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 2018

A Father and His Two Sons

I preached recently for my pastor, using the story of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:11-31) as my text.  There are three main characters: the younger son, the elder son and the father.  We usually remember the younger son going away, coming to his senses and the returning to his father.  What about the elder son and the father?  I can now see myself in both the sons.

It is easy to see the outward reality of leaving and returning home.  But there is a deeper inner reality that can be overlooked. Henri Nouwen helps us with his insight.  “Leaving home is….much more than an historical event bound to time and place. It is a denial of the spiritual reality that I belong to God with every part of my being……..Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one…..Home is the center of my being where I can hear the voice that says: ‘You are my beloved, on you my favor rests.'”

Only in these latter years have I come to see the story through more enlightened  spiritual eyes.  At the heart of the story is the unconditional love of the Father.  In my estimation, not until a man experiences the awareness of God’s gracious love, will he come  home to his center where he is one in spirit with the Lord.  “The whole purpose of Jesus’ ministry,” notes Nouwen, ” is to bring us to the house of his father.”  Could it be that the greater sin for both the younger and older son is the rejection and disregard for the unconditional love of the father.

I image the father at home, grieving because his two sons could neither comprehend nor embrace his love, thus not being at home in his embrace.  When a man opens his inner life to the unconditional love of God, which is beyond  comprehension, he comes to experience with certainty being a  beloved son of  his heavenly father. Like both the sons I have lived outside the father’s embrace.  I thank God for coming  to rest in my heavenly Father’s love.

I can still wander like the younger son into the far country, drawn by my desires, attachments and compulsions, there to be influenced by voices that cause me to doubt my identity.  I become conflicted, living with my contradictions.  But the voice of unconditional love calls me home. What brings me back is the full acceptance of being the beloved of God.  I have the freedom of choice.  The father waits for me to come home.  There is no condemnation when I am in Christ Jesus.  In my coming and going I am  amazed that God loves me in my shame and vulnerability.

It is harder to see the rebellion of the elder son.  He was lost in his father’s house. He lived a dutiful life.  He was a hard working, obedient older son. But the celebration for his younger brother brought to the surface anger than had turned into resentment.  He “stalked off in an angry sulk” (v 28 – Message).  He showed little gratitude nor did he care for the welfare of his brother, who was thought to be dead.  “Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief…… Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast! (15:29-30 -Message).  He had a servant mentality, still trying to prove his worth.  God saves me from “performance orientation” and a judgmental attitude.

Jordan Peterson

Have you heard of Jordan Peterson?  Until a few months ago I was clueless regarding Canadian psychologist at the University of Toronto.  But since 2016, millions have watched his collection of You Tube lectures. 80% are young men between 20-34. And when he speaks in public, the great majority of his audiences are made up of men.  Peterson himself was surprised at first. He soon realized he was speaking to deep concerns among younger men.  David Brooks observed, “…He delivers stern, fatherly lectures to young men on how to be honorable, upright and self-disciplined – how to grow up and take responsibility for their own lives… Parents, universities, and the elders of society have utterly failed to give many young men realistic and demanding practical wisdom on how to live. Peterson has filled the gap.”

I realize that Peterson is not a Christian. He has been deeply influenced by Jungian psychology. His language can be pretty salty at times.  And he sees the Bible as more myth than the Word of God.  So, taking in Peterson’s thoughts or observations is a little like eating fish.  You have to take the meat and spit out the bones. Nonetheless, I am very interested in Peterson, because of the response he has gotten from young men. 

David French has noted, “Jordan Peterson’s popularity is a sign of the longing for understanding a distinctive male purpose and male way of living that is true to biology and psychology.”  I agree with Dr. John Mark Reynolds, who puts it bluntly, “He [Peterson] is what young men need and the church is not giving: straight talk that is smart.”  All truth is God’s truth, wherever it might be found. And as followers of Christ, “We can do nothing against the truth, but only for the truth” (II Cor. 13:8).  Some want to disregard Peterson because he is not a biblical believer. As a follower of Christ, however, my burden is to help men in their spiritual journey. Could Peterson’s message help me relate more effectively to men?  Below are a few of the themes in Peterson’s messages that make me think that it can:

First, be responsible. Responsibility is not a legalistic rod to beat men down, but rather an invitation to be honorable and self-disciplined.  Peterson talks about carrying our burden. “Pick up the heaviest thing you can find and carry it.”  He finds that men hunger for such a challenge. Being responsible is a manly attribute, not a source of crushing shame.

Second, find meaning and purpose.  Peterson believes people have a hunger for principles and direction.  Don’t buy into postmodern relativism and pessimism. Young men can make a difference.  But they need to accept the burden of being responsible in order to move toward what is meaningful.

Third, carry a good dose of realism. Tim Lott says of Peterson’s worldview, “Life is tragic.” You are tiny and flawed and ignorant and weak and everything else is huge complex and overwhelming.”  Yes, life is hard.  Learn to lean into pain.

Fourth, free yourself from the grip of groupthink. “At some level Peterson is offering assertiveness training,” notes Brooks, “to men whom society is trying to turn into emasculated snowflakes.”

Fifth, remember that gender matters.  Boys and young men need guidance and reassurance of their maleness.  For this Peterson gets his most vocal feedback.  Peterson maintains, “Boys’ interests tilt toward things,” while “girls’ interests tilt toward people.” “Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories, if you leave them alone. These interests are strongly influenced by biological factors.”  Because of this, Peterson believes boys are suffering in the modern world.

Lights Out

It can be disconcerting to live in spiritual darkness with the ‘lights out.” We want to know, understand and be aware of God’s presence.  For many years I never understood the reality of “the dark night of the soul.”   We read in Psalm 139:11-12, “I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.  To you the night shines as bright as day.  Darkness and light are the same to you. (NLT)” While I might be in darkness it can be light to  the Lord.  In Psalm 112:4 we are told, “Even in the darkness light dawns for the upright.”

Michael W. Smith in his new CD has a song entitled, “Light to You.”  It has ministered to my heart.  Part of the chorus goes like this, “Even the darkness is light to You.  It’s hard to believe it but You say it’s true.  Even the darkness is light to You.” Also included are the words, “If I made my  bed in the depths/if I rise on the wings of the morning/ to the farthest horizon/You’re there/You’ll find me.”  Not very often do I hear a contemporary worship song that has such a rich contemplative expression.

By contemplative I mean coming to know and experience God beyond our thoughts, images and feelings, that is, when the lights go out.  This is a  time of letting go of the familiar ways of knowing Lord  as our understanding is darkened.  This can be a disorientating learning to trust the Lord in the darkness.  Gerald May, a spiritual guide who has helped me greatly has observed, “The dark night of the soul is not an event on passing through and gets beyond, but rather a deep ongoing process that characterizes our spiritual life.  In this sense, the dark night is a person’s hidden life in God.”

Men, years ago I read a prediction by a well know theologian, who believed that the Christian of the future would be a mystic. I believe this is coming true.  The prophet Amos prophesied, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11).  The mystic or contemplative is one who has learned to trust God, while being lead into the darkness.  We don’t need to understand or be in control.  In deepening our relationship with the Lord, we are being prepared for the famine of the Word that will plunge our culture into darkness.

William Johnston notes that in the darkness, the soul exclaims, “God was present all the time and I did not recognize Him.  I thought it was darkness but it was light.  I thought it was nothing but it was all.”  Just as too much light from the sun blinds the human eye, so the excessive light of God’s presence can cause us to be in darkness.

Here is some advice from someone who has learned to walk in the darkness for 30 years.

First, if you desire to have a deeper relationship with the Lord, you will be lead into the darkness.

Secondly, don’t fight the darkness, by trying  to comprehend what is taking place in your soul

Thirdly, learn to keep your inner gaze upon the Lord.  Use a simply word or phrase repeatedly to keep your attention on the Lord

Fourthly, learn to trust the darkness, God is doing work beyond our comprehension

Fifthly,  come alongside fellow pilgrims, encouraging them on their journey as they experience “lights out.”

Billy Graham

I came to faith in Jesus, as a young man of 18, in 1960, at a Lutheran Bible School In Los Angles.  The Scripture used to help me simply surrender my life to Jesus was Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the inequity of us all.”  I saw that my sins had been placed on Jesus.  I confessed, opened my heart and surrendered to him.

Since that day I vowed to live my life for Jesus, no matter the consequences.  In those early day, I “hung unto Jesus” during adversity both from without from within.  Billy Graham was reaching the high of his popularity.  His simply, yet powerfully appealing message of “Jesus as the way.” was a beacon for me as I found my way, having been called to  become a Lutheran pastor.  I went to Fuller Seminary, which Graham helped found,  in the Fall of 1966.  It was rare for a Lutheran to be at Fuller in those days.  But I absorbed what I believed was good “evangelical thought.”  I have never changed my perspective.

I personally owe Billy Graham a great deal for being the leading voice of the evangelical movement that was just coming into the main stream of American life when I was a young man.  He helped shape a religious culture and expression in which I found a home, allowing me to be a “Jesus Follower,” who believed that the Bible was the final authority on matter of faith and practice.

I wept when I read about Billy Graham’s death.  I realized in that moment that I had been privileged to live in an era when “The Evangelical Movement” was shaping our culture and had a voice in the public square.  Sadly this is no longer the case.  But I give testimony to  the fact, that my worldview has not changed.  This is why I continue to write this blog.  I want men to know that Jesus and his death on cross is the answer to the deepest questions of their lives.

Here are four qualities in Mr. Graham that I have admired for years, challenging  me as a man and Pastor.

First, Billy kept “the Main Thing the main thing.” It was always about Jesus.  I often wept when I heard him preach, watching the people coming forward to receive Jesus.  He was not a eloquent or polished preacher.  No, his passion came through when he would point people to Jesus on the cross.  That was tonic for my struggling and questioning soul as a Lutheran in a church body that has reservation about conversion.

Secondly, his integrity.  I never forgot the story I head from one of Billy’s  associates, I think it was T.W Wilson, who worked with him throughout his whole career.  He said, “Our job is to keep Billy Graham humble.”  I never forgot that story.  I knew as man and  Pastor I would need men around me to be accountable to for my behavior and beliefs.

Thirdly, Billy’s humility.  Don Wilton, who became Billy’s pastor during the last decade of his life, meeting weekly at his home, had this to say about Billy Graham. “Nothing about Mr. Graham, in his demeanor, his touch, his incredible spiritual humility, would in any way cause a feeling of intimidation…Mr. Graham didn’t just say what he said, he lived what he said.”  Mr. Graham always gave the glory to God.

Fourthly, his open-mindedness.  He was very controversial in wanting his crusades to be integrated, insisted on going to communist countries to preach and was very ecumenical in his outreach.  It helped me to be more broad minded.

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