trust of Jesus.   Galli challenges us when he says, “If we would have eyes to see, we’d see that the goodness of God is actually most manifest in these moments of forsakeness.” 

Galli makes the point that the good experiences we have as a Christian can become an idol when we begin to consider them as the norm.  When we no longer experience only the “good” experience, we begin to question God’s work in our life.  On going disappointment, suffering, disappointment, etc cause us to wonder if God is still with us.  The silence of God becomes almost too much to accept. We can so easily take matters into our own hands, by either demanding God to come through or just fashioning a spiritual life on our own.  But says Galli, it is in these dark, dry times that God manifests his severe mercy.  Yes, we are experiencing severe mercy when prayer become empty and dry.  Scripture reading become an effort.  We find ourselves coping with difficulty and misunderstanding, while God seems distant and silent. 

Galli encourages us to remember that, “God has not forsaken us.  Our idols have forsaken us.”  Our props, those things that have held up our faith, these have been shown to be what they are: false gods. God has his timing in making us aware of these idols.  Be assured we all have them.  There will come times when the idols will have to go.  God will give grace and have mercy on us as we stuggle to let go of these idols.  At times our most chermished habits, experiences, and even beliefs will need to be seen as idols.  But in his severe mercy, God is asking us to see what is there and begin to let go. 

 Remember God has not forsaken us.  It is in the experience of forsakeness that God is revealing himself to us in new ways.  We are being called up to trust God.  I have found this to be difficult.  I want to know, understand and have some control over what God is doing.  I will cling to my idols that I have created in my mind, along with the spiritual patterns that have worked for me and which I thought were pleasing to God. But God uses forsakeness to point out my idols, so that I can let them go.  It is only in these dark times that I am actually able to see what I have been clinging to for so long.  It helps to see this as God “severe mercy” in the time of my forsakeness.

April 22nd

Devotions based on Scot McKnight’s book, One.Life

The God.Life that the author talks about is shaped by wisdom. It is easier to ask for wisdom as Solomon did than to live it.  We need to slow down and let wisdom have its way with us. If we want to live our lives well and end well, we will need to listen to the wise.  Proverbs was written so that we can gain wisdom and understanding and for receiving instruction etc.  “Wisdom is about the reverence of receiving the wisdom of the wise.”  How wonderful if we could all find someone who is wise and loving and just spend time with them. Jesus was the Wise One and tells us how to be wise: fear God and live with a consciousness of Him throughout the day; when making decisions ask ourselves, “What is the wise thing to do?” That question can shed God’s light on our path;  take one step at a time in living out our dreams; begin now where we are and let that dream shape our every day life;  see every person as someone loved by God; discover who we are by loving others; love our enemies and pray for them. Following Jesus is all about His kingdom, about love, about justice, about peace, about wisdom and so much more.

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