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: May 2019

The Second Mountain

“The Second Mountain” is the title of New York Times columnist David Brook’s new book.  In it he describes his path between doubt and faith. The book speaks to deep human longings and the issues of loneliness, alienation, social isolation and hyper-individualism.  The author shares his  journey toward religious faith. Brooks describes himself as “a wandering Jew and a confused Christian.”  As he explains, “I don’t ask you to believe in God or not believe in God.  I’m a writer, not a missionary.  But I do ask you to believe you have a soul.” There you have it, men.  A leading journalist talking about having a soul.

Brook associates the soul and heart with our desires.  We have been taught, argues Brook to be  primarily thinking beings. He disagrees.  He maintains the most  important part of consciousness is a desiring heart.   He argues that life on the “first mountain” – the mountain of personal goals, worldly success, career ambitions, and traveling in the right social circles is temporary and does not satisfy. “We ‘re defined by what we desire, not what we know.”

There is little time for the soul on the first mountain. The soul is powerful and resilient, but it is also reclusive.   Soul will, “….eventually it hunts you down,” Brooks writes, “In this way the soul is like a reclusive leopard living high up in the mountain somewhere.”  There will be times of a haunting appearance of the leopard.  I am reminded of Mark 8:36, “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process.”

The “second mountain” is  characterized by other-centeredness and self -giving which in turn brings joy and fulfillment. The path to the second mountain is often through the valley of hardship and failure. Transformation begins to take place because the “ego self, the impressive rational way of being we constructed for ourselves on the first mountain” gives way to the emergence of the heart and soul.  Heart “is that piece of us that longs for fusion with others.”  Soul, “is the piece of us that gives each person infinite dignity and worth.”

The journey is more like a fall then a climb.  We fall, “through the egocentric desires and plunge down into the substrate to where your desires are mysteriously formed….you are looking into the unconscious regions of heart and soul that reason cannot penetrate.”  In the process we get in touch with what Brooks calls “the Big Shaggy,” that messy thicket that sits below awareness.

As adult men we have the tendency to cover over the substrate and drift off to sleep either ignoring or frightened of Big Shaggy.  We live our lives on auto pilot, thinking that living in our heads gives us a true view of reality.  We need to pay attention to the longing, desires and yearning of the heart and soul. Some of our deepest yearning are to know that we are loved by God and that we have worth as persons.

This book will make men stop and reflect on their personal journey.  Hopeful it will awaken them to the reality of their own inner life. With an awareness of soul, ”it’s an easy leap to [conclude] that there’s some connection there, there’s some flowing force.”  May the light of the gospel break through  the darkness to  inner “substrate.”  “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ make his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of Christ in the face of Christ” (II Cor  4:6)

Protection from Propaganda

Recently as I was reading Psalm 12, I wrote in the margin, “Protection against propaganda.” Here  expressed in a prayer, we can find the sentiments  of believers as they encounter the worldview of the dominant media in our day; what we come to call “fake news.”   The ESV Study Bible notes, “This is a community lament, suited to occasions when the people of God are dominated by liars in positions of authority.  It is not clear whether these liars are unfaithful Israelites or Gentile oppressors; the psalm works for either situation.” How true this is for our day.  Much of what I hear is like propaganda, presented as made up truth to be accepted as fact.

In this short corporate lament (eight verses) the Psalmist asks God to deal with the liars (1-4).  “Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception” (v 1).  They say, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips – who is our master?” (v 3).  The Message says, “I’m tried of hearing, ‘We can  talk anyone into anything!  Our lips manage the world.'”  The question for us today becomes, “Whose narrative is dominating the news cycle?” and whether it is truthful or not.

But then in verse 5 God responds, “I will now arise….I will protect them from those who malign them.”  The Message says, “I’ve had enough; I’m on my way to heal the ache in the hearts of the wretched.”  Men, our prayer needs to be that of the Psalmist, when he  prayed in Ps 9:19, “Arise, O Lord, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence.”  When you struggle to make sense of contemporary life pray, “Let God arise.”

In contrast to the unreliability of the wicked, the Psalmist reminds us of God’s Word being absolutely flawless or trustworthy.  “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times” (v. 5).  The Message says, “God’s words are pure words.” Never forget that God has given us a reliable map to guide our journey in our present surroundings.

The Psalmist conclude his lament by expressing confidence that God will protect the faithful community from the wicked who surround them (vs. 7-8).   “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men” (v. 8).  The Message expresses it well: “God, keep us safe from their lies, from the wicked who stalk us with lies, from the wicked who collect honors from their wonderful lies.”  Pray prayers of protection continually for yourself, your family, your church and your community.

I can take in only so much news at a time.  I have to turn away at times and simply focus on the Lord and his flawless words.  Even when I am trying to make sense out of world news, I continually pray for discernment in seeing the kingdom of  God at work in the midst of the chaos of our day. I pray that God will protect me from the propaganda of so much of the dominant culture.

Imperative of Release

Recently, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, with permission from Pope Francis, broke his silence to address the sexual scandal and the general atmosphere of disintegration in the Catholic church.  The Revolution of ’68 was central in his analysis.  R.R. Reno wrote the following observation: “The Revolution of ’68 shattered the prohibitions, inhibitions, and stable norms that are necessary to restrain man’s appetites…..it is important to realize that ’68 unchained more than just sexual desire……The enduring content of that historical moment was an imperative of release that ministered to a voracious desire for sensual experience and material consumption.”

I lived through the 60’s as a young man, preparing to be a Lutheran pastor (ordained in 1970).  Now in my late 70’s, I praise God for his grace and mercy in my life, giving me strength and confidence to resist the moral tsunami that orthodox believers endured in the late 60’s. I remember well, living through the summer of ’68. I never experienced it as a “summer” of enlightenment, but rather a turning away from a worldview anchored in Scripture. The words of Psalm 2 come to mind.  “The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ‘and free ourselves from this slavery.'” (Ps. 2:3-4 NLT)

I want to pick up on the phrase from Reno – “imperative of release.”  Looking back, I praise God for not embracing an “imperative of release,” but rather gladly submitting to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus in my life.  I can point to at least four aspects of my walk with the Lord that has been consistent, reflecting not release but rather willing submission.

First, submission to the Lordship of Jesus in my life.  The words of Jesus in Matt 16:24-25 have been an imperative in my walk with Jesus. It has meant death to myself on a continuous basis.   “If any of you wants to be my follower,  you must put aside your selfish ambitions, shoulder your cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24 NTL).  Taking up the cross has always meant for me, the death to my sinful self, so that Jesus might reign in my life

Second, submission to the authority of God’s written word.  I have always accepted the Word of God as the final authority in my life regarding faith and practice. “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another – showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way.  Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (II Tim. 3:16-17 – Message).

Thirdly, the surrender of my sexual life to the work of the Holy Spirit.  I praise God for almost 54 years of a blest marriage to my bride, Judy.  I have been a “one-woman man.”  To deal with my sexual desires has been a struggle in a such a sexual charged culture.  I continue to pray the prayer of Job. “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman” (Job 31:1 NLT).

Fourthly, a whole hearted desire to God’s calling in my life.  Now in retirement, in a Senior apartment complex, the desire of my heart is to finish strong for the Lord.  I identify with Paul’s  farewell words to the Ephesian elders. “But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus – the work of telling others the Good News about God’s wonderful kindness and love” (Acts 20:24 NLT).

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