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: February 2013

Going Back To Egypt

Recently I was reading the Exodus story in my devotions.  I came across this passage in Exodus 13:17, where God said this about his people. “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”  I took those words to heart.  I thought of myself and the many men who want to make a difference in our increasing secular culture.  Would we today, change our minds and go back to Egypt, when we begin to face a more determined and intentional opposition?  God has called us to leave Egypt, that is, being enslaved to cultural norms that hinder our life with God.  The Israelites left the slavery of Egypt, but they still had a slave mentality.  It would be easy to go back to the familiar.

Like the Israelites, we will need to trust God to give us a new mind set. Just as Pharaoh hardened his heart and came after the people of God, beginning their journey in the wilderness, so there will a hardening of the opposition of those who are followers of Jesus in our day.  Like the Israelites, who found they had to face the army of Pharaoh, we will face formidable opposition.  They were  terrified by Pharaoh’s army.  They cried out, “Weren’t the cemeteries large enough in Egypt so that you had to take us out here in the wilderness to die?  What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt?  Back in Egypt didn’t we tell you this would happen?  Didn’t we tell you, ‘Leave us alone here in Egypt – we’re better off as slaves in Egypt than as corpses in the wilderness” (Ex 14:11-12 – The Message).  Their fear had distorted reality.  In fact God had heard their cry for help and came to the rescue.  But they were blinded by their fear.

Men, don’t let the fear of opposition, which will come, blind you to the truth that God is leading you out of cultural slavery into freedom.  Don’t let yourself be drawn back into cultural captivity. What Moses had to say to the people should be words we all memorize for the coming days. “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex. 14:13-14).  Why did they have only need to be still and let God win the battle by destroying Pharaoh’s whole army in the Red Sea?  Because God would be glorified, that is, recognized as God.  “”I’ll use Pharaoh and his entire army, his chariots and horsemen, to put my Glory on display so that the Egyptians will realize that I am God” (Ex 14: 18 – The Message).  May God be recognized through faithful men, talking a stand.

As I was preparing to write this blog I read on line an interview with Brother Andrew, the bible smuggler.  He knows first hand the persecution of Christians around the world.  He said of us in the West, “our problem is that if we have a little opposition we call it persecution.  That’s ridiculous.  Every Christian is tested; every Christian has and will have opposition.”  When he prays for the church, he prays, “not for God to remove persecution, but to use it to purify the church.”  Wow.  That puts some of our coming opposition into perspective.  It is not the same as persecution.  But it will begin to purify us.  I must warn you men.  When the opposition comes, you will have to examine our motives, life style and commitment.  Don’t turn and run back to Egypt.  Remember God is there with you.

I found it interesting that in one of those Super Bowl ads there was an ad that appealed to the bravery of men.  Remember the Audi ad, with the catchy phrase at the end, “Bravery; it is what defines you.”  Somehow we are supposed to be brave when we drive an Audi.  Pretty far fetched!  But the hook is the appeal to bravery.  Is there a stirring in the soul of American men to want to make a difference?  I hope so.  I have always believed – that the hope for renewal of our culture and society are godly men.  It’s time to “man up.”  It is God who strengthens the hearts of men to go forward on the journey, and not return to Egypt.

Alone Together

I am not a Luddite.  I have bought into some of the new communication devices.  But I am not as nearly hi-tech as the younger generation.  I don’t have a smart phone, I don’t text, I don’t even have an I-pad ( I do have an I-pod), and I don’t do real well with windows 8.  But I do wonder if we are losing  the ministry of presence.  Being created in the image of God, means we are wired for presence, that is, face to face, heart and soul communication.  David Benner observes, “Humans deeply desire presence…..we are vulnerable to absence.”  So the question is – do our relationships enhance presence or further absence?

Dr Sherry Turkle is author of  “Alone Together.”  As a professor of social studies and science and technology at MIT, she has studied the dynamic between technology and culture since the first computers hit the market.  She is respected as a forecaster of advances in communication, as well as how our relationships with machines alter our relationships with one another. “People want to be with each other and present with each other”, explains Dr Turkle, “but they also want to use technology to be elsewhere….We’re having fewer conversations, and more connection.  But connection and conversation are not the same thing.”  She predicts that we are becoming people who will choose artificial, digital or electronic relationships over real ones, because our relational skill will be so poor, that all we’ll want out of relationships will be empathy”.

Is it possible that we can use these new means of communication to hide who we really are?  In the practice of  texting, for example, are we becoming more superficial as we try to edit and control the image we present.  Turkle worries that we are setting ourselves up for loneliness and relational shallowness.  Are we losing our ability to have real face to face conversations?  Do we desire superficiality, so that we can have control over the impressions others form of us, while protecting  the edited image we construct of ourselves online.  I do a lot of spiritual direction, but I find it very difficult to do it over the phone.  There is just something about presence, that helps in my communication as well as being able to discern what is going on in the soul of another person.

I could be wrong, but I wonder if men are more vulnerable in the use of modern communications as a means of avoiding face to face interaction, while projecting the image of  “having it all together.”  We all have our “sphere of influence.”  I don’t know about you, but there have been times that I would rather flee from some relationships.  It has brought me to the place of humility and even brokenness, realizing how  badly I have navigated some very rough relationships.  The Letters of Paul are filled with exhortations to “hang in there” with others.  Those early churches were filled with wounded, hurting people , just like you and I.  He said, for example, ” Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense.  Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.” (Col 3:13-14 – The Message).

Men, make good use of those devices of instant communication, but be on guard regarding to tendency to go and hide.  I especially want to issue a warning for any man reading this blog, who might be tempted to avoid  heart to heart conversation with his wife and  children.  You can become a slave to your gadgets, allowing them to rob you of precious time with your loved ones.  Be honest with yourself.  Are you avoiding or running from relationships.  In your home you set the tone.  I know when I was raising three children, while being a very busy urban pastor, I had to reach out for grace and strength from Jesus, to be at home and keep my “heart open” to my family. That took “the ministry of presence.”

Here are some words from Jesus to keep you and I humble and motivated to keep crying out from mercy and grace. “Let me give you a new command: Love one another.  In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35 – The Message)

“Soulful” Men

“You are not your thoughts and emotion.”  When I first began to deal with that reality, I found that I was very resistant.  After all, my thoughts and emotions seem to be what is most personal about me.  Besides, I needed to be in control and  have some understanding of what is going on inside of me. But I didn’t want to move beyond my thoughts and emotions.  For years, I avoided being exposed to  my soul life.  I feared the “fire in the belly.”  Like many men I tried to avoid or even deny the fire.  But Proverbs 4:23 warns  against ignoring our inner life. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to take “the inward journey.” I would like to purpose that men think of themselves as being “soulful.”  Soulful men are truly alive and deeply human.  Why?  They are aware of their soul life.  In Genesis 2:7 we read, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”  Or as some translations say, “a living soul.”  Soul is the most personal term we have to describe ourselves.  It refers to the totality of a person created in the image of God. It speaks to depth, wholeness and inwardness.  We don’t just have a soul, we are a soul.  We are embodied souls.  Our soul life, that fire in the belly, greatly influence our life.  So we need to aware of the fire and befriend its presence.

I believe the forces in our culture  promote a superficial life of personal peace and freedom, staying on the surface of life.  The dominant media and the spread of all the communications devices in our culture, keep us all in our heads, manipulating us intellectually and emotionally.   How will our  lives  be formed in this kind of spiritual wasteland.  Men are going to have to do their “inner” soul work as never before.  If not they will loss their true identity in Christ and drift in a kind of spiritual desert, searching for meaning and purpose in all the wrong places.  All our “spiritual improvement projects” will be in vain, if we don’t know ourselves as God knows us.

So my encouragement to men is to “listen” to their souls. Paul tells us that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:4).   Augustine expressed a vital truth when he said “Let me know thee, O God, let me know myself, that is all.”  While Spirit takes us up and out in our relationship with God, soul takes us down and into the reality of our every day life.  The soul thrives on what is real; the truth of our everyday experience.  Again, men that means to good, bad and ugly.  To not pay attention to  our soul, that is, the truth about who we are, is to live with an illusion.  The more we live with illusion the more we live a lie, knowing less of who we really are.

The soul call us to face reality. My great burden in this post is to help each man see that the inner journey into the life of our soul is both necessary and freeing.  You are much more then your thoughts and emotions.   At one point in my journey I was both frightened and theologically unsure of getting in touch with my soul life. You might think what I am about to suggest is simplistic.  But in a nutshell this is what I have learned.  1) I know God loves me in my stink; he is already there loving me.  2) Jesus goes with me on my journey into my soul life; he takes me by the hand so I can learn from him what is actually  there  3) Nothing surprises him; it was always there  4) The inner light of his presence overcomes all my darkness; it helps when I am fearful and unsure  5) He give me the grace to hang in there; I can’t run away from who I am – this is reality   6) I need brothers to help me be truthful; I am good at lying to myself  7) Best of all, there is freedom, authenticity and joy as a result of the journey.  I become more of who I was meant to be.

Lance Armstrong and Collateral damage

I want to write one more blog regarding Lance Armstrong.  I am tempted to do more.  In this blog I would like to focus on Armstrong’s remarks regarding his oldest son, Luke, who is 13 years old.  I watched the interview.  This is the way that AP described the exchange regarding his son.  “Armstrong didn’t break over the $75 million in lost sponsorship deals, or after being forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded and called his ‘sixth child.”  He didn’t crack after his lifetime ban from competition.  It was another bit of collateral damage that Armstrong said he wasn’t prepared to deal with.”  He cracked when talked about having to tell his son.  Armstrong recalled, “I saw my son defending me and saying, ‘That’s not true.  What you’re saying about my dad is not true.”  “That’s when I knew I had to tell him,” Armstrong recalled.  He had to say to Luke, “Don’t defend me anymore. Don’t”

Back in 1996 as Armstrong faced his cancer surgery he shared these thoughts about his religious views. “Quite simply, I believed I had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable.  If I did that, if I was good to my family, true to my friends, if I gave back to my community or to some cause, if I wasn’t a liar, a cheat, or a thief, then I believed that should be enough.”  In light of those comments, telling his son not to “defend me anymore” must have been very difficult.  I submit to you men, that Lance Armstrong’s lifestyle and the collateral damage caused by broken relationships is a clear warning for each of us.  Not only did Armstrong have to face failure in family relationships, but also all those people who he deceived.  Was it worth “the ride?”

A huge take away for me from Lance Armstrong’s life is the need to be vigilant in all my relationships so that there is no “collateral damage.”  The most important mark in the life of a man is not what he accomplishes nor how much he possesses.  Rather it is how he relates to those who are in the sphere of his influence.  That, of course, begins with his family.  I know my life will be measured as to how well I have related to my wife, children and now my extended family.  Jesus makes that very clear in his new command to us.  “Let me give you a new commandment: Love one another.  In the same way I loved you, you love one another.  This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other” (John 13:34-35 The Message).

Men, your relationships will keep you humble.  There is no way that you will be able to love the way Jesus has asked you to love.  I have always maintained the posture of being incapable of relating well to those whom I love.  It is in my incapacity that I find the capacity in God to love.  How?  By humbly acknowledging my great need, while crying out for God to be merciful to me.  Here is how I have been helped in my incapacity.  First I open my heart to receive the love of God.  Then I humbly as God to give me a servant’s heart for those with whom I relate.  I take the initiative to reach out, even when the relationship is strained.  Finally, I try to get into the other person’s shoes.  That is, I do all I can to enter into their story.  Most of all, I can not stress enough the vital practice of living a life of forgiveness.  Forgiveness frees us to live with an open heart and spirit.  You cannot relate well, when your spirit is closed.


Devotions from Judy’s heart

I think all of us can admit we are not always on top of our game. As  Minnesotans we wish the Viking would always do well  and  be on top of their game. I play Scrabble with several people and right now I am in 3nd place. Just a short time ago I was in first place for a long time. What happened?  Sometimes we fall, sometimes we slip behind, but aren’t we glad for grace, especially when our performance is not good?

It’s nice to be No#1 and on top of our game but also so good to know we are loved just as much by our Father when we are not performing well and have blown it. Let us appreciate others where they are at as well. They could be on top tomorrow and we could be #2, but let it not make any difference. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” I John 3:1

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