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: July 2019

Number Eight

On our daily walks, Judy and I  often meet others on the Paul Bunyan trail.  One day we met Trent.  He is friendly and engaging millennial.  When we first met we would exchange pleasantries.  Now our conversations takes more time.  I am asking Trent more about his life story.  One day I noticed he was wearing a New England Patriot jersey.  He was number 8.  I said I could not identify the number with a player on the team.  That when he said, “number 8 is me.”  On the back it had his last name “Daniels.”

I told Trent I was impressed with his determination to see himself as a unique person in his own right.  I could tell that he was a thoughtful young man, who was intentional about his beliefs and lifestyle. He was not going to follow the crowd.  I told him that I prayed for him daily.

Each time we meet it seems Trent has another t-shirt with the name of an rock band on the front.  Among them are such groups as “pantera,” “Audio Slave,” “A Perfect Circle” and “Alice In Chains.”  I went to I-tunes to sample Alice in Chains.  It sure is not for me.  This is what I read about Alice in Chains. “Alice in Chains puts a darker spin on 80”s hard rock, wielding a bubbling-tar grunge sound that anchored the 90’s alternative movement.”

One day I  told Trent I had  listened to an old favorite from my youth by a country western singer named Charlie Pride, entitled, “Crystal Chandeliers.”  Our daughter was moving into our home on the lake. She had installed a crystal chandelier.  I hope to share the song with my daughter and my three grandsons who are in their 20’s.

I share this budding relationship with Trent, because God have put a burden on my heart to reach out to the younger generation.  As of now I am enrolled at the local junior college to be one of 20 students in a honors compositions class.  I would like to learn more about relating to young adults with the intent of sharing the love of God.

The scripture that motivates me to reach out to the next generation is found in Ps 71:18, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all we are to come.”  In the margin of my bible I wrote “my retirement – 5/11/10.  That was over nine years ago.

I also wrote in the margin of Ps. 102:18-20 – “Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord: The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.” I underlined the words, “the groans of the prisoners.”  Many young people are suffering under the terrible burden of a post-Christian culture that gives them very little hope

I pray with the Psalmist for the next generation to hear of  “the glorious deeds of the Lord” (4) – “so the next generation might know them – even the children not yet born – that they in turn might teach their children” (v.6).  Oh, Lord may men reading this blog have the same burden.

Western Skies

Recently I ran across a review of Bruce Springsteen’s new album entitled “Western Stars.”  I down loaded the music. He sure is able to express the deep angst in the souls of brokenhearted men. The songs are the stories of older men.  The reviewer, Stephen Klugewicz, writes, “The men of Western Stars are Everyman; they are all of us. They are broken, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and are alone sometimes by choice but often because of their own foibles, some seek redemption by asking for a second chance, others through hard work, or by wallowing in nostalgia and regret.”

The American West is depicted as a “land of sunshine, open roads, and new beginnings.”  But the West is not able to provide salvation for the lost and lonely.  I was moved by what Springsteen called “tone poems.”  Instead of stories of young men wanting to “blow this whole town apart” or middle-aged men experiencing the disillusionment of marriage and the working life, Springsteen sings the laments of isolated, down-and-out, older men, “who have been left mostly broken by their experiences and filled with remorse for their actions.”

The men in these songs need the assurance of a loving God, who is able to heal their broken hearts. Ps. 51:17 declares that a broken heart is pleasing to God. “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.”  In Ps 34:18 we are assured of God being close to the brokenhearted. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  “The brokenhearted” and “crushed in spirit” notes The ESV Study Bible, “refers to the pride and stubbornness in one’s heart being humbled.”

It is Jesus who invites brokenhearted men to come to him. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt. 12:20).  He understands the needs of a broken heart and how to mend the wounds.  “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light” (Matt. 11:28-29).  There is a place for men to bring their burdens.

“Rest for your souls” speaks of “eternal rest for all who seek forgiveness of their sins and freedom from the crushing legalistic burden and guilt of trying to earn salvation by good works” (ESV Study Bible).   Jesus will remove a man’s burden, enabling him to live freely.

Here is a sample of the broken hearts in the stories depicted in the songs.  In “Tucson Train” we listen to a man who regrets leaving a woman in San Francisco because he “got so down and out in Frisco/tired of the pills and the rain.”  The relationship was broken – “We fought hard over nothin’/We fought till nothing remained.”  Now he was waiting for her to come on the train to “show her a man can change.”

In “Chasin’ Wild Horses,” we learn of deep regret. “Guess it was somethin’ I shouldn’t have done/Guess I regret it now/Even since I was a kid/Tryin’ to keep my temper down is like/Chasin’ wild horses.”  In “Stones” we hear about a man who wakes up with stones in his mouth, a symbol of the lies he tells his beloved.  In “Moonlight Motel,” we learn of a man, who is married, recalling a long-ago love affair at a now-abandoned motel.

Gender Fluidity

The Vatican recently released a statement criticizing the culture of gender fluidity and reaffirming a Biblical view of  biological sex.  The official statement, titled “Male and Female He Created Them,” maintains gender fluidity is “often founded on nothing more than a confused concept of freedom in the realm of feelings and wants, or momentary desires provoked by emotional impulses and the will of the individual, as opposed to anything based on the truths of existence.”

While emphasizing the need of listening to others respectfully and avoiding discrimination in matters of gender identity, the statement maintains that “the Holy Scriptures reveals the wisdom of the Creator’s design, which has assigned as a task to man his body, as masculinity and femininity.”  The statement warns that the acceptance of flexible ideas regarding concepts of gender threaten to “destabilize the family as an institution” while in the process ignoring the natural, God-given differences between men and women.

It warns against “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies.”

The statement declares an educational crisis, especially in the field of affectivity and sexuality.  The actual process of identifying sexual identity has been made more difficult by the “fictitious (construct) known as ‘gender neuter’ or ‘third gender.'”  The ideas of “intersex” or “transgender” has lead to a masculinity or femininity that is ambiguous.  This represents a “provocative display” against so-called “traditional frameworks.”

As I read accounts of the statement from the Vatican, I couldn’t help but think of Paul words in Eph. 4:14, “Then we will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because someone has told us something different or because someone has cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth.” “Changing minds” has been going on for 2000 years.  But God’s truth remains the same. “The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is. 40:8).

Men, we must always hold fast to ultimate reality as existing from all eternity –  God existing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  This reality is a relational God, who has communicated his truth and love to us in Jesus Christ.  “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…..full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Jesus was affirming relational reality when he said, “Haven’t you read the Scriptures?  They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female'” (Matt 19:4).

So I applaud the Vatican’s statement on “Male and Female He Created Them.”  They are sticking to the truth of Scripture, which always points us to ultimate reality.  I reject the New York Times suggesting the statement “encourages hated, bigotry, and violence” against transgender people.

As men who are fathers and grandfathers we need to be vigilant regarding “Gender Fluidity.” Again we are challenged as men to become secure in our own sense of masculinity and to be comfortable in articulating our story of faith as a man. We need to be loving and open to dialogue with those who question and struggle with their gender identity.

Further, the statement from the Vatican makes clear the implications of  “Gender Fluidity.”  At stake is the very institution of marriage and the family.  We each can do our part in this epic struggle that will continue to play itself out in our society, by standing in the strength of the Lord as a man of God.

A Soul Mate

I have been going through a less then peaceful  transition, moving from a lake home to a senior apartment complex in Baxter, Mn.  For many in our apartment the transition has been smooth, but not for yours truly.  I do not like the way I have been responding,  but it is the truth.  I write about my experience to celebrate the blessing of having a caring, godly soul mate in my life, who happens to be my wife, Judy.  There will be times in your journey when you will need a caring spiritual friend.

In adapting to a  new life style  we have gotten into the habit of going daily for a three mile walk together. For me it has become a very helpful time to sort out my perspective on daily life.  Our walks together have given me the opportunity to verbalize my emotional and spiritual struggles.   After a few months of our walks together, I came to realize that our talks usually brought me back to into focus on the Lord.  Here is something that I am learning as a rather seasoned wild man, who still has a long ways to go in being a Christ like person.

On those walks I share and take responsibility for where I am on a particular day.  I would express whether I am above water or below water.  There are times when I feel like the Psalmist, “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold” (Ps. 69: 1-2)  In Psalm 42 he says, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls…” (7).  Derek Kidner observes the following regarding verse 7. “Here is the picture of all that is overwhelming: his footing gone, and wave after wave submerging him.”

I desperately want to stay above water.  But there are times when I feel I am sinking. I share what I am going through with my soul mate.  Judy can’t lift me up.  She can only clarify, encourage and support me in the struggle.  My intention is to be focused on the Lord, not wanting to fall back into the mire.  I thank God, for a soul mate who listens to my story and reflects back to me what she discerns, being loving and encouraging, yet holding me accountable.

Paul exhortation in Gal. 6:2 describes some of what God has given Judy and I  after 54 years of wanting to be each other’s soul mate. “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.”  Men, I have asked my wife repeatedly, “Does it bother you that I am so weak at times.”  She never has said, “yes” as long as I am taking responsibility for my condition.

As a soul mate, Judy is a spiritual friend I have needed during this transition.  Hopefully your wife can be that person for you.  It can be one of the blessing of marriage.  But if that is not true for you; consider establishing such a relationship.  Take it from a fellow traveler,  there will be a time when you will need a loving, objective voice giving you perspective, when you feel you are sinking into the mire.

Making use of Lament

Men, did you know that a third of the palms are laments or complaints to God.  (Here is a good sampling: 3, 6, 13, 16, 22., 31, 57,  56, 102, 142). They are a cry from the heart.  I want to highly recommend praying the laments.  Laments give expression to some of deepest, most personal and most wrenching of human emotions.  I have found the praying of lament Psalms beneficial as I try to make sense of my journey in our confused and rebellious culture.

Over the years I have come to realize the Psalms are prayers I can pray, giving me inspired words to express from my heart.  I join the company of believers who have prayed these laments for centuries.  I am able to get disappointment “off my chest” and leave it with God.  For many followers of Jesus, lament has been a heartfelt and honest way of walking with God through the struggles of life.  “My heart longed for the minor-key tune of lament,” declared pastor Mark Vroegog, “a song for when you’re living between the poles of a hard life and trust in God’s sovereign care.”

David and the other writers of the Psalms were secure enough in their relationship with God, giving them permission to ask hard and even disturbing questions, as they poured out their hearts.  But they clung to their trust in God even when he seemed distant and uncaring.  Instead of remaining silent before God, either in despair or denial, lament gave them words to express their  struggles so as to reaffirm their trust in him.

“The Lament Psalms,” notes Richard Foster, “teach us to pray our inner conflicts and contradictions.  They allow us to shout out our forsakenness in the dark caverns of abandonment and then hear the echo return to us over and over until we bitterly recant of them, only to shout them out again.  They give us permission to shake our fist at God one moment and break into doxology the next.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “There is in the Psalms no quick and easy resignation to suffering.  There is always struggle, anxiety, doubt…..But even in the deepest hopelessness God alone remains the one addressed.”  The goal the Psalms Bonhoeffer believed was to,  “proclaim Jesus Christ to be the only help in suffering, for in him God is with us.”

The Psalmist begins by stating his situation is hopeless.  My favorite lament Psalm is Psalm 13.  It begins with a heart felt cry. “How long, O Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?”  But after his complaint, David ends up declaring trust in God. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (v 5).

Here are some simple steps to take as you read the laments prayerfully, making them your prayer::

First, when you have questions and pain created by struggles,  pray the lament as a way to talking to God.   Allow yourself to be honest and open before your heavenly Father.

Secondly, express your complaint.  Lament are prayers given to us by God, allowing us to ask questions, voice our fears, and express our frustrations.

Thirdly, ask boldly. Remember your lament is addressed to God in trust.  We dare to hope in God.  Leave the outcome in his hands as you express your heart felt concerns.

Fourthly choose to trust God.  Gut-level, honest prayer is a means of moving through our pain to a new trust in God.

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