Canaans Rest

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: March 2016

March Madness

We are in the midst of March Madness.  I was hoping that Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team would be playing Kansas in the championship game.  But MSU lost in dramatic fashion to 15th seed Middle Tennessee.  It was a crushing loss for Izzo and his heavily favored Spartans.  But what  impressive many was how coach Izzo conducted himself in the post game interview.  His concern was for his players, especially the three seniors.  He was not focused on the future.  His wanted to embrace his team in their defeat..  He praised them for taking defeat “like men.”  Two take-aways for men.  First, coach minimized his pain, while bearing  the pain of his players. It takes a strong heart to willingly bear the pain of others.  Second, taking defeat like men. Think of the lessons learned for life through this crushing defeat, especially for Denzel Valentine. It helped shape young men.

“March Madness” could be a metaphor for the race we are in following Jesus to the finish line.  Everyone makes prediction, but it is the players  we watch.  Part of the “madness” are the young men playing their hearts out, having no idea if they will advance.  Wisconsin moved on the sweet 16, when their guard shot a three pointer with two seconds left on the clock, while falling into the arms of his teammates on the bench.  Unbelievable!  We watch, while these young men compete with such passion and determination.  How about our journey?  Are we more a spectator or are we in the race?

There will certainly be “madness” as we run the race.   But like those young men, we need  a passion to compete. If we drop out and are disqualified, we forfeit the privilege of tell others about what we are learning as we race.  We become simply spectators with opinions, but no real  life experience. Paul like a good coach wants to motivate us. “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race.  Everyone runs; one wins.  Run to win.  All good athletes train hard.  They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally.  I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line.  I’m giving it everything I’ve got.  No sloppy living for me!  I’m staying alert and in top condition.  I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself” (I Cor. 9:24-27 – Message).

Paul encourages us to train hard.  No slopping living, but being in top condition.  The journey is a race that is worth the effort.  Just as an athlete goes through physical training that can be uncomfortable in order to cross the finish line, so Paul endures physical and emotional hardship   “I’m not going to nap” say Paul.  The spectator can talk about the race, but never experience the joy of the competition. How sad to get to the finish line, having spend life in the stands.  Men, the challenge is this – finish strong, especially in our day.

Eugene Peterson makes the point that we are in a race with others.  “You don’t have to understand or like or affirm the other runners to run with them.  It’s the goal that defines the race, and your act of running defines you as a runner.”  The church is not a group of spectators, but rather believers who are in a race.  In this race we don’t have time to talk things over and make plans.  We have little time.  So Peterson says Paul’s point to the Corinthians is this – “Quit complaining and start running.”  What a great insight.

Brotailers & The Bro Cave

“Brotailer” is the name for a new menswear retailer, appealing to a different breed of young men.  “He’s the id-driven, post-collegiate twentysomething bro….who hates shopping and would happily wear the same pair of sweatpants every day if society didn’t frown upon it.” The focus is on laid-back men’s clothing.  In the last five years, menswear has been the fastest-growing product category sold online.  53% is “basic bro” style vs. “practical,” professional,” or “rugged.”  “The brotailers have raided Dad’s and Granddad’s closets and jettisoned the pretense older brands relied on.”  I love this comment.  As a senior monk in the woods I could care less about fashion.

It is what Heidi Hackemer, founder of marketing agency Wolf &Wilhelmine, said about this retail phenomena that got my attention.  She observes, “It’s almost like these brands are creating safe spaces where dudes can be dudes….We’re in this really weird phase of masculinity, where all the rules are shifting.  Everyone is talking about women, and Beyoncé is, like, ‘Go kill it, ladies,’ and Sheryl Sandberg is leaning in, and guys don’t really know how to move forward.  You almost see this regression into a safe place, which is the bro cave.  I don’t think anyone has told the guys what they’re supposed to do now.”  This unflattering view of young men is certainly reflected in the TV ads that often portray young men as immature, irresponsible, pleasure-seeking and impulsive.

Remember men, the Ad business is about manipulating reality, enticing us to buy a product or even a particular lifestyle .  A key audience right now are all the men (including me) watching basketball during March Madness. All those ads help create an alternate reality to the one that we actually experience.   Ms. Hackemer’s observation reflects how successful women in our society view men – fragile, insecure, drifting, lacking in incentive and without mentors. I want to comment briefly on her observations..  This blog site, “The Wildman Journey” is an attempt to address these issues.

First,  the creating of and regression into a safe place called a “bro cave.”  Is there a safe place for men?  Is there a perception of  men looking for a “bro cave.”  My comment – Estranged men can come home to Jesus.  He is our “hiding place” (Ps 32:7) in the cultural storms.  A bro cave is an illusion.

Second, “this weird phase of masculinity.”  This bright lady sees men in a weird phase.  What does this mean?  Is this an expression of how men are viewed by competent women in culture.  My comment – The affirmation of our masculinity  comes from a transforming relationship in Jesus Christ, giving men a strong sense of identity.

Third, “all the rules are shifting.”  Is she referring to roles and responsibility, as reflected in the gender wars.  My comment – A man secure in his masculinity will know how to navigate the gender wars, taking the initiative, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Fourth, “everybody is talking about women,” while men don’t know how to move forward.  Is this how business women view men? My comment – Men find your strength and courage in the Lord Jesus and move forth in truth.  Don’t give in to the moral and spiritual passivity  of many “church” guys.

Fifth, no one has told men, “what they’re supposed to do now.”   Is this an expression of sympathy or sarcasm?     My comment – God has been forming godly older men, who are humble, loving followers of Jesus.  They are not found  in the limelight, but rather in the ordinariness of every day life.  They are male mentors. This blog is an example of such mentoring.

Finally, remember Jesus words, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)

Evacuating Spiritual Junk

In the Near East, centuries ago successive cultures built new cities on top of earlier ones rather then spreading out.  After burning down what was there they built on the ruins of the old.  These ruins of ancient cities, which were built on top of another were  called  “tells.”  Archaeological digs take place on these tells.  Thomas Keating compares our spiritual journey to that of an archeological dig through the various stages of our lives, such as midlife crisis, adult life, adolescence, puberty, early childhood and infancy.

The digs are like “a series of humiliations of the false self” (Keating), giving us the opportunity to let  go of our attachments to the false self.  It creates space in our soul for the Holy Spirit to come in and bring healing.  Psychological junk that has been warehoused in our soul is evacuated by the  Spirit.  As God invites us to greater self-knowledge, he often withdraws blessings and plunges us into darkness, spiritual dryness, and confusion.  For many believers this is disconcerting. They see themselves failing. But Keating tells us, “instead of going away, God simply moves downstairs….waits for us to come and join him.”  In this way we move closer to the Lord’s presence at the center.

Lately I have been struggling  with a new awareness of darkness in my own soul.  I don’t like the evacuating process.  However,  at this stage in my spiritual journey, I know that God is beyond this personal darkness at the center, calling me home.   This allows me to endure the dry, dark times, even though it is unpleasant.  If I am to grow I need to face what is really there.  I have created an illusionary false self over many years, the result of all my spiritual improvement projects,  to look spiritual.  But it doesn’t match reality, the way life actually happens.  Like Paul, I can say, “What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…..I decide to do good, but I don’t have what it takes” (Rom 7:15 & 17 – Message).

A quote from Thomas Merton has been helpful.  “There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in our vital relation with realities outside and above us.  When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve.  It must therefore die…..The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves  which involves a total commitment to reality.”

There you have it, men.  I have to go through the death process, that is, “a series of  humiliations to my false self”.  Again I identify with Paul.  Listen to  the Message. See if you can identify with him.   “Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good…..I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it.  I identified myself completely with him.  Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ.  My ego in no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion of me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine,’ but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I am not going to go back on that” ( Gal. 2:16, 19-21). I simply say amen.

Sheep and the Wolf Pack

Jonathan Haidt in a post identifies a dynamic he believes is tearing America apart.  He references an article entitled, “Fear and loathing across party lines: New Evidence on group polarization.”  The article reported on four studies in which Americans were given various ways to reveal both cross-partisan and cross-racial prejudice, and in all cases cross-partisan prejudice was larger.  “This rising cross-partisan hostility means that Americans increasingly see the other side not just wrong, but as evil.  Americans can expect rising polarization, nastiness, paralysis, and governmental dysfunction for a long time to come.”

This observation by Haidt comes as a “soul alert.” In the  present political and moral climate  a committed follower of Jesus will seem like a sheep going out among wolves.  When Jesus sent out the 72, two by two, he warned them, “On your way!  But be careful – this is hazardous work.  You’re like lambs in a wolf pack” (Luke 10:3 – Message).  When He sent out the 12 he warned them “Stay alert!  This is hazardous work I’m assigning you.  You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves.  Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove” (Matt 10:16- Message).  Then Jesus added, “Don’t be naïve. Some people will impugn your motives, others will smear your reputation – just because you believe in me” (Matt 10:17 – Message).

Men learn to see yourself as  lambs and sheep.  Jesus advice to us  – don’t be naïve, you will be targets of character assassination.  So be cunning like a snake and as inoffensive as a dove.  In other words, learn to spiritual navigate your way in an unfriendly environment and don’t make a scene.  Become a  subversive ( Eugene Peterson).  This is valuable advice in the highly charged partisan political season we have entered.  I have always identified myself as a “committed evangelical,” but I agree with Russell Moore when he stopped describing himself as an “evangelical.”  Instead I simple say I am a humble follower of Jesus, since I find myself being violated, manipulated and deeply misunderstood, by  politicians, cultural elites and the media. The church could be entering an exile existence  within a post-Christian culture.  How do we respond?  Here are five suggestions.

First,  simply share your story as a humble follower of Jesus.  Avoid partisan rhetoric.  The partisan landscape is all shifting sand.  It is a matter of opinions and perspective. But Jesus give you a firm place to stand.  He is a rock and a fortress in the time of trouble.

Secondly, be intentional about  practicing the presence of Jesus.  A godly presence can be more effective then words and opinions.  Some times, like  Jesus,  silence is the best witness.  Do not get caught “whining” about how bad our culture has become.  Learn to live within culture, while not being a part of the culture.

Thirdly,  purpose to maintain a thankful, optimistic attitude about being part of  the kingdom of God.  Pray as Jesus taught us to pray. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).  We know the end of the story.

Fourthly,  cry out for God to be merciful to us as a nation.  We are not deserving of mercy, but  pray that He would have mercy on us. Bonhoeffer reminded us that, “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.”

Fifthly, it could be that the church is in exile within our culture. As God told the Hebrews to pray for the Babylonians during their exile, we likewise need to pray for our nation. “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jer. 29:7).

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