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: September 2016

Jacob’s Ladder

In Genesis 28 we met Jacob running scared from his twin brother Esau, who hated him not only for swindling him out of his birthright but for stealing his blessing.  But Jacob was full of hope on his journey to find a wife.  Then Jacob had a dream the showed him that there was more to his life than fleeing from his brother and finding a wife.  He had taken a stone for a pillow and fell asleep.  Verse 28 tells us, “He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”  Above it stood the Lord.  Interestingly, Jesus refers to this dream in John 1: 51, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

The image of “Jacob’s Ladder” visualizes a vital principle for our spiritual life – descending  before we can ascend.  Henri Nouwen calls it “downward mobility.” We ascend to God by first descend into the reality of who we are.  From the spiritual tradition we are exhorted to, “climb down, into our own passions that lead us to God.”  Another adds, “Dive away from sin into yourself, then you will find steps on which you can climb up.”    We can not practice “spiritual by-passing.”

I prefer “spiritual flight,” ascending to God, living on the mountain top, rather then having to  descend into valleys of my life, where I hide from God.  In AA they say, “The more secrets a person keep inside, the sicker he becomes.”  I can easily believe the illusions created in my mind and live with the unreality I picture in my imagination.  This is not reality. It is simply posing.  I don’t know myself, nor do other know the real me.   I can use my “spiritual improvement projects” to actually protect myself from God. I John 1:8 warns us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth does is not in us.”

Descending does not mean we fix, search, or pry, getting caught up in “the disease of introspection” (Payne), but rather we  listen to and awaken to what our life is telling us.  Our soul thrives on reality,  not illusion.   I spent many years avoiding listening to what my soul had to say to me, not wanting to face my dark side.  It was difficult to learn the practice of “tasting my sin,” while sitting in the ashes of my fallen state.  But that is reality.  Here a few helpful hints learned the hard way by a man who desires to be a soulful guy, that is, awake to my soul even when it is painful.

First, when you pay attention to your soul, you discover that Jesus’ presence is at the deepest place in your soul.  Paul calls it a mystery, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).  Please remember this – God’s presence is in you, “incarnational reality” (Payne).  When you are attentive and listen, you meet God at the center, loving you.  As you descend into this love you can accept the good, bad and ugly about yourself. Secondly, the light of God’s presence, helps in the acceptance of your hidden shadow side.  We all need to be loved in our vulnerability and shame.  Thirdly, we can accept the tension of not having arrived spiritually.  We are a work in progress.  We are  “beloved sinner” on a journey of inner transformation.  So men, don’t be afraid of descending.  It is the necessary first step in ascending to God.


A Car Ride

With football season upon us, there is a whole new slate of TV ads that are directed at men.  There have been several dealing with the issue of men and their conversational style.  The one I recall (I forgot sponsor) featured  a young man probably in his 30’s picking up his dad to go somewhere  in the car.  The son extends a rather awkward greeting to the dad.  The dad grunts a response. This is followed by uncomfortable silence.  The son then begins to talk about the football game.  That was the opening to a highly energized conversation between father and son.  Men, how do you relate to this ad.  Here are some of my thoughts.

First, the awareness that personal conversation is a problem for men. TV ads offer no solution. They only grab the attention of men.  Corporations spend their advertising revenue to get hooks into men.  But how do men react?  Usually by making a joke of an obvious problem.  What upsets me is the fact that men’s failures  are portrayed by some advertising genius,  while  men hide their inner loneliness.  This ad lays bear the relational pain between dads and sons.   The masculine is demeaned for profit.  Yes, men have a hard time with intimate conversation, but let’s not advertise the problem.

Second, the son trying to make conversation with his dad.  This  bothered me for several reasons.  First of all, it touches a relational nerve in my story with my father.  I tried for many years to find my father’s heart.  Can you and your Father talk heart to heart? Secondly, it should not be the son, but rather the father who is trying to go below the surface.  I am reminded of Malachi 4:6, “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”  Men, if you are a father it is your responsibility to initiate heart-felt conversation with your son.  He needs the hear your male voice, speaking to his heart from your heart, even if your son is a grown man. Many dads are simply a mystery to their sons because there is little personal conversation.

Thirdly, men and safe topics.   Where I live, in the northwoods of Minnesota, the safe topics include, fishing, hunting, the weather, Viking football and fixing things.  Since I like sports, I try to keep up on sports news, partly because I can then relate conversationally with men in my church and community.  Right now the Vikings are a hot topic.  I stay away from politics – too many raw opinions.  After that it is “God talk.”  This narrows the field of conversation.  Finally, there is “soul talk.  This includes our  heart relationship with God and our relationship with wife and family.  Few men are willing to go “down” into this area.  How about you?

Fourthly, this brings me to the need for each man to have an “AA shaped” relationship with a group or an individual.  I have said it before and I will say it again, men need to be with each other to learn the language and manner in which share their pain and relational wounds.  There is a “male mode of feeling” that can be only learned with a group of other guys.  Here men are honest, admitting to  lives that are unmanageable, not having  the ability to change.  Change comes when, “We make a decision to turn our lives and our wills over to the care of God.”  Men, nothing keeps me more humble then struggles in  relationships.

The Gift of Disillusionment

Back in May, John Koessler had an article in Christianity today, entitled “The Gift of Disillusionment.”  He quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer,  “Certainly, serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realize it….But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams.  A great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves is bound to overwhelm us, as surely as God desires to lead us to an understanding of Christian community.”

Men, how have you dealt with  disillusionment in your  church life.  Many men have given up on church, but not Jesus.  I spent 40 years as a parish pastor and now the last seven years as a laymen.  “Church people” can be hurtful, mean and yes,  down right evil.  I used to say, “Look around, it is not going to get any better then this.”  Who you see in church on any given Sunday are the folks that have been led to your church.  Men, we don’t choose who will be your  brothers and sisters in Christ.  God will use some member as “sand paper” to deal with your rough edges.

Two principles  helped me survive  many relational “mine fields” and “broadsides” that suddenly popped up in church life.  First, the determination of being a servant to others.  This implies seeing  myself as serving from “below.”  “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  I intentionally try to put others above myself.  The second principle  embodied these words from Paul,  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3).  I had to continually surrender my ego,  my personal rights,  especially when I wanted to defend myself.

Here are a couple of things I learned the hard way.   First,  church people will disappoint you.  Give up your high expectations of “church people.” I guarantee you will be deeply disappointed.  This is a hard pill to swallow if you have high ideals  for the church.  There will be times when church members will do what can only be thought of as evil.  My advice is to accept the members of your church for who they are, sinner just like you.

Secondly, learn to live a lifestyle of forgiveness.  I cannot stress this enough. There were times when I was angry with members of the church.  On occasion I would have to ask forgiveness for my attitude.  But that did not end the cycle of anger in my heart.  I had to confess my anger often to my wife, who became my confessor.  I must warn you, if you don’t forgive, it will begin to tear at the very fabric of your soul.  You will become deeply disillusioned with the church.  Some leave with a “bitter spirit.”  Hebrews warns us, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb. 12:15). A bitter, critical spirit will destroy a church.

One more important piece of advise for men.  The spiritual health of your church depends on the attitude of the men.  Above all, don’t develop a demanding, negative and critical attitude toward the leadership and other  members of your church.  Be a man of God!!  You might have to endure some gossip and slander.  But take your stand in love and humility. You could save your church.

The Buffered Self

The “buffered self” is the name give  by philosopher Charles Taylor to describe an individual  in our culture who is isolated from any  transcendent reality, that is, God ‘s presence.   Taylor observes that, prior to 1500, almost everyone believed in God, understanding life to be meaningless without God.  It was an “enchanted” world in which vulnerable souls were open to God.  Taylor refers to those knowingly impacted by God as “porous” souls. In  the enchanted premodern social imaginary, the self was open and susceptible to the presence of God..

But the  modern “buffered self” is isolate and enclosed, wanting to protect self from any influence of transcendence.  In modern social imaginary, the self is insulated within the mind, no longer vulnerable to the movements of God’s grace..   It isn’t enough to simply divest the world of spirits and demons, but the self needs to be buffered and protected from transcendence.   There is  a kind of “lowering of the bar” when it came to the requirements of living life well without reference to God.  In our day that means you are free to be a  “none” (no belief).  Could it be that men today are buffering themselves not only from God but also from the negative characterizations of men in our society? How “porous” is your masculine soul?

It is quite natural for men to live simply in their heads; in what Richard Rohr calls our “control tower.”  There is the ever present danger of becoming turned in on ourselves, becoming a self-referencing person.   We are, “like a thin shaving of wood, curling up around the void of his inner nothingness, cut off alike from the cosmos and the creator of all things” (Theophan the Recluse). The buffered self lives in darkness with the lights out.  “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness.  They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God” (John 3:19-20 – Message).  Here are some of the consequences of this crisis..

First, the buffered  self is a lonely, isolated self, living in alienation from God, self and others.  It is all to easy for men to withdraw back into their inner fortress, rather then stay engaged in vital relationships.  A man may seem fully energized in  everyday pursuits, but live with an inner ache of loneliness.   Secondly, the sense of being trapped with no inner spiritual  breathing space.  This is life without any window to the spiritual realm, similar to the  cave dwellers of Plato’s  parable of the cave, living with their torches in the darkness, unaware of the light that is just beyond their reach.

Thirdly, the sadness of never knowing our  uniqueness as men created in God’s image. We are not able to handle our uniqueness very well in the contemporary “gender wars.”   “It is difficult to know how to compare myself to other people, although I am constantly tempted to do so….I oscillate between pride and anxiety that I am alone with my uniqueness.” (James Houston).  Remember men, when a man buffers himself against God’s presence in his life,  he can not be affirmed as the unique man God created him to be. He is insecure in his maleness.

Fourthly, the dreaded reality that we will be manipulated far beyond our comprehension by the descending cultural darkness.  We simply cannot protect ourselves from being deceived.  Jesus warned, “Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you” (John 12:35).. We need to walk as a porous soul in the light.  The Palmist declares those blest, “who walk in the light of [God’s] presence” (Ps 89:15).

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