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 2015

Cultural Exiles

Could the church in America be entering a period of “cultural exile”?  Church historian, Carl Trueman of Westminster Seminary thinks so. “The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous.  The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and hateful at worst.  The Western public square is no longer a place where Christians feel they belong with any degree of comfort…It’s an exile to cultural irrelevance.”  Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, has observed, “People who uphold  a traditional moral architecture for sexuality, marriage, and family have gone, in the space of just the twenty years, from mainstream conviction to the equivalent of racist and bigots.”  A coup has taken place, and in the words of  the archbishop, “the secular team won, the religious  team lost.”  Are we becoming a church is exile?

What do you men think?  I for one, lean towards the idea of the church communities becoming, “creative minorities” intentionally wanting to be a light in the midst of growing darkness.  Jesus tells us as his followers “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill…..Keep open house, be generous with your lives.  By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, the generous Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:14 & 16 – Message).  As  a cultural darkness descend on us, we have the wonderful opportunity as “the church in exile” to be a bright light.  While we may lament the condition of our nation, we should be praying the prayer of Habakkuk, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord.  Renew them in our day, in our time make the known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Hab 3:2)

Could it be that we need to embrace the gift of being exiles, “now that Christendom – the forms and structures of a Christianly-orientated culture” in the words of Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Seminary, “has fallen away.”  Could the words of former Cardinal Ratzinger apply to America as they do to Europe. “Christian believers should look upon themselves as just such a creative minority….”   Is there the possibility of exile, that is, living in a alien culture. What would that mean for men.  Here are a few of my wonderings.

First, as men we need to evaluate our walk with the Lord.  Are we under the Lordship of Jesus, being committed to the authority of God’s word.  The sovereignty of  the Lordship of Jesus and the issue of truth will be contested in the days to come.  Are you ready to be challenged as never before for being “a committed follower of Jesus” in a strange land.  Secondly, by all means, find another man or a group of men who can help you discern the signs of the times.  I know I need that from my post here in the woods.  What is God saying to the church in your community. Thirdly, become sensitive  to the wounded warriors and fallen brothers in your community.  There is going to be causalities from the spiritual warfare in the days to come.  Lovingly come along side these brothers.  Fourthly, get your priorities straight.  Give your best energy to the “first things” in your life.  After Jesus, be the priest in your family, and a faithful servant in your sphere of influence.

Jesus be with your soul

I like the greeting St John of the Cross, a 16th century saint, used in writing letters of spiritual counsel – “Jesus be with your soul.”  It’s a great reminder for men. St John is know mostly for his description of the “Dark Night of the Soul.” Gerald May maintains that, “The heart of the dark night is that of a love affair between God and the human soul, in which God takes the initiative and we respond.”  God is at work in the dark times.  Men, there are going to be times when it seems like  “the lights have gone out.”  This is normal.  The ultimate expression of the dark night is Jesus’ experience of being forsaken by his Father, as he cried “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me” (Matt 27:4).  Let the darkness lead you to a greater trust in Jesus, who is in your soul.

Jesus, the light,  remains in you, beyond the darkness.   David prayed, “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is a light to you” (Ps 139: 12).  John reminds us, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). At the deepest center of our being Jesus resides. St. John uses phrases such as, “the intimate substance of the depths of the soul,” and “the infinite center,”  to convey the reality of intimacy at the center.  Jesus asleep on a pillow (Mark  4:38) while the disciples fear they are drowning, helps us grasp the truth that in the darkest times we can rest in the peace of the Lord.  Remember, no matter what you are going through, Jesus is present at the center.

The greeting is a reminder of the Lord’s abiding presence in our souls.  The default perception for many men is that Christ is on the outside, at the circumference of life, someone to be observed and thought about, rather than known intimately at the center.  Paul reminds us, “Do you not realize that Christ is in you?” ( II Cor. 13:5)  The Holy Spirit makes Jesus’ presence real.  “This is how we know that we live in him and he in us.  He has given us of his Spirit” (I John 4:13).  Paul prays in this regard for us,  “I pray that out  of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith” (Eph 3:16-17).  Don’t try to figure it out.  Learn to live the mystery, “……this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

So remember Jesus in your soul,  beyond your shame, fear, anger and guilt.  I close with a quote from Thomas Merton, which I could not grasp for sometime.  Now I can testify to the truth of what he is saying.  “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God.  If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.”  Men, I implore you not to run from the life of your soul.  I was on the run for many years. Jesus meets you in the realities of your life at the center, not at the edges .  In the good, bad and ugly, Jesus remains as the light, not out there  but within.  Allow yourself to receive the healing Word of God.

Ernie Malmskog

In this post I want to write about a remarkable man: Ernie Malmskog.  Ernie died on January 16th.  I attended his funeral at the church where I came to know Ernie, when I served as interim pastor a couple of years ago.  Ernie was 97 years old when he died.  Ernie was a spiritual giant in my eyes,  because when I knew Ernie I was already 70 years old, but around Ernie I felt like a spiritual son.  I sat at Ernie’s feet, like 20 or so other men every Wed morning at Bethany Lutheran Church in Nevis, Mn.  Ernie had lead that group of men for many years.  They came faithfully to hear Ernie, “break the bread of life” as Ernie used to say, to feed our hunger souls with the Word of God.  Ernie was a student of the Bible.  It was fleshed out in his life.  His manner of teaching breathed life into our souls.  He had lived it for over 90 years.  Here are a few impressions.

Ernie prompted the Father Hunger need in my male soul, even though I was in my 70’s and had mentored many men.  Father Hunger in a man’s soul is nourished by the embrace of the loving, unconditional acceptance of a father figure.  Ernie was that for me.  I asked for a hug every Wed.  I went to see Ernie to just share what was on my heart.  I was looking for both correction and affirmation from a godly, gentle, patriarch of the Church.  In Ernie’s presence I absorbed a godly “masculine energy” that made me more spiritually alive as a man.  I encourage every man reading this blog, to be on the look out for a man like Ernie. When you find that man, hang out with him and absorb “the masculine energy.”

Ernie was himself.  He was humble, plain spoken man, who had learned through the hard knocks of life.  His whole life as a godly narrative was on display each week.  His foundations in Jesus and the Scripture were firm.  He had thought through the issues of life in prayer and study.  It was a joy for me to observe how he handed  the questions, doubts, angers, and concerns of the men  he led.  He was respectful, caring, and open.  He always brought it back to Jesus and the Word. What an amazing layman. Even the pastors showed deference to Ernie’s leadership.

Ernie was devoted to his wife Harriet for 69 years.  She had proceeded him in death.  Men listened to Ernie and the women of the church honored and deeply respected Ernie, because of how he treated his bride.  It was was a wonder to behold.  Men, I telling you, what Ernie taught on Wednesday, was played out each week when those two came to church.  Early on in my ministry as Lutheran Pastor, I realized that my most important ministry  to the women was the way I respected and honored my wife in public.  Men, the women in your church are watching how you treat your life.  Ernie in his 90’s was an example for me.

One more impression.  Ernie honored and respect the pastors that had been at Bethany.  He might not always agree, but he was supportive, always encouraging to those in leadership. As the church struggled over its direction, with strong opinions on both sides, Ernie was a steady, balanced voice that allowed men to come to their own conclusions without being judged.  It was a rare gift on display on many Wednesday mornings.  I am very thankful that God brought Ernie Malmskog into my life for a short one and a half years.

“I love it here”

“I love it here.  We plan on living here the rest of our lives.”  These were the sentiments of  Green Bay Packer coach Mike McCarthy, regarding Green Bay.  I am a UPer, having grown up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, three hours north of Green Bay.  My roots go deep into the northwoods lifestyle.   I am a Viking fan, but also a “closet” Packer fan, especially when they are winning and the Vikings are losing.  I cried as I read the article about coach McCarthy, I suppose partly because of my roots.  I share this with you, because there are times when I am deeply touched by the narrative of a man’s life.  The coach might not be a follower of Jesus, but the depiction of his character and lifestyle spoke to my heart.  Why?

The evidence of the coach’s humility.  “The NFL is not a place for the humble, but here Mike McCarthy sits, in a back room at Lambeau Field, perfectly content with being the least-talked-about coach in this weekend’s conference championship games.”  (The Packers lost a heart breaker to Seattle).   Humility in a man shows he is content in his “own skin,” not needing to impress.  The focus is on others.   In the coach’s case, it is his players. “….making his players better is what makes him special.” Jesus put a premium on humility when he said, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will exalted” (Luke 14:11).  A humble man of God points others towards Jesus and the life he offers.

The sense of simplicity and ordinariness about the coach.  Those are rare qualities for a NFL coach. In hiring McCarthy, the packers, “liked that his ego was small, his football knowledge was vast and he came from a place that in many ways was similar to Green Bay.”  The article goes on to say that, “he loves the simplicity of Green Bay, that the two things the town holds dearest are also what he cares about most: family and football…..He’s the kind of guy you’d see getting a beer at the VFW, brilliantly ordinary. Perfect for Green Bay.”   Men, God does his lasting work in the ordinariness of our daily lives, not when the spotlight is on us.  This is especially true with your presence in your family.  We can make following Jesus too complicated and heroic.  It begins in the ordinariness of life, like putting our kids to bed at night. Paul said of himself, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil 4:11).

The coach is “solid” guy  with a sense of place.  “Words that depict McCarthy, such as “solid,” tough” and “dependable” are generally used in pickup truck commercials.” He is at home in Green Bay.  The people who make up the area are much like the coach.  “When he got the job, he made a point to put incentives in players’ contracts that would reward them for staying in town for off season workouts.”  In the days to come I want to be around men who are “solid” in character, with a sense of place. There is no pretense, just committed men, who want to make a difference right where they are planted.  Men, Jesus has planted you and your family where you live for a purpose; to be witnesses of the present reality of the kingdom of God.

© 2024 Canaan's Rest

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑