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 2020

Michael Jordan

Like many of you men, I have watched “The Last Dance” on ESPN, chronicling the basketball career of Michael Jordan.  It brought back many memories of watching those play off games.  I have, however, been disappointed with the language allowed.  I agree with those who say Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player who ever has played the game.  

One of the sports writers in the Twin Cities, Jeff Day wondered if MJ was looking for acceptance in allowing his story to be filmed.  He surely was one of the most competitive persons in all of sports.  Maybe to competitive.  “….for 22 years,” notes Day, “people have said that even if he left, he simply could not say goodbye – to the competitiveness, to the court, to the stability of the game.”

What caught my attention was a quote from MJ’s biographer: “Most people struggle to be present.  People go and sit in ashrams for 20 years in India trying to be present.  Do yoga.  Meditate.  Trying to get here, now…..Most people live in fear because we project the past into the future.  Michael is a mystic.  He was never anywhere else.”  Day asks, “I had to wonder: He may have never been anywhere  else, but did he ever get to leave.”

 I have written about the being a mystic and learning to be in the present moment.  It was truly amazing to see how focused MJ could be even when he played with food poisoning.  Scottie Pipen thought of it “as turning on another switch.”

 MJ, the mystic,  was all about himself, while getting his teammates to buy in.  He had the amazing ability to focus on the game.  All his energy was directed towards winning.  It was like being in a trance.  The ultimate goal was conquest of the other team, irregardless of the cost to those around him.  

But a biblical mysticism is very different.  I believe it will rescue many men from despair and spiritual brokenness in the days to come.  Remember “mystic is someone who is deeply in love with Jesus.”  Its all about love.  It is a matter of having a comfortable walk with Jesus. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18)

First it is all about Jesus.  It is a relationship based on God’s word, not the wishful thinking.  We are to live in the present moment.  The focus is Jesus, our faithful companion, who already lives within our hearts.  At each moment we are aware of his presence with and in us.  It is, “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” ( Col. 1:27).  

Secondly, this relationship is a matter of surrender; not of control.  In the presence of Jesus we surrender totally to his will for our lives.  This is very difficult for men.  We want to be in control our circumstances.  “Letting go” will be essential in the days to come  

Thirdly, we then are in a position to receive whatever God has for us.  We are to be vulnerably open as a little child,  as we learn to rest in the unconditional love of God for us in Christ.  “….unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).  There is no place for fear.

Fourthly,  dwelling with Jesus, we can live in the present moment, where we find peace.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace  I give to you. (John 14:27).  Giving the past and the future to Jesus, we can live in the present.

Remember biblical mysticism is always about an intimate relationship with Jesus.  

A Blizzard or Winter

I recently read a very insightful article by Andy Crouch entitled, “Leading beyond the Blizzard: why every organization is now a startup.”  He and two others assume the following: “The novel coronavirus is not just something for leaders to ‘get through’ for a few days and weeks.  Instead, we need to treat COVID-19 as an economic and cultural blizzard, winter, and beginning of a ‘little ice age’ – once-in-a lifetime change that is likely to affect our lives and organizations for years.”

They write out of love for others and with humility in a time of considerable uncertainty.  “The creative potential for hope and vision is unparalleled right now” notes the article, “but paradoxically this creativity will only be fully available to us if we also make space for grief and lament.”  

The report ends with these  sobering words, “…… responsible leaders have no choice, today, but to assume that the winter is upon us, and an ice age of unknown duration is before us.  We are playing a game no one now living has ever played before.  We are, for reasons only God knows, on the front line, on the starting team.  Let us act boldly, today, to build as best we can, for the love of our neighbor and the glory of God.”

I am writing to men who have had their personal, family and professional lives radical altered in the last two months.  At present there is deep tension in our nation about how much longer the “lock-down” will last.  It very well could be that before we get to some new normal, we could see civil unrest.  Who will emerge with a plan for a new normal?  Men, we first of all need to look to God on how to rebuild.

My thoughts turn to the book of Nehemiah.  Nehemiah served as cupbearer to the powerful Persian king, Artaxerxes, who made him the governor of Jerusalem.  He lead the people in rebuilding the walls of the city.  Nearly a century after the  Jewish people had gone back to Jerusalem, Nehemiah learned of the deplorable condition of Jerusalem.  “The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire” (Neh. 1:2).  The people were in deep distress.  

We can learn from Nehemiah.  It very well could be that we will need to “rebuild” after the virus.  There will be much left in the aftermath of  this pandemic that will need to either be repaired or built anew, in the social, political and economic areas of our life together as a nation.  The spiritual will especially need our attention.    “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations: you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Is 58:12). 

Nehemiah was deeply moved by the deplorable condition of the city.  He looked to God in heartfelt prayer.  “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying…….I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you.”  (1:6).

God gave Nehemiah favor.  After he had surveyed the condition of the city, he told the people, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace” (2:17).  The people replied, “Let us start rebuilding” (2:18).  Then we are told “they began this good work” (2:18)   To those who opposed the work, Nehemiah said, “The God of heaven will give us success” (2:20).     

View this time as having been refined in the fire, allowing cracks to be exposed in your foundations.  But together we can rebuild our spiritual dwelling in the Lord.    

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

“Free as a bird”

“We’ve flown free from their fangs, free of their traps, free as a bird.  Their grip is broken; we’re free as a bird in flight” (Ps 124:7 – Message).  These words express  what I have been experiencing in my soul.  Something deep within  needs to be released, but seems trapped in the deep caverns of my soul. I have been learning to wait and be open in faith, even in the darkness and confusion. 

It has to do with knowing God’s love.  It is beyond my knowing and understanding.   Many years ago (mid 80’s) I read a book entitled “Christian Mysticism.”  In those days I was struggling with the newly found description of  the Christian as a contemplative. Following Jesus was more about being than doing.   Intimacy with Jesus was the focus rather than achievement or knowledge.

The author, William McNamara, described the mystical experience as, “not the fruit of a direct and systematic effort, but is a gratuitous gift of God.  The aim of mystical contemplation is love.”  Simply put – a mystic is someone who is in love with Jesus.  

McNamara went on to say, “Our human  predicament may be described as a mystical or spiritual crisis, a crisis in contemplation.  Man’s natural mystical powers are seriously atrophied and must be reactivated.  Activity without contemplation is blind. …..Our contemporary preoccupation with  knowledge as possession leaves us dying from lack of communion.”

During those days a quote from a catholic theologian,  Karl Rahner stayed with me, even though I didn’t fully grasp the meaning.  He foresaw, “the devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic’ one who has experienced ‘something’ or he will cease to be anything at all.”  Since those early days, I have come to understand a mystic, in biblical terms, as someone who loves Jesus.  My writing this blog is a way of saying, “the bird needs be set from within me” is a contemplative understanding of my journey with Jesus. 

I am prompted to write about the contemplative, because of an article by Dale Coulter in First Things, relating our present pandemic to what happened among Christians living through the Black plague, which struck Europe during the middle of the 14th century. The impact of that plague was seen as a warning to Europe of being under the judgment of God.  More than 30 percent of the total population of Europe was lost due to the plague.

“During and after this period [black plague]” notes Coulter, “Christianity saw a blossoming of an interior spirituality that had been forged in the reforms of the 12th century.  The crucified Christ, was seen as God’s entrance into human  suffering.  The pain of the ravaged soul turned many to interior prayer as they clung to Jesus,  who had been crucified.  While the church failed to lead, lay people turned to the simplicity of being a Christ follower.  Lay people began to meet in homes for prayer.” 

“Medieval writers” observed Coulter, “premised the turn to the interior life on a rejection of the external world.  This did not mean denying the goodness of creation ….. [But] as long as humans fixated on created goods, they would not make the ascent back to their true home……a constant outward gaze was simply a failure to reckon with who we are and where we are going.”  This turn to the interior life was seen as a movement “from meditation on the self to meditation on Christ and finally to meditation on God revealed in Christ.”

Could it be that in the days to come, men will discover “the contemplative” way with all the suffering, disinformation and hopelessness around us?   

 

 

 

   

 

 

Spiritual Junk Food

When I was a young pastor, in my zeal to preach biblical truth, I often referred to II Tim 4:3-4, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  Today we have a lot of itching ears.

In those days I never had The Message as back-up to make the point sink in with the congregation.  “You’re going to find that there will be times when people will have no stomach for solid teaching, but will fill up on spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy.  They’ll turn their backs on truth and chase mirages.” Men, don’t be satisfied with “spiritual junk food.”

Recently Barna research group came out with this shocking data indicating how our nations is consuming “spiritual junk food.”  They found that just over half of Americans hold a biblically-informed view of God, a 22 % drop from 30 years ago.  The new report also showed that only 51% of Americans considered God to be “all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect and just creator of the universe who still rules the world today.”  In 1991, 73% of Americans believed that to be true. 

Even more shocking is the fact that only 52% believe “the Holy Spirit is not a living entity, but merely a symbol of God’s power, presence or purity,” while 56% believe that “Satan is not merely a symbol of evil but is a real spiritual being and influences human lives.”  Nearly half of those surveyed believed in a God who is an influential spiritual being but not full confident that He even exists. 

“The spiritual noise in our culture over the last few decades has confused and misled  hundreds of millions of people,” concluded Barna. “We can no longer assume that people have a solid grasp of even the most basic biblical principles.”  As a nation we have moved from upholding absolute moral truth to embracing “spiritual junk food.”  

Men, here is my counsel in light of these findings.  First, determine in your mind (thinking process) what you believe the bible to be.  It is the final authority in all matter of faith and practice.  It has to be the final word – period!  It’s a decision!

Secondly,  I plead with you to take at least 15 minutes a day to study, reflect and meditate on scripture.  It is solid food for our soul. Eugene Peterson reminds us, “Sound teaching is not junk food.  Nor it it comfort food.  It’s solid food.  Hearty and healthy and good for the soul.”  It’s a habit!

Thirdly, submit yourself to the instruction of the scripture.  Allow the truth of Scripture to form your world view.  Have the bible in one hand and the news report in the other.  It’s work!  

Fourthly, pay attention to the preachers and teachers who influence you.  Ask these two questions. First, do they submit to the authority of Scripture and secondly, does their lifestyle reflect an obedient heart.  Don’t be spiritually blind

Fifthly, let your family know, that God’s word is precious and true.  Do your best, by the grace of God and by his mercy in your life, to live according to the truth of Scripture.  Let your family see and know  how  the bible  orders your life. 

Sixth, one more thing.  Don’t expect others to teach your children the truth.  That is your duty as the head of your house.  Be their primary “bible-teacher.” 

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