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: June 2014

The Gift of Dying

This blog is very personal. It has to do with Scott,  my wife’s cousin.  He is a man in his 50’s who is dying of brain cancer.  Judy and I recently visited with Scott and his wife, Kathy.   We talked together about Scott’s deteriorating condition and his departure from this life.  Scott and I have talked often about his journey with cancer the last couple of years.  My reason for writing about Scott is to share his testimony of faith and the example he has been to me of a younger man prepared to die.

As Scott’s conditioned has worsened, he has continued to turn his gaze unto Jesus.  It has been an inspiration to hear him express his trust in Jesus.  The peace and rest he has in his Savior is a powerful testimony to all who know him.  His concern is for his wife, three daughters and his dad.  We have talked about his dying as being a gift to his loved ones.  Listen to what Henri Nouwen has to say about our dying. “But we can choose to befriend our death as Jesus did……As men and women who have faced our morality, we can help our brothers and sisters to dispel the darkness of death and guide them toward the light of God’s grace.”  Scott’s attitude about his own death has become a gift to his family, in the midst of their sorrow with his possibility of going to be with the Lord.

Men I write about Scott because I want to challenge you to come to peace about your own death.  Do not be afraid of death or even contemplating your own death.  Remember Paul’s word to us. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?…But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor 15:55&57).  I learned years ago from Eugene Peterson to pray for a good death.  Remember you have no control over when and how you will die.  So fix your eyes on the one who is “the resurrection and the life.”  Paul exhorts us to “…fix our eyes not on what is seen, but when is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Cor 5:18)

Here are  two suggestions to consider as you journey through life.  First, come to peace with your own death.  If you are a follower of Jesus, don’t let anyone or anything in this life, rob you of the joy of going to heaven.  “The desire to break camp here and be with Christ is powerful” lamented Paul. “Some days I can think of nothing better.” (Phil 1:23).  So think about heaven and the joy of being there.  Don’t get to weighed down with the affairs of this world.  Remember your “citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil 3:20).

Secondly, don’t be afraid to talk about death with your loved ones, especially your children.  We did that during family devotions after funerals of church  and family members.  It helps your children to see that death is a natural part of the journey.  Yes, there will be sorrow.  But Jesus has promised to be with us in those times, to bring healing to our hearts.  Our sorrow is not for our departed loved one, but for ourselves.

Grave clothes

Awhile back I preached for my pastor.  I choose John 11, the story of Lazarus being raised from dead as my text.  It is a wonderful text to use when speaking about transformation.  I understand transformation to be change from “the inside out.”   That is, the Spirit of God is allowed to enter the depths of our being, resulting in the change needed to be more like Jesus.   Our part is to surrender and yield to what God is doing.   That is the tough part from men – “letting go” and receiving.  The result will be change as we die to our old self and are renewed in our new self.

There is much to share from the story of Lazarus.  I would like to focus on the grave cloths.  We read that Jesus was deeply moved in spirit and troubled, as he wept  at the grave of Lazarus.  Others who observed Jesus remarked  “See how he loved him!”  Men, Jesus weeps at the condition our hearts when we remain hidden in our deep caves of despair, self-pity, inferiority and guilt.  He comes into those places, calling us by name, wanting us to come out.  Why might you be hiding from the voice of love calling to you?

So Jesus asks that the large stone be rolled away.  He did not do it himself, but asked those with him to do the work.  I hope you have a place where men are willing to roll the stones of pretense away, so that healing might happen.   I pray that this blog is a small contribution to moving the stones away.  After the stone is rolled away, Jesus say to Lazarus, as he says to us, “come out.”  Like Lazarus we have a choice – either stay in the cave or come out.  Men, what is holding you back?  The voice you here is the voice of love, inviting you to come forth.

Now coming out of the tomb is a messy affair.  Lazarus smelled badly after four days.  Can you picture him trying to walk in those tightly wrapped grave clothes.  He must have stumbled and felt rather foolish as others watch him come out of the tomb.  Men, let me tell you, transformation is a messy affair.  Remember, transformation is an “inside job.”  When you let the light of Jesus into your cave you will be called to come out.  That cave is a cramped, small space of your own making.  The voice of love, calls you to come out into the light, inviting you to exercise your freedom to walk.   But at first  it will be awkward and messy.  But always remember this – you need keep  walking toward Jesus – no matter what. Keep your focus on him.  Listen for his voice.

One other thing about those grave clothes.  Jesus did not take the grave clothes off.  He told those near the tomb, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”  What does this mean for men?  Find a community of men who are willing to “fight for your heart.”  We need help in getting those grave clothes off, especially those that are wrapped closest to our well constructed self-image.  We need loving brother to help us confess, surrender and let go of the old, so that we can walk into the new.

Soft Males

A book that deeply impacted my life in the 80’s was  Robert Bly’s “Iron John.”  I never forgot his discussion of  “soft males.”  “They’re not interested in harming the earth or starting wars.  There’s a gentle attitude toward life in their whole  being and style of living.  But many of these men are not happy.  You quickly notice the lack of energy in them.  They are life-preserving but not exactly life-giving.  Ironically, you often see these men with strong women who positively radiate energy.”

I was convicted.  You see, I have a people pleasing personality.  I can easily get trapped into being an enabler (life-preserving).  I want to be a niece guy who gets along with everyone.   But after reading about the soft male, I began to cry out to God to form in me a strong, courageous heart so that I might be “life-giving.”  I desired to be a man of conviction, who had a servant’s heart, being able to be vulnerable from a place of inner strength.  I wanted to have a strong heart, so that I would have the courage to practice “downward mobility.” with others.

Men,  let me ask you? Are you more into life-preserving rather than life-giving.  Do women who “radiate energy” threaten you? The present cultural climate effectively squeezes  men into a very uncomfortable and limited stance of being “soft males.”  Listen to Phillips’ translation of Romans 12:2, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into it own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.  Thus you will prove in practice that the will of God’s good, acceptance to him and perfect.”   I am convinced that a man who is desiring to follow Jesus in our day, will have to be first “inner directed” before he is “outer directed.”  The energy that Bly refers to comes from deep within our spirit.  It emerges from a heart that practices the “cruciform” life daily, that is,  death to our old ways (life-preserving) , and the birth of new life in Jesus (life-giving), radiating up from within.

Navigating  a lifestyle that reflects both strength and vulnerability (tough and tender) is not easy.  Voices within the church call for for men to be either “tough” or “tender.”  Men are confused as to which they should be.  I say we are to be both (tough and tender).  But it begins with death to our old self (sin patterns)  and the ways we have visualized being a man.  Jesus taught that  wel become life giving when we are willing to die. Listen to his words, “…Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).  Men, the new life of Jesus that can radiates up through your soul, will produce a man who is both tough and tender, because it will reflect the character of Jesus.

Being loved within our weaknesses

When I am reading, I often run across a quote that I sense will speak to men on the journey.  This quote is from William McDavid.  “Being loved with weaknesses, being truly loved and being self-sufficient are in conflict.  Being loved, at its height, means being loved within our weakness and failures, being loved in a way that is simultaneous with being known.  But being self-sufficient means pretending those weaknesses do not exist, it entails performing and earning.”  Other than scripture, this is a quote worthy of a place on your mirror when you shave each morning.  As someone who has labored on the journey for many years, this quote is “pure manna” for the souls of men.

When I read this quote I was reminded of the Apostle Paul, boasting of his weakness.  “If I must boast, I will boast of  the things that show my weakness” (II Cor11:30).  Again he says of himself, “I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses”  (II Cor 12:5).  Paul could live vulnerably because of  his assurance of God’s grace in his life. “But he (Lord) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (II Cor 12:9).  In all of his difficulties he learned that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor 12:10).

Why is this quote “manna” for our souls.  My comments are the result of a great deal of “trial and error” on the journey to a more integrated sense of my masculinity.  First, I need to let my guard down.  My self-sufficiency  leaves me lonely and isolated from God, myself and others, in a dark cave of isolation.  In my self sufficiency I cancel out the grace of God that has the power to bring healing to my frightened and insecure heart. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  So, Al keep your wounded heart open to the grace of God.  His power will show through my weaknesses.

Secondly, when I am willing to  dismantle my protective wall, I am surprised that God truly loves me within my weaknesses and failures.  Not till I open my heart to the love of God, do I come the wonderful realization that God loves the real me, in all my “stink.”  If God loves you the way you are, Al, the real you, its makes it easier to  accept the real me; the good, the bad and the ugly.

Thirdly, I realize that my “performing” for God, that is, my pretending is really a cover for failing to accept my weaknesses. I have spent too much time and energy trying to “earn” God’s favor.  It is wonderful to just rest and relax in his love as a “beloved sinner.”  God give me grace to “boast” in my weakness, because that is when I will experience your  power  make perfect in my life.

The Illusion of Acceptable Christianity

Recently I read two articles, each containing a statement that I thought was  insightful for those of are followers of Jesus in our present day culture. The first was from Robert P. George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University and a professing Christian.  He stated:  “The days of acceptable Christianity are over.”  He observed that our society calls Christian beliefs bigoted and hateful.  “They despise us if we refuse to call good evil and evil good.”  The other was by a theologian, Russell Moore.  He reflected on the “loss of the illusion of a majority in this country,”  referring to the Christian point of view.  Yet he went on to say that this was a good thing for the gospel and for the church.

What do you think men?  Are the days of acceptable Christianity over?  Do some believers live with the illusion that Christianity is still a majority expression in our culture?  I was reminded of Jesus’ words in his dialogue with Pharisees, “You have a saying that goes, ‘Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.’  You find it easy enough to forecast the weather – why can’t you read the signs of the times?  And evil and wanton generation is always wanting signs and wonders. The only sign you’ll get is the Jonah sign.” (Matt 16:3-4 – Message).   How do you read “the signs of the times?”  Our clearest sign, Jesus tells us, will be that of Jonah, that is, the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This brings me to one of my on-going mantras with men.  “You can’t go wrong when you keep your focus on Jesus”.  Why? Because Jesus holds all things together. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:17) Jesus is the center. When the center holds, everything else will find its rightful place.  As men we are wired to look at the big picture.  I don’t know about you, but when I try to make spiritual sense out of the big picture in our culture,  I can get discouraged and defensive.  So I have to catch myself and get back to the center (Jesus).

The following two postures have been helpful for me.  First, I stop and give thanks that I belong to the kingdom of God.  We read in Rev 5:10, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on earth.’  Jesus has been given authority to establish his kingdom reign on the earth.  We now are spiritually part of this kingdom.  We live in the “in-between” period.  One  day we will reign with Jesus on the earth.  We are at war, but we know the outcome.  Men, we are overcomers.  ‘This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith”.” (I John 5:4)

The second posture is part of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray (Lord’s prayer).   I pray this often as intercessory prayer. I pray “your kingdom would come” and that “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Simply praying these two petitions keeps my focus on Jesus.  I’m encouraged by Paul’s words.  “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter.  He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.” (Rom. 8:26 – Message).

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