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: November 2015

Rightly Ordering Our Relationships

Shortly after I retired, I led an intercessory prayer group in our church to pray specifically for the transition period as we called a new pastor. Toward the end of our prayer time, the words “rightly ordering our relationships” came to mind. As I thought about that phrase, I sensed that it applied to relationships between men and women in our church. The women in the prayer group agreed that the idea of focusing some attention to male and female relationships was needed.  As I thought further about the subject, three key thoughts came to mind:

First, men, be committed to a church or fellowship of men where the truth of God’s Word is taught regarding relationships, especially with our wives. There is a kind of “suffering silence” and “soulful grieving” among Christian men, particularly regarding the feminine.  There are layers of emotions to be examined.  Truth and redeeming grace, combined with a climate of vulnerability, creates a “safe place” for men to explore being rightly related to women. “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (John 1:17).   Further, as men, we need the witness of those “exemplars” who practice and model healthy relationships with their wives.  “A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well” (I Tim 3:12).  With all the confusion regarding gender relationships, men desperately need to “absorb” the witness of men who “rightly order” their lives and relationships. Men, I encourage you to open your heart and drink in the life of the men who are witnesses to you, especially in their emotional lives.

Secondly, I have found that in ordering my relationships, I had to deal with images of male and female from my past that had been planted and buried in my heart from my family of origin.  I had to face negative attitudes toward both my father and my mother. Remember the one commandment with a promise: “Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).  I had in essence “digested” both the good and bad of my family.  I had to get it all out by confession, forgiveness, and repentance.  Men, you will never rightly order your relationships until you honestly face your past and bring it to the light.  Proverbs 20:20 is a warning: “If someone curses their father or mother, their lamp will be snuffed out in the pitch darkness.” But through surrender, you create an inner space for the Spirit of God to reorder your relationships.

Thirdly, rightly ordering our relationships means coming to peace regarding our masculine soul.  Men need to embrace Paul’s words in Romans 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  My burden for each man reading this is that you may live fully and freely out of your masculine soul.  Celebrate your uniqueness as a man.  Allow yourself, by the grace of God, to sink into your soul, secure in Christ, to find healing and affirmation regarding who you are as a man. Then in the ordering of your relationships, you will be able to embrace the complementarity of the feminine, especially within your wife.  My contention is that when a man is affirmed and secure in his maleness, he will then be able to rightly relate to the feminine both within himself and in other women.  He will be able to heed the words of Ephesians 5:21, “Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another” (Message).

The “Wild Man Journey”

This blog is an interlude, in which I would like to reflect on my blog  with the readers.

“The Sovereign lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.  He awakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Is 50:4). These words have been an encouragement to me as I write my blogs.  I write because God has called me to this task.  It is hard work.  I pray that my words are of spiritual help to men.  A theme verse for this blog could be Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

I began blogging over five years ago.  I never dreamed  I would be doing  this in my retirement years. I am both humbled and encouraged that men are helped by the content of this blog.  I identify with Paul words when I reflect on my labor. “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weaknesses” (II Cor 11:30).  I work on a blog, send it out, praying that it might minister to “the hungry, thirsty souls of men.”  Just a few encouragements is enough to keep me going.  Some of you who reading this blog are new comers. You might be  wonder, “Who is this guy who writes?”  “Why does he write?”  A further question might be,”Why is the blog called “the wild man journey?”  I want to answer these three questions in this blog.

First, I am a retired Lutheran Pastor (40 years), who has worked continually on the spiritual formation of my own masculine soul.  My wife and I moved to our lake home in Northern Minnesota to run a retreat house ministry called “Canaan’s Rest.”  I call Judy and I a “monk and a nun.” We welcome spiritual pilgrims to our place, while being involved in Evangelical Free Church in town. From my post in the north woods,  I sense this blog to be my primary ministry.  So be assured there is much prayer and earnest labor with each post.  It is a calling not a choice.  Some days involve spiritual warfare and nagging doubt.

Secondly,  I write because of a life long burden to help men. This began in my second church back in 1976.  The work evolved over the years as I matured and learned to give soul care to men.  I have found significant healing for my own soul over the years.  My particular “spiritual gift mix” is suited to soul care, that is, “going from the mind into soul” and discerning what God is doing in the soul of a man.  It is the work of spiritual direction; helping men on the “inner journey.”  As an ENFJ on the Myers-Briggs I am highly motivated to help men with the healing of their wounded and confused souls.

Thirdly, this blog is entitled “The Wild Man Journey.”  A wild man is some one who is moving off of the “default mode” of being in control, attempting by personal spiritual improvement projects to be good enough, to being willing to descent into the soul, to find his true self and a passion to live for God.  Augustine said it well, “Let me know thee, O God and myself, that is all.”  He has tasted and seen that the Lord is good.  Men who continue on this journey with this blog can be described as”soulful men” who desire to be fully alive, fully awake, and fully human.  I firmly believe that the contemplative dimension of the journey is a missing, vital ingredient for men in our day.

The Tsunami and the Cultural Middle

Men there is no neutral ground in our spiritual journey today. Jesus declares, “This is war, and there is no neutral ground.  If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse” (Luke  11:23 – The Message).  In Matthew 10: 22-23 we are exhorted to be survivors. “When people realize it is the living God you are presenting and not some idol that makes them feel good, they are going to turn on you, even people in your own family. There is a great irony here: proclaiming so much love, experiencing so much hate.  But don’t quit.  Don’t cave in.  It is all well worth it in the end.  It is not success you are after in such times but survival.  Be survivors!  Before you’ve run out of options, the Son of Man will have arrived” – The Message.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 1969 before he became Pope Benedict XVI, seemed to be taking about survival.  “From the crisis of today a new Church of tomorrow will emerge – a Church that has lost much.  She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.  She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity.  As the number of her adherents diminishes, so she will lose many of her social privileges…. .But in all [this]…..the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.”

Has “the cultural and political tsunami” described by the Cardinal now reached our shores?  Are Christians, “losing their home field advantage?”  Christianity is not necessarily collapsing, but rather being clarified.  As Ed Stetzer at Christianity Today puts it, “Christianity is no longer the first choice of many seeking spiritual meaning and identifying as Christian is not necessary to be an accepted part of society.” Tim Keller maintains, “The number of the devout people in the country is increasing, as well as the number of secular people ….. the big change is the erosion in the middle… don’t so much see secularization as polarization” as the middle erodes.

The forces of secularization, along with a distrust and outright rejection of biblical faith is having an eroding effect on the church in America.  Cultural Christianity, which makes up the middle is eroding.  Men, the storm clouds are gathering over our culture. In the days to come, each of us will be faced with how we will choose to follow Jesus. Don’t allow yourself to be found in the middle, like a bench warmer and not a player.   I want to be found among those who not only survive, but thrive in the midst of the collapse  of cultural Christianity.  We need to heed the warnings given by Jesus to be aware of the changes taking place. I assure you as a committed follower of Jesus, you will be made to choose.

We hear Jesus saying to us in Mark 13, “Watch out that no one deceives you”(v 5), “”You must be on your guard” (v 9),  “So be on your guard” (v 23), “Be on guard! Be alert!” (v 33).  Jesus reminds us to learn from the fig tree.  “From the moment you notice its buds form, the merest hint of green, you know summer’s just around the corner.  And so it is with you.  When you see all these things, you know he is at the door ” (Mark 13:28-30 – The Message).  The implication of these words are to pay attention to the changes taking place right before your eyes.

The Gift of Being Yourself

The following quote from Thomas Merton has stuck with me for many years.  In these later years it makes more experiential sense.  “Therefore 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.”  David Benner in his fine book, “The Gift of Being Yourself” reflects on this truth.  “Nowhere is the uniqueness of the Christian spiritual journey more apparent than in the Christian understanding of the self and its relation to God.  The self is not God.  But it is the place where we meet God.  There can be no genuine spiritual transformation if we seek some external meeting place.  God’s intended home is our heart, and it is meeting God in our depths that transforms us from the inside out.”

What I now know by experiential knowledge, I deeply desire for readers of this blog to also comprehend and know by experience.  Benner calls it, “transformational knowing.”   It is simply this – when I allow my  real self to be loved by God, I am able to live from the center of my inner life (soul) and experience both the presence of God within and an acceptance of myself as deeply love by God.  God meets me at the center. I visualize my soul as the center.  It is not so much a place, but the awareness of the presence of God.  I spend many years living “alongside of myself” that is, on the outside looking in.  I thought of God more as an  object outside myself, rather than being present within.  As a result, I could not accepted my true self as deeply loved by God.

Paul’s prayer in Eph 3:17-19 has new meaning for me.  “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the Lord’s holy people to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Like so many who write about the spiritual life, the experiencing of this love and its implication for my spiritual life, “surpasses knowledge.”  I can only say that I lived for years with a head knowledge of God and a view of myself that was a product of my own making. I was fearful of both God and who I really was on the inside.

My counsel is to allow yourself to “sink” to the center to be embraced by love. Don’t stay on the edges looking in.  There is the story told of the old man, who had lost his keys and was looking by the street light.  A friend asked where he might have lost them.  The old man replied that he had lost them in the house, but that he was looking outside because the light was much better there. Like the old man we tend to look outside where it is easier to search but the key is inside, in the dark.

The secret place where we encounter God is in our inner self.  David Benner observes that as we look at God looking at us, “we see how deeply loved we are by God – in our depths, complexity, totality, and sinfulness – we dare to allow God more complete access to the dark parts of our soul that most need transformation.  God precedes us on this journey, waiting to meet us in the depths of our self.”

Offensive costumes

This blog is written just after Halloween.  I was struck by the contrast between the controversy this Halloween on university and college campuses regarding costumes that might be offensive and the fun I  had in my last church with over 40 senior members of my church, who came to our retreat house dressed in some very outlandish outfits for Halloween.  We all laughed and joked till some of us began to cry.  But it is a different story on campuses.

There actually were costume-consultants available to  help students to find outfits that were culturally sensitive.  Using the  new yardstick of “cultural appropriation” there was the attempt to stop the practice of pretending to have fun at the expense of members of ethnic, racial or gender groups to which one does not belong.  One poster asked, “Unsure if your costume might be offensive?  Don’t be afraid to ask questions?” As one observer put it, the message was “it is dangerous to pretend.”  It is hard to imagine those students having any fun on Halloween.  No freedom to celebrate, but the burden of having to be culturally sensitive.  Remember it is just about pretending.

What a contrast from my wife’s party for the seniors.  We had a great time pretending to be someone else.  My favorites was a lady who wanted to be a nun and another  lady who wanted to be an opera singer.  What would have happened to our party if one of the costume consultants had dropped in on us wild seniors up in the north woods.  I still remember marveling at how much fun a group of Christians can have when we have freedom in Christ.

Men, my concern is that we do not become so burdened down by the political correct culture that we lose our freedom.  Remember in Christ you have been set free. Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1, “Christ has set us free to live a free life.  So take your stand!  Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” When the seniors got together, there was a freedom from all the “shoulds” and “oughts” of  the cultural sensitivity concerns that were like a “harness of slavery” for those college kids.  Instead of freedom to just have fun pretending on Halloween, the campuses became a thicket of”shoulds” and “oughts” taking all the fun out of Halloween

How could those seniors have so much fun up in the north woods? Because they have been freed from the tyranny of their false self, which is more concerned about approval and doing the right thing according to the norms of the culture.  We could just be ourselves, while laughing at one another and even ourselves. There was no PC police evaluating our party.  My memory of the day with the seniors still brings a smile as I think of the great time we had.

But we need to be mindful that our freedom is to be always expressed in love, that is, in being sensitive to others, but not burdened by their demands.  Later in the chapter 5 of Galatians Paul reminds us of why we are free. “It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life.  Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.  Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.  For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others, as you love yourself.  That’s an act of true freedom” (Gal 5:13-15 – The Message). Men, be sensitive, but don’t become burdened.

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