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: February 2019

The Gift of a Handicap

Reading the Message translation of II Cor. 12, Paul wrote that he was, “given the gift of a handicap” to keep him “in constant touch with [his] limitations” (v. 7).  The traditional translation is “a thorn in the flesh.” Paul begged to have it removed.  But God told him, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.  My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (v. 8).  What Paul says next has been medicine for my soul at this new juncture of my  journey.

“Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen.  I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift.  It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.  Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size……I just let Christ take over!  And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become” (v. 9-10).

Judy and I have been transitioning to a new living space in our senior apartment, getting acquainted with people both in our building, as well as in our church community (Good Shepherd Lutheran Free Church).  Judy has been navigating the adjustment better then yours truly.  I am honest in telling my bride, “I am above water, but I sense the miry depths below. I don’t want to sink.”  David prayed, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold……Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink.  Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me” (Ps. 69:1-2, 14, 15).  My wife is my inspiring encourager in keeping my eyes of Jesus.

Men we all have our handicaps or “thorns in the flesh.”  This transitioning period has exposed cracks in the relational foundations of my life story.  I can’t put it into words,  but newly emerging  implicit memories going back to my infant years, have brought up deep feelings of abandonment and insecurity.  At present, I know intellectually that my life is secure, but just below the surface I feel the “mire” of abandonment and the lack of basic trust.

I don’t like being affected by feelings of fear, vulnerability and insecurity.  Little did I realize the cracks that would be exposed during this transitional time in my life. I am learning to stand in my wounds, while holding them before the Lord.  Here is some of what I am learning from this humbling experience.  First, learning to accept  thankfully my “gift of a handicap.”  It keeps  me, “in constant touch with my limitations.”  I have had to confess the ugly sin of self-pity.

Secondly, I need to accept my handicaps,  by appreciating them as a gift.   The NIV reads, “boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses.”   It takes humility and vulnerability.   It’s difficult to share  my weaknesses with my wife.

Thirdly, realize that Christ’s strength enters  into my weakness.  I have no idea how that happens. It is the work of the Spirit in my foundations.

Fourthly, I accept Paul’s testimony, “the weaker I get the stronger I become.”  I know I can’t repair my foundations.  As Jesus repairs my foundations I become stronger.

The Feeling of Birth Pangs

In Romans 8 we learn how we share in the birth pangs of a pregnant creation. “All around us we observe a pregnant creation.  The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs.  But it’s not only around us; it’s within us.  The Spirit of God is arousing us within.  We’re also feeling the birth pangs.  These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance.  That’s is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother.  We are enlarged in the waiting” (Romans 8:22-24 – Message).  We all have experienced times when we want these inner  birth pangs to cease.

As a man I can only identify with birth pain as an analogy to my spiritual journey.  Judy and I are in the 4th quarter,  getting settled in among folks at a senior living complex in Brainerd. The move has brought me into one of those  “in-between times,” when I feel the pain of birth pangs. It often happens in the major transitions on the journey.  I want it to be over.  I don’t like my feeling of abandonment  The unknown, uncertainty and being out of control is not easy.  I would like to go back to the old familiar.  But I know I can’t.  My wife and I knew this move was God’s plan for us.  But I feel insecure.

Richard Rohr calls this a liminial space. It is a process of dying to the old so that the new can come forth.  Native American Indians called it a “crazy time.”  It is a time when we seem to be losing  our spiritual bearing. We can’t find true north.  Each of us have different reactions depending on our season of life and the unique of our spiritual journey.  This is the work of the Spirit bringing forth something new.  Our part is to surrender to the process.  Above all, it is a matter of keeping our eyes on Jesus, not becoming turned in on self.

Thomas Keating has observed, “Surrender to the unknown marks the great transition of the spiritual journey.  On the brink of each new breakthrough there is a crisis of trust and love.”  Can we trust the lord in the process knowing that God is loving us through the experience of birth pangs.  It will be painful.  You are being enlarged in the waiting.

My strong encouragement is that you have a soul mate, someone who will listen to your angst of being in one of these “in-between times.”  I know for me it has been my wife. I have been helped greatly, as she listens and helps clarify for me my struggle.  My advice, don’t go through the liminial space alone.

I agree with Stephen Smith when he says, “I have grown tired of people who think and believe that they know the answers to God’s secrets and mysteries.”  Don’t let anybody try to figure out what talking place in your soul.  You are experiencing birth pains.  This is God’s hidden work.   Smith quotes Mary Oliver: “Let me keep my distance always, from those who think they have answers.  Let me keep company always with those who say, ‘Look!’ and laugh in astonishment and bow their heads.”

I am learning to trust Jesus in a deeper way during this turbulent time.   I feel like the disciples who cried out to Jesus in the storm, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown” (Matt. 8:25).  I hear him say to me, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid” (Matt. 8:26). It’s a moment by moment walk because only He knows the outcome.

Importance of Family

The Pew Research Center recently reported their findings on a important question? When asked the open-ended question about what brings the greatest meaning to their live, 69% of Americans said family.  Family had no close competitor nor a replacement, not even friends and community.  When asked “What is the most important source of meaning in your life?” – family was still number one.  “Regardless of how materialistic, politically divided, and atomistic our culture gets, ” noted Glenn Stanton, “family and faith still play very substantial roles in the human heart.”

With all the changes in social values and family trends, the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan made this important discovery. “There is very little evidence that the commitment of Americans to children, marriage and family life has eroded substantially in the past two decades.”  The researchers also noted, “compared to the 1970’s young Americans in the 1990’s were more committed to the importance of a good marriage and family life”  In reviewing the material on marriage and family, Dr. Stanton concluded, “It’s why there will always be a robust job market for those working to strengthen both of relational aspects [family and marriage] in people’s lives.  They are not only what people want, but what they need.”

We read in Psalms 68:5-6, “God in his holy dwelling is a father of the fatherless and a champion of widows.  God provides homes for those who are deserted.” The Psalmist is describing a heavenly father who cares for those who are without family. The essence of our being persons is that we are relational. We are designed and defined by our relationships.  All reality is relational, having been created by a personal, relational God.  Loneliness is proof of our relational nature.

Stanton make this important observation about our relationships.  “We must not forget that one of the most important aspects of being human is that we are made for others, and we cannot live in isolation…..the most important and meaningful places where people find these are with their family and with God….All other relationships and life-aspects orbit around these, and research shows this time and time again.  Pew’s work in this report is simply the latest installment in this story.”

The Pew report  is a  reminder to men that we are relational beings.   First, the assurance of our relationship to our heavenly Father.  Our sense well being is found in knowing that God is our “abba” Father.  “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry ‘abba,’ Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 5:15-26).  Knowing our relationship to “abba” equips us to be relational.

Second, our commitment to family.  Men, our true character is found within our families.  God has placed you in an immediate and extended family.  Accept this as his design for your spiritual journey.  Remember God has not made a mistake in placing you in a unique family dynamic.  Here you will find your calling as a man of God.

Third, you will be tested in your family relationships.  Nothing keeps me more humble then family relationships.  There will be individuals who are like “sandpaper,” whom God uses to get rid of wrong edges in your character.

Fourth, don’t forget that God has also placed you in a church family. There you will be pruned relationally.  ‘Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community” (Bonhoeffer).  When you join, you are not able to choose who are our brother and sisters.

I Know a Ghost

Three time Grammy-nominated Christian Artist David Crowder in releasing his new album “I Know a Ghost” said he decided to use the word “ghost” instead of “spirit’ as a means of startling people into spiritual reality.  The new record is a modern blend of bluegrass, country, electronic-synth, gospel and Southern hip-hop.  I’m a bluegrass, country guy, so I don’t naturally gravitate to all his  songs. But I appreciate how Crowder’s style reaches a wide audience. Personally I consider David Crowder a a modern day artist, who has a prophetic edge to his music.

His music forces me to a deeper, more reflective place in my journey through the spiritual wastelands, as I relate to lost pilgrims.  Substituting “ghost” for “Spirit” is an attempt to reach a skeptical  audience.  “There’s something about the word ‘ghost’ that makes your everyday person feel more comfortable than ‘spirit,'” notes Crowder,  “because there’s less church language attached to it.”  As humans we are, “continually scratching at something.”  Crowder rightly observes, “there is something innate in us that is searching for the beyond.” I personally attempt to use very little “church” language.  I attempt to “scratch” for the soul, where the echoes of transcendence are found.

In his music Crowder  “shift our perceptions and realigning our awareness of what is real.” It is an attempt “to recolonize our imaginations.”  In his lyrics there is a strong belief that no one is so far gone that redemption cannot reach them.  “We come from God and we are going back to God, and it is His Breath, His Spirit that’s in us that causes us  to vibrate in wonder when we recognize the beauty of his Creation and the relentlessness of His redemptive pursuit.”  I try gently, to make reference to what is beyond and listen for sounding from the soul of another person.  Done in love and gentleness, it often gets a person thinking about their life with God.

A song on the record is entitled “Ghost.” “This ghost is a fire.” The phrase “get ready” is repeated.  To me, it has a prophetic tone in both the lyrics and sound.  It is a reminder that the Spirit of God is going to fulfill the purposes of the Father, through His Son, by the work of the Holy Spirit.  John said of Jesus, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matt. 3:11).  When the Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, Luke tells us, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separate and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:4).  The presence of God can be with fire (Ex. 3:2).  Revelation 1:14 describes Jesus with eyes “like blazing fire.”

In “ghost” the following phrases are found in progression.   “This ghost is a fire”  – “His ghost is inside you”  –  “Get ready, there’s a ghost in the room”  – and finally “We’re ready for you to set things right.”  This sequence reminds me of the early church in prayer as they face opposition.  They prayed, “Now, Lord consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:30).  The results of the prayer are found in the next verse (31).  “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken.  And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”

Men – the Holy Spirit (Ghost) is like fire within you.  He’s asking us to get ready.  Our prayer should be, “Come Holy Spirit, we’re ready.”

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