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: August 2016

Are Men Getting Weaker?

My bride (Judy) and I have for the last 10 years attempted  to live a kind of semi-monastic life.  I call ourselves a “monk and a nun.”  The threefold rhythm of  monastic life in the Benedictine tradition gives us a focus – prayer, study and work.  Manuel work was included in the rule of Benedict not merely to ensure that the monastery operated, but because it was seen as part of the essential calling of the spiritual life..  This was captured by the common monastic Latin phrase era et labora, which means “pray and work.”  But today in modern culture many men experience a  disconnect between their bodies and their lifestyle  because of the lack of physical labor.  Could our culture be causing younger men to devalue physical labor?

Work relates to Christian spirituality in three  ways.  First, work was created by God to be a part of creation. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and  keep it” (Gen. 2: 15).  Secondly, with the fall of the human race into sin, work was cursed (Gen 3:17) and became toil, carried out “by the sweat of [man’s] brow (Gen. 3:19).  Thirdly, the curse did not eliminate work as a God-ordained.  God still commands people to work: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Ex 20:9).  I wonder how many of the readers of this  blog experience manual work in their routine of life?

I have spend the last month cleaning up after a massive wind storm that took many trees down.  I know for me, it is a good thing to do physical work.  I need the exercise and there is plenty of work to do.  What promoted this blog on work was a piece by David French in the National Review.  He referenced a study reported in the Washington Post, showing that, “the grip strength of  college men had declined significantly between 1985 and 2016…….the grip strength of the sample of college men had declined so much – from 117 pounds of force to 98 – that it now matched that of older Millennial women.”  French remarked, “the average college male had no more hand strength than a 30-year-old mom.”

While it is only one study, “it was consistent with other studies showing kids are less fit today.”  I think French is right when he says, “Today’s young males don’t have common touchstones for what it’s like to grow up as a man.”  Part of being a man was doing manual work, learning the qualities of protector, builder and fixer.  Raising a boy to be a man used to be a “natural” act.  But today raising a boy needs to be more an “intentional” act, defying political correctness, whereby dads train their sons to not just be courageous but also physically fit.

I know for myself, I feel “the toil” of labor here on the lake. But I accept it as part of being a man.  Men, how do you relate to manual labor?  Do you think men are becoming weaker?  How are you modeling common labor to your son?  How does manual labor fit into your spiritual rhythm of life?

Here are a few suggestions.  First, stay in shape physically.  If you don’t work physically, get fit in some other way.  Secondly, use labor or exercise to clear you mind and renew your soul.  Thirdly, build the rhythm of physical activity into your weekly routine.  Fourthly, model the blessing of physical labor to your children, especially your son.  Fifthly, thank God if you have the strength and ability to do work.

Overdoing Gender

Back in 2013, a group of sociologists came up with the phrase, “Overdoing Gender,” in describing men who think their masculinity is in doubt, then  respond by emphasizing traditional masculine traits.  In the study, threatened masculinity was linked to “support for, and desire to advance in dominance hierarchies” and “belief in male superiority.”  Some have seen Donald Trump as a  symbol of overdoing gender.  Without a doubt, masculinity has become part of the national conversation during this political season.

David Frum writing as a sympathetic voice of Trump supporters, offered this explanation for Trump’s appeal to Millennial men.  “We feel masculine traits are devalued everywhere.  It’s more than just, ‘Oh, the dad’s a jerk in commercials.’  Rather like gay people a generation ago, young men today feel that they’re being treated as if they were born wrong.  We didn’t live through the Reagan years.  We’ve never seen a man’s man in politics before.”  Trump’s confidence and bravado, seem to be hallmarks of masculinity. “Through them he convinces people that he’s correct, in control and trustworthy, even when his words are false or misleading.”

It seems to me that Donald Trump is tapping into a deep, unspoken sentiment among men in our culture, which they suppress because of the fear of being political incorrect, yet wanting  to recover a failed manhood of the past.  There is a feeling that society is penalizing men for being male.  A revolution in gender relations, in which traditional notions of manhood are being questioned is now exerting greater influence in day to day relationship between men and women.  American men are becoming more anxious about their ability to prove their manhood through traditional means.  Upward mobility, providing financially, feeling in control of one’s destiny have all been bastions of masculinity.  Much of this is now threatened.

Men, we cannot turn back the clock to a more comfortable time for being a man in our society, nor should we become defensive, but rather celebrate  the meaningful gains women, minorities, and the marginalized have achieved in our culture.  We especially should not act in “the overdoing gender” mode.  I must confess that I am tempted to “overdo” by  defending and justifying my status as a man in our culture.  Men, hear me.  We as wildmen have no need to be defensive, in an attempt to prove our masculinity.

The cry of this blog is for men to come to rest in their relationship with Jesus, as they receive the healing word of their heavenly Father, affirming their unique, God-given masculine souls.  Rather then striving and overcompensating  as men of God we are called to deny ourselves, that is, give up all of our self improvement projects, allowing the Spirit of God to transform us from the inside out.

Jesus tells us, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Matt 16:24-25).  Remember men, it is by descent, that is, denying ourselves that we find our true masculine strength.  Ascent, depending in our self improvement projects, only reinforces a insecure and defensive view of our masculinity.

As a 75 year old male, I refuse to become defensive about my masculinity.  I desire to be more and more formed in the image of Christ, not into some cultural stereotype.  Jesus reassures me, “My grace is enough: it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (II Cor 12:8   – Message).

A Tribulation Period

Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Seminary, recent expressed  a favorable  inclination toward  Tim LaHaye’s overall perspective regarding end times.  While not accepting, “any straightforward version of his end-times scenario,” Mouw made this revealing statement, “But it does increasingly feel to me like we are entering into a cultural ‘tribulation’ of sorts.”  In the days after Father Jacques Hamel, a 85 year old French priest, was slaughtered at the altar by two jihadists, French philosopher, Pierre Manent, had this to say, “….amid the crumbling of Western civilization, which has begun, the supernatural character of the church will become, paradoxically more and more visible…..More clearly than ever the fate of all will depend on the ‘little flock’ of Christians.” I say “amen.”

I mention the above, because I find myself using the phrase, “the approaching storm clouds” in reference to the coming cultural tribulation.  I spoke of the storm cl0uds in an announcement I made recently in church.  Along with Judy and I, many in our church  had experienced significant storm damage.  The storm was disruptive, causing much stress.  The unexpected nature of these storm is part of life in the northwoods.  Jesus warned us about being aware of storm clouds. “You find it easy to forecast the weather – why can’t you read the signs of the times? (Matt 16:4 – Message)

Men, I ask you, “Are you ready?” Are you spiritual fit for what is coming?  How aware are you  of what is happening in our culture?  As others have said, “the center is no longer holding.”  With the disappearance of a Christian consensus, we are witnessing the erosion of our Christian freedoms and  liberty.  Who is informing your worldview?  There are enough watchmen on the walls telling us to be  prepared.  For me this means, surrender to the Lord of history.  He is in charge.  I also want to be committed to that “small flock” that the French philosopher talked about.

The result of this collapse will bring about chaos in relationships.  We are have lost the ability to live out the  true nature of  male and female relationships.  Just this morning I read of a school district that is recommending principles and counselors no longer use the words boy or girl, but instead scholar or student. Think of the confusion this brings to the students. In the midst of this kind of relational chaos God’s intent for relationship still stands.  “When God created human beings, he made them to be like himself.  He created them male and female, and he blessed them and called them ‘human'” (Gen 5:2-4).  More then ever before our culture needs the witness and steady presence of men who are affirmed in their God given masculine soul.  There will be men who will rise to the occasion.

In the midst of this relational chaos, stands Jesus, bringing the reign of his kingdom.  He reminds us, “haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female” (Matt 19:4).  Within his kingdom there is the evidence of “rightly ordering of relationships.”  I personally don’t see how we can turn the chaos in relationships around.  What is so desperately need are tangible expressions of believers living rightly ordered lives.  They all belong to the “little flock.” Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

So my advice to the wildmen of this blog.  Do all in your strength to get your personal house in order, that is, your masculine soul.  Then go about rightly ordering your relationships with your wife, children and your relationships within the church, where Jesus reigns.

After the Storm

This is a personal blog, written after my wife and I  experienced a devastating wind storm that took down dozens of trees on our lake property.  It happened about 2 in the morning.  With the light of dawn we viewed the devastation all around us.  Thankfully our home was spared, but not the silver cabin down by the lake.  We have spent many days cleaning up.  Job 38:1 and 40:6 became a reality for me, “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.”  Here is some of what I have learned through this frightening and disconcerting storm.

First, how dependent I am on the Lord.  I have continually cried out for mercy. “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge.  I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed” (Ps 57:1).  For me the disaster has not yet passed, but I will stay in the shadow of his wings.  I am not what you would  call “a fix it guy.”  I can do physical work fairly well for a guy who will be 75 in August.  But mechanics is at the bottom of my talent pool.  One night when I could not sleep, I sat in the chair, calling out to the Lord.  Men, this is how you get through a storm – lean upon the Lord like a dependent child.  “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother” (Ps 131:2)

In my dependence I recalled the words, “man up.”  I have used that phrase often in working with men, mainly in our need to rightly order our relationships.  But in my present circumstance I am  learning to “man up” by facing the storm damage one step at a time with God’s help.  With God’s grace I desire to “man up.”  Psalms 107:13 tells us, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved then from their trouble.”  I have a choice each day – look to the Lord for help  or focus on the physical needs all around me.  The storm exposed  my natural deficiencies as a man.  I can say with Paul, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Cor. 12:10).

It has been a blessing to see God’s hand in our recovery.  At just the right time there would be someone available to help with a project that seemed to big for me.  Just one example.  A man I had recently met here on the lake was working along side the road gathering some fallen pine with his bobcat.  I said I would help him with some of myfallen pines, if he would just take them away.  The job was done in two hours.  For me it was almost like an angelic visit.  The point men is this – When we “man up” and trust him, especially in our weakness we will see the hand of God.  I am giving testimony to this reality.    

Secondly, I have had to taste once again my vulnerability as a man .  Dealing with the physicality of caring for a place in the woods and on the lake is difficult for me.  Other men love it and rise to the occasion.  For myself, my calling is that of  a “monk” at our small retreat house on the lake.  It is very humbling to admit my fear and insecurity as I face each day’s challenges.  But I can honestly say there has been a new freedom in being honest regarding my incapacities. Remember men, you can’t be and do everything. We need to give our incapacities to the Lord.

Three Needs of the Church

Recently I came across in interview with James Houston, former teacher of Regent College.  His books and tapes have been very instrumental in my spiritual journey.  He was asked to list the top three needs of the church today.  Since I admire him so much, I want to comment on the three needs he mentioned.

The first need, “is for the church to stop being ‘institutionalized as church and to recover the amateur status of being ‘lovers of God.'”  The presence of “professional trappings” in the church can a stumbling block for men.  I often joked during my 40 years of active, full time ministry as a Lutheran pastor, that I was paid to be good, while other were good for nothing.  In our culture we have put too much emphasis on degrees and titles.  As men we tend to believe position dictates influence.  But position has nothing to do with being a lover of God.  Men celebrate your status as an “amateur.”

In my early 50’s I gave up what I called “The Big Deal,” that is, wanting to be important and recognized in the church.  I have spend to last 25 years wanting to be an ordinary Christian, living an ordinary life as a lover of God.  That has brought me new freedom, allowing me to spend time integrating my inner life, so that I might be more authentic.  I have heard Dr. Houston often say in recorded teachings, “I want to be an honest Christian.”  This implies being a person of  integrity.  He frequently  asked his audience, “Can you be trusted as a Christian?”

The second need, “is for ‘being Christian,’ rather than interpreting our Christian identity in activist terms and programs. For the nature of the triune God is communication, and from this the nature of the Church takes its identity also.”  This is difficult for men.  We are motivated to be doers – to take the initiative, while our wives are the responders.

One of my greatest discoveries over the last 25 years has been to realization that God, the Father through His Son, by the presence of Holy Spirit invites me into the community  of the Trinity.  The essence of the Christian life is relationship – relationship with God, myself and others.  Men, what matters most is not want we accomplish, but how we relate.  As men we each have our unique way of relating.  There is nothing that keep me more humble, then my failure to consistently relate like Jesus in my relationships.

The third need, “is harmonious creative union between men and women in the life and service of the Church, not as rivals, nor as being alienated in ‘politically correct’ behaviors.”  This refers to the  matters of “gender integrity” within the Church.  I call it “rightly ordering spiritual authority.”  In my humble opinion, the only institution in our culture that can model and rescue our nation from the chaos we are experiencing in relating as male and female is the Church.  We have the blue print in Scripture and the Holy Spirit to guide us.  I John 2:27 reminds us, “Christ’s anointing teaches you the truth on everything you need to know about yourself and him, uncontaminated by a single lie” (Message).

So my challenge to the wild men of this blog is this: First, celebrate you status as an “amateur” Christian. by simply being a lover of God  Secondly, always remember that relating rightly is far more important than doing.  And thirdly, love your wife and children.  I met Dr. Houston once.  I asked for one piece of advice.  He said to me, “cherish your wife.”  I never forgot those words.

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