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: December 2017

Merry Christmas

Whatever happened to the ” War on Christmas?”  It was only a few years ago, when Christians were  insisting that we put “Christ” back into Christmas.  What happened to  the carols being sung during the holidays,  the manger scenes in  public places, and all the Christmas programs in the public schools?  It seems that Santa Claus himself might disappear in the next couple of years. A recent Pew study found that 52% of respondents said it did not matter  what kind of holiday greeting was used by people or businesses, and only 32% said they prefer to be greeted with “Merry Christmas.”

There is no better example of how our culture is losing the memory of the Christian story in the public consciousness, then the loss of “Merry Christmas.”  Earlier this month, President Trump declared in a speech, “Remember I said we’re bringing Christmas back?  Christmas is back, bigger and better than ever before….We’re bringing Christmas back and we say it now with pride…… Merry Christmas to everybody.”  He has often said, “we will by saying Merry Christmas again.”  But I am afraid the memory of a Merry Christmas is fast fading from our public consciousness, to the delight of the secularists.

The New York Times reported  The Pew study, “found that while a vast majority of Americans still celebrate Christmas, most find the religious elements of the holiday are emphasized less than in the past – and few of them care about that change.”  56% of Americans believe that the religious elements of Christmas are emphasized less now than they were in the past, but only 32% say that development bother then either “a lot” or “some.”  Today  55% of Americans say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a culture holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and cultural occasion.

Speaking to church leaders, Marc Pugliese, a Christian educator, observed “…..Christmas is being watered down by everything that’s happening in the culture…..If they (church leaders) want their people to know what Christmas is about, then they are going to have to teach them that and find ways for parents to teach that to their children.”

When the narrative of Scripture fades from our cultural memory, it becomes the responsibility of the family and the church to tell the story.  The lose of Christmas is a  “wake up” call to Christian fathers. The leaders of the Reformation saw the need of people regaining a biblical view of life.  They wrote catechisms as instruction aids for the home.  Luther believed that the home was the best place for such instruction and therefore urged parents to catechize their children. Later this practice became known as instituting a ” Home Altar.”

I want to be an encouragement to young fathers reading this blog.  If you have not established a regular pattern of family devotions in your family, do so for the sake of your children.  Your witness and concern for their “soul life” will speak volumes, since no one else watches out for their souls.

God reminded the people of Israel of the need to keep the memory of the Exodus alive in the hearts of their children. “When you enter the land which God will give you as he promised keep doing this.  And when your children say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’  tell then: “It’s the Passover sacrifice to God who passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt when he hit Egypt with death but rescued us” (Ex. 12:25-27  – Message).  When your kids ask about Christmas, tell them the true story.

The Light of the World

I am preaching this Advent Season.  I have been reflecting on Jesus coming as the  “Light of the World.”  I am  visualizing the Light of Jesus as an Inner Light, that is, his  presence in our hearts. My contention is that the darkness is increasing.  In order to flourish, it will be imperative  to know that the light within is greater than the outer darkness.  John reminds us, “…the one who is in you is greater then the one who is in the world” ( I John 4:4).

Reality from a Biblical perspective can be divided into light and darkness.  The first verses of Genesis portrays the earth as, “formless and empty, [while] darkness covered the surface of the watery depths.” Creation was in chaos, with no order or meaning.  But, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”  Hovering, “suggests that the Spirit of God was watching over his creation just as a bird watches over its young” (CSB study Bible).  Into this chaos God spoke, “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good.”  The light brings order to both inner and outer chaos.

The life that Jesus  offers us  is light that could overcome the darkness. “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.  The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness, the darkness couldn’t put it out’ ( John 1:4-5 – Message).  Jesus promised that he would provide all the light needed.  “I am the world’s Light.  No one who follows me stumbles around in the darkness.  I provide plenty of light to live in” ( John 8:12 – Message).

But the “Life-Light” will need to be more than a concept or image in our minds.  We must open our hearts to allow the Light of Jesus’ presence to fill our inner life.  “It started when God said, ‘Light up the darkness!’  and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful” ( II Cor 4:6).  “It is not our movement toward God, but God’s movement to us. It is heaven interrupting our world….the descent of the divine light among human beings not only to shine on, to illuminate, to purify and to warm them, but through grace, to make them also shine with a light of this world” (Han van Balthasar).

I urge the men reading my blog during this Christmas season to take inventory of the inner light of Jesus’ presence.  Only the presence of Jesus will be able to combat the influence of darkness in the days to come. John calls us to take inventory of our life. “If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth – we’re not living what we claim.  But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the scarified blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin” (I John 1:6-7 – Message).

Don’t allow yourself to be “addicted to denial and illusion,” caught in the shadows, but live in  “truth and reality.”  “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.  Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure.  But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is” (John 3:19-21 – Message).

Defining Deviancy Down

I am old enough to remember the concept of “defining deviancy down” made popular by former New York senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  “There is always a certain amount of deviancy in a society.  But when you get too much, you begin to think that it’s not really that bad.  Pretty soon you become accustomed to very destructive behavior.” Our recent national conversion regarding  sexual harassment has shown a disturbing deviancy down regarding our sexual ethics and behavior.

It has only been a short time  since the New York Times ran its initial report on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation.  Rich Lowery of the National Review noted, “It’s difficult to think of any piece of journalism that has wrought such an instant change in American life.”  He points out how the model works. “Men with a certain prestige would make gross, aggressive, or even coercive advances on lower-status women, usually young and making their starts in their careers.  The men probably considered it a percentage play.  Sometimes, their advances might work for their purposes.  If not, they assumed that the women would stay silent out of embarrassment or fear.  Failing that, the women could be discredited or bought off.”

I personally am not surprised. Theologian Carl Trueman maintains that we have been scammed. “The notion that sex can be pursued as recreation, isolated from a larger relational and moral context, is an obvious scam.  But we keep getting mugged by reality.”  Men remember this: “Your philosophy will always dictate your morality.”  When we leave biblical morality out of our worldview, the results can easily lead sexual harassment — being mugged by reality.

Scripture warns us about falling victim to lust.  “God’s plan is to make you holy and that means a clean cut with sexual immorality.  Every one of you should learn to control his body, keeping it pure and treating it with respect, and not allowing it to fall victim to lust, as do pagans with no knowledge of God” (I Thess. 4: 3-5 – Phillips).  It was a struggle for the early church to maintain sexual purity.  The Pagan religions often included sexual orgies as part of their rites of worship, and temple prostitutes were dedicated to various gods.  In contrast, the early church taught that the body is God’s temple.

Christina Hoff Sommers wonders if  we might not be  experiencing “the Great Sex Panic of 2017.”  But she pleads, “Let’s not squander this moment.  Women and men of good will have a profound opportunity to speak honestly and work together to begin to write the next chapter in the quest for equality and dignity.”  For the wild men reading this blog, who desire to live with moral purity, exemplified by sexual integrity, this is a time for  a “spiritual morality check” of our lives, remembering that moral impurity begins in the heart.  “But don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed.  Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than you body.  Those leering looks you think nobody notices – they also corrupt” (Matt. 6:28- Message).

Men, my constant struggle is to surrender my thought life, with its sexual fantasies to the Lord.  Moral purity begins in the heart, not with outward boundaries.  I pray always to be a “one-woman” man.  If you struggle with your thought life, surrender to the loving gaze of Jesus.  His gaze will prompt you to desire greater purity to your heart.  Don’t try to fool yourself into believing that you can maintain the kind of sexual purity expected of a man of God in our sensual culture simply by effort and resolve.  We all will need continual soul cleansing.

Let’s Rethink Sex

With all the attention on sexual harassment in the media, columnist Christine Emba wrote an opinion in the Washington Post entitled, “Let’s Rethink Sex.”  She asks, “If we get so worked up about sexual harassment and assault, what will happen to sex?’  That is, indeed, the sad question being asked by many women today.

Emba wonders what we should do.  “It’s unlikely that we’ll return to a society in which sexual encounters outside of marriage are disallowed or even discouraged – that sex train has already left the fornication station…….But now could be the time to reintroduce virtues such as prudence, temperance, respect, and even love.  We might pursue the theory that sex possibly has a deeper significance then just recreation and that ‘consent’ – that thin and gameable boundary – might not be the only moral sensibility we need respect.”

Embra closes with this note of hope. “If you are a decent person, the prospect of a clearer, more boundaried sexual ethic should not frighten you.  If not, have you considered that you might be part of the problem?”

I want to respond to Ms. Emba in a very personal way.  I imagine myself sitting with her, along with my bride of 52 years, telling my story.  I picture her as a confused and uncertain about her personal and professional relationship in “the sexual wastelands” of modern society.  What was started as a sexual revolution with all its freedom in the 60’s is how coming to haunt us in our relationship as male and female.  Is there a way out of this sexual waste land?  Yes!  But in my opinion it needs to be radical, in the sense that culture once again turns to the Creator of sex and his blueprint.

So I would not argue with Ms. Emba nor demean her for her views.  Rather I would share the following.

First, sex is a wonderful gift of a loving Heavenly Father.  It is to be celebrated and enjoyed by man and woman.  “When Adam saw Eve he said, ‘Finally, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh!  Name her Woman for she was made from man.’  Therefore, a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife.  They become one flesh.  The two of them, the man and his wife, were naked, but they felt no shame” (Gen 2:23-25 – Message).  Judy and I stand naked and unashamed before God.

Secondly,  the “one flesh” relationship is intended for only a man and his wife. “There’s more to sex then mere skin on skin.  Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact.  As written in Scripture, ‘The two become one'”  ( I Cor. 6:16 -Message).  We have given ourselves away only once.

Thirdly, it is prayer that keeps the union and flame alive.  We pray together each day, humbling ourselves before one another and the Lord.

Fourthly, my wife and I cry out for God’s mercy daily to keep our marriage alive.  This means that we humbly attempt to put the other first, asking God for grace to meet each other needs as male and female.

Fifthly, as a man I struggle with my own sexual temptations.  But I have vowed that I will always be a “one-woman-man” in private and public.

Sixthly, our prayer is that our marriage might be a witness as to how God intended a man and woman to live together in union with one another and God

Finally, I want to say to you, Ms. Emba, I am eternally grateful to God for my partnership with my bride.  It has been God’s greatest gift to me, other than God rescuing me from my sins and giving me eternal life.

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