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: November 2018

A Prudent Man

I have recently been convicted by the words of  the Prophet Amos, “Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times for the times are evil” (Amos 5:13).  A prudent man is one who ”acts with or shows care and thought for the future.”  The NLT reads, “So those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time.”  The Amplified brings out the thought of people not listening to the truth, nor having regard for a godly witness. “Therefore he who is prudent and has insight will keep silent at such a [corrupt and evil] time, for it is an evil time [when people will not listen to truth and will disregard those of godly character].”

The Message expresses the thought of being prudent in an emphatic manner.  “Justice is a lost cause.  Evil is epidemic.  Decent people throw up their hands.  Protest and rebuke are useless, a waste of breath.”  The ESV Study Bible has this note: “If someone were to speak out against the manifest injustice taking place, his own life might be in danger, while his objections would do no good because they could not stop the ongoing, entrenched evil.”  As I read these words, I desire to be a prudent man. My natural tendency is to speak the truth and “set people straight.” But there are times to keep quiet.

There is  cultural tsunami building on the horizon.  A tsunami begins with an earthquake far out at sea.  The shock wave travels through the water towards shore.   Its  intensity is realized once it reaches the shore as a wall of water with devastating force.  “The wall of water,” suggest Rod Dreher, “is coming at us.  There’s no holding it back.”  I agree.  Men, there is little use complaining or complaining about our culture losing its Christian worldview and consensus.  That time has past.

Rest assured, God’s prophetic word is being heard in our day .  Amos reminds us, “The lion has roared – who will not fear?  The Sovereign Lord has spoken -who can but prophecy (Amos 3:8).  We need to exercise patience. God is sounding the trumpet. Are we alert to the sound  “Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.  Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.  It is close at hand” (Joel 2:1). God told Habakkuk, “This vision is for the future time.  It describes the end, and it will be fulfilled.  If it seems slow in coming, wait patiently, for it will surely take place.  It will not be delayed” (Hab. 2:3 NLT).

Christian men can easily fall into the trap of bemoaning  how “justice is a lost cause” and “evil is epidemic” in society today.  Our witness can turn negative and counterproductive to an authentic Christian witness. How are we going to practice his presence in the midst of the coming darkness?  We wait for the Lord. “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him! (Is.30:18).

It is prudent not the enter into the highly charged destructive rhetoric of the cultural narrative.  Rather we need to show love, forbearance and mercy to those who so strongly oppose Jesus and his Kingdom.  I readily admit to the men,  whom I  have been a witness, that I reluctant to enter into a discussion or debate regarding political and cultural issues.  I say I am simply a follower of Jesus, now living in his kingdom reign in the earth.  In that sense I am quiet.

The Woman in the Window

Recently I had a unexpected inspiration moment.  My wife, Judy and I have just moved to a  comfortable senior apartment complex in Brainerd, Mn.  We both felt the time was right for this move, even though it would mean down-sizing, making new friends, and finding a new church home.  After our decision to move, it so happened that our daughter, who was going to eventually move into our lake place with her family, lost their home during hurricane Michael in Florida.  We were glad to  welcome our daughter into our home, since they were now homeless.  We could see God’s hand in the move.

On the second night of occupying our new apartment, I was out walking at dusk and happened to be looking up at our apartment window.  I saw Judy sitting at her desk, busy writing on her computer.  It is hard to explain the sensation I had as I looked at her in the window. I was very thankful that the attractive women I saw in the second story window was my wife.  I was filled with gratitude for being married these past 53 years to such a wonderful helpmate. She is a crown in my life, helping make me a better man. “A virtuous and excellent wife [worthy of honor] is the crown of her husband” (Prov. 12:4).

In Proverbs 18:22 we read, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.”  I can certainly testify to the way in which God has blessed me through my wife. I could never have made this move without Judy by my side.   Our decision to move off the lake to an apartment in town was a major step for both of us. We saw it, at our age, as probably our last great adventure together. We have felt that God had prepared us for this new journey. Through prayer and discernment we knew this was what we should be doing at this stage in our lives.  We leaned on each other through the whole process.  I am very grateful to have my bride by my side.  She is a wonderful help mate

Now that I have been out of parish life for almost nine years, my wife is flourishing in her spiritual gifts. I see my role as supporting and encouraging her ministry, after having her faithful support for 40 years.  Her daily devotions which are read by well over a 100 persons continues to bring daily encouragement and inspiration. I am truly amazed at how God speaks to her as she writes her daily blog.  It is a gift from God.   Judy is the greatest earthly treasure I have.  “An excellent woman  [one who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous], who is he who can find her?  Her value is more precious than jewels and her worth is far above rubies or pearls. The heart of her husband trusts in her [with secure confidence], and he will have no lack of gain” (Prov. 31:10-11 -Amplified).

When my wife published her first book of devotions, I wrote in the forward that my wife was the most consistent Christian I have known.  She has an inner beauty, “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality and unfading charm of a gentle and peaceful spirit [one that is calm and self-controlled, not overanxious, but serene and spiritually mature] which is very precious in the sight of God” (I Peter 3:4 – amplified).  This gives a description of the woman I saw in the window of our new home at “Northern Lakes Senior Living.”

Eugene Peterson

Eugene Peterson, the translator of the Message Bible, recently passed away at the age of 85.  He was a very significant influence in shaping my understanding of  the calling to be a parish pastor.  I discovered Peterson in the mid–80’s when I was shaking off stereo types of being a Lutheran pastor as being primarily concerned with doctrine and practice, while forgetting soul care.  In those days soulfulness was thought of as being too narrow, emotionally charged and focused on navel-gazing.  I learned from Peterson that the role of pastor was simply “practicing the presence of Jesus” among the people.  That concept was liberating in my ministry.  I determined  from that time on to be a simple, loving follower of Jesus.

While  being aware of my own soul life, as a feeling, intuitive guy,  I had difficulty justifying my awareness in a tradition that put the priority on “head knowledge” verse the compliment of  “heart knowledge.”  In my first 10 years of ministry I felt misunderstood and not able to conform to the institutional norm for pastors.  Inner transformation and character formation were concepts that I had not heard of in my pastoral and theological training. Peterson was the first contemporary protestant pastor who gave me the framework and the words to see the pastor as a “spiritual director” and the ministry of “soul care” as the primarily concern of a pastor.

I can’t express how much I  owe  Peterson.  He showed me that the pastoral vocation was a call to be personal.  It meant being a good listener; having concern to the inner life of others.  Preaching was visualizing persons with hungry souls, not simply a listening audience.  It meant loving people and not using them.  The pastor was to be a person of prayer and devotion.  It was out of his own personal relationship with God that he was able to shepherd his flock.  Peterson maintained that our core identity, “comes out as persons-in-relationship.”  “‘Soul’ is our word for this,” observes Peterson. “It is the most personal term we have for who we are.  The term ‘soul’ is an assertion of wholeness, the totality of what it means to be a human being.”

I never forgot his response when asked why he enjoyed being a pastor of a local congregation.  He said, “I like to mess.”  This was liberating for me when times got difficult and when I felt spiritually dry.  He helped me to see that in the midst of brokenness of the people of God, the Spirit of Jesus was present bring forth life. Jesus was holding all things together.

Col 1:16-17 in the Message says this so well. “We look at his Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created.  For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank of angels – everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.  He was there before any of it came into existence and hold it all together right up to this moment.”

For me at this moment in my journey, my wife and I happen to be looking for a new church home.  We left our lake home and are living in a senior apartment complex in Brainerd, Mn.  We are now seeking  a place where we sense God is present, doing his hidden work of bringing life to folks we desire to follow him.  We long to see God at work in “the mess.”  We know God will bring us to a  church in which we will see the hidden work of Jesus bringing all things together through the work of his Spirit.

Guard Your Heart

When does sexual harassment take place?  “The past few months has ushered in a unprecedented level of awareness and shock at the pervasive experience of sexual harassment,’ notes Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group.  Barna asked Americans to identify specific acts that they considered to be harassment.  “Nearly half of all American adults admit to experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment at some point in their lives.”  The nature of the behavior was either verbal (77%) or physical (67%).  “The answer differs based on gender, but Americans say that sexual harassment is most often about being touched or groped (women: 96%, men: 86%) or being forced to do something sexual (women: 91%, men:83%).

Three in ten adults (29%) report that they have been sexually harassed.  Women are nearly three times more likely than men to report experiencing sexual harassment.  The reported noted women (73%) were more likely than men (57%) to say the sexual harassment they experienced or witnessed was physical.  Women also give accounts of verbal sexual harassment just as much as physical (74% verbal and 73% physical).  Men feel or recognize harassment more often as verbal (men: 81%, women: 73%).

The data from Barna seems to reinforce what I have observed in my years as a pastor.  Men are more likely to be the ones doing the harassing rather than women.  The harassment is mainly verbal with men in the church.  It is interesting that such things as staring (19%:women, 18%:men ), winking (18%:women, 12%:men) and light-hearted flirting (women:12%, men:12%) were far down the list.  I mention these three items because for Christian men who desire to live in moral purity and sexual integrity, these items matter.

Men, my testimony is that light-hearted flirting matters.  Our attitude toward women speaks louder then our words.  We are held to a higher standard.  Moral purity which is the foundation of sexual integrity begins in the heart of a man.  Remember Jesus’ words, “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already commited adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27).  Proverbs 6:23 warns men, “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes” (Prov 6:25).  Job said of himself, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1)

If Christian men are going to be trusted, worthy exemplars of moral purity in relation to women, it will have to be demonstrated in our more hidden responses to women.  For example, I have tried hard to never send the wrong message to women.  I have purposed to “countinence” the face of a young woman and not her body.  As the old saying goes, “You can look at the menu, but don’t order.”  For men “staring” and “winking” are off limits.  They send a mixed message.  When it comes to “making sexual comments about looks/body,”  experienced by 86% of the women in the Barna report, the man of God should know better.

The Barna report ends by noting, “We are now beginning to grapple with the intensely sexual ideas that have been allowed to define gender relationships, not to mention the extremely complex power dynamics at play in society where men still hold the majority of top-level positions…..Pastors and spiritual leaders….must be ready to talk with their members……Churches have an opportunity to be leaders in this disorienting conversion.”

I agree totally.  As men of God, we can lead the way through the present day wasteland of sexual dysfunction between men and women.  But we need to head the words of Proverbs 4:23, “Guard you heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”

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