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: June 2020

My Constant Lover

I have been reading the memoirs of my mentor, James Houston.  God has given him a rich and rewarding life as leader in the Evangelical spirituality movement.  He is now 98 years old. His books and recordings have impacted my life, just when I needed the wisdom and insight he was able to offer.  I am eternally grateful for the influence of Dr. Houston at the right time in my life.

At the beginning of his book he shares a previously unpublished poem from John Innes.  I want to quote the whole poem, because it reflects so much of my journey with Jesus.  I hope it will be an encouragement for someone reading this blog.  

“Dear love! Your love, that flows through Calvary, springs through my heart – like fountains in the night. Flushes clean the dawn, lifelines my drowning plight, breaks loose my weighting chains and buoys me free

Great Mystery! I can but ask, “Why me, a savage soul, whose life of fumbling flight, crept underground in catacombed delights,  remaining shamefully where none could see?”

O Grace! I breathe, inhaling you in me, exhaling sighs of thanks for your invite.   You, touching me, dis-covering me of fright , transforming lonely ‘I’ to glorious ‘We.’

Entombing deadness darkness rolls away,  reviving Life in Love’s embracing way.”

I must confess that I am not drawn to poems.  But for some reason this poem has spoken to my heart.  Here is what it is saying to me.

First stanza –  “Thank you, Jesus for freeing me from myself!”  The love of God, demonstrated by Jesus suffering on the cross, is a fierce love flowing and reaching out to rescue me.  My heavenly Father desires that His love would fill the emptiness of my heart.  “Like fountains in the night,” I do not have to preform or understand, just learn to receive this inflow.  This inflow “flushes” me clean, recuses me from my “plights,” “breaks loose” the chains within, and  “buoys” me in freedom.  “I thank you Jesus for the new found freedom in me.”

The second stanza – “Thank you, Jesus for coming to my deepest place and rescuing me from myself!” The “Great Mystery” is the deep, deep love of Jesus for me.  In fact He actually likes me.  He “crept underground” into  my “savage soul,” to those dark and shameful places within my heart, shedding His  bright, flaming love for me.  The great wonder is that he was not surprised at what he found.

Third stanza  –  “Thank you, Jesus for the infilling of your spirit!” I receive the grace of God.  It is as simply as “inhaling”  life moment by moment.  Then in “exhaling” I give eternal thanks for knowing He always welcomes me home. Jesus you touched me at my deepest place, while I was in “flight,” fleeing in my shame and insecurity.  Indeed you transformed a “lonely ‘I'” to a “glorious ‘We.'”

Finally- “Thank you, Jesus for calling me out of my tomb!”  You broke through the years of misunderstanding and neglect, that entombed me in my “deadness” and “darkness.”   The door to my tomb “rolled away.”  You brought me out into the bright light of you overflowing love.  Your loving embrace, brought life to this sick, dying soul, and made me new.

I “thank you, Jesus” for reaching deep within, allowing me to live for you, not by my effort or knowledge, but knowing you have turned my lonely “I” into a glorious “we.”  You did what I could never do.

Many my interpretation of this wonderful poem set a fellow pilgrim free to live for Jesus.  

Thomas Merton

Years ago, as a young pastor I became acquainted with the writings of Henri Nouwen.  A quote from a book about Thomas Merton, has stuck with me  through all these years.  It certainly applies to our day. 

“Bitterness is the reaction of one who expects some thing from another without daring to look into his or her own heart, and therefore, become quickly disappointed.  Merton know only too well that the sin, evil and violence that he found in the world, were the same sin, the same evil and the same violence that he had discovered in his own heart through solitude, silence and prayer.  The impurity in the world was a mirror of the impurity in his own heart.”

I honestly desire to be loving to all people, regardless of race.  But I know the seeds of prejudice are lodged in my own heart.  Jesus is speaking to me today, when he says, “How can you think of saying, ‘Let me help you get ride of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your  friend’s eye” (Matt. 7:4-5 NLT). 

But I will not be intimidated by the voices that cry out “racist.”  I will remain respectful, being aware of my fallen condition, yet wanting to  show love and respect.   I will continue to keep my eyes on the Lord.  I will grieve in my spirit for all the hate and bitterness that has sprouted up in this last month.  I will humbly admit that I am a flawed man, deeply in the need of grace and mercy.  

Most of all I will take my stand at the foot of the cross.  I hold to Paul’s words  in Ephesians 2:14-16, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…….His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”  Only through the cross will there be true peace and reconciliation. 

Here I will take my stand with all who genuinely want the peace of God to rule in their hearts.  I will not compromise or forsake the message of the cross.  For Jesus died for such a time in which we are now enduring.  Make no mistake, we are in a intense battle for the soul of our nation.  The powers of darkness are wanting to put out the light of the good news in Jesus.  

Paul encourages us to live in the light and not be intimidated  by the darkness of our day. “But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this?   You’re sons of light, daughters of Day…….So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others.  Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart……Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it.  Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love and the hope of salvation” (I Thess. 4:4-8 MGS).

Jesus gives us a warning,  “So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep on the switch.  Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man” (Luke 21: 36 MGS).

  

 

Danger with E-Worship

Theologian N.T. Wright has expresses a concern about the danger with e-worship.  He detects a societal shift toward Christianity as being a “private” movement that would have no place in public life.  He sees a danger in virtual church gatherings giving the impression of church as a private club only for the like-minded, cordoning it off from the rest of society.  “Public worship of the Triune God,” he maintains, “in a public place – observing whatever security measures are appropriate – has always been a major part of sending out that signal to the watching world.”

How will church life be different when we get back to normal?  Will some believers prefer to stay home and be content connecting with the church on line?  Will the church “triumphant” become more invisible and private in the days to come,  just when the witness of the good news will be needed more than ever? Even more importantly, how will believers receive soul care?  Will men tend to become “lone rangers” in the post coronavirus era, believing they can manage their spiritual life on their own?

Men, I exhort you to take the lead in making sure you and your family connect  with flesh and blood believers.   You are going to need the strength that comes from being “a part of” rather than being “disconnected” from fellowship.  Who will stand with you in the days to come?  The battle will be great.  There is going to be confusion and outright despair about the future.  We need to “man up.”

Paul has some strong words for us men.  “No prolonged infancies among us, please.  We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are easy prey for predators.  God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ in everything.  We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do.  He keeps us in step with each other.  His very breath and blood, flow through us, nourishing us so that we grow up healthy in God, robust in love” (Eph 4:14-16 MSG).   We need the nourishment that only comes through life together. 

Being on line for our Sunday church service has been a new experience for Judy and I.  We long for face to face fellowship. Like you, we are part of the body of Christ.  “The human body has many parts, but the many parts  make up only one body.  So it is with the body of Christ…..Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is separate and necessary part of it” (I Cor 12:12 & 27 NLT). 

Recent data from Barna has revealed a new cultural reality and spiritual landscape in our nation caused by the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic. With churches featuring digital formats, among practicing Christians approximately half have been steaming their regular church online.  Around one-third have been streaming a different church, and the rest have done neither and have taken time out from church.  Men, don’t fade away.

David Kinnaman of Barna maintains that the coronavirus, “has merely accelerated the disruptions  that were already occurring in culture, accentuating a sense of a deep cultural chaos, which is impacting many spheres of society.”  He warned, “We’re not going back to normal.” 

He asks a very searching question: “The COVID crisis is going to accelerate many needed changes for the church.  How is is that we are going to show up in an anxious moment for an anxious generation, for an isolated generation, for people that are struggling with questions but maybe aren’t all that hungry for spiritual answers.”

 

The Mural

My wife grew up in south Minneapolis.  Much of our courtship took place in the area where George Floyd was killed.  It is hard see pictures of the destruction that has taken place.  In the midst of the ruins is a mural.   At the corner of East 36th Street and Chicago Avenue, on the wall of a local business, is a large mural dedicated to the memory of George Floyd.

A group of local artist came together to paint the mural.  One of them said, “It provides people a place to process.  I think having a place for people to come and cry or scream or pray or do whatever they need to do is really important.” The artist went on to say, “I think a mural is a good format [for] saying, ‘Don’t look away from this any longer.'”  

Like most of you  I have given thought to this senseless death and the chaos it has brought to our country.  The words, “I can’t breathe” have become a rallying cry for many demonstrations.  Those words were upsetting for millions of people who watched the video.  It depicted a man suffocating, because he could not breathe.  He cried out “please.”

Harold Floyd was not able to physical breathe.  He died a horrible death on the street.  But what about spiritual breathe.  By all accounts, Mr Floyd was a believer, a flawed pilgrim like the rest of us.  At the bottom of the mural were these liberating words, “I CAN BREATHE NOW.”

In the midst of a tragedy that has gripped to nation, we find words of life pointing to the ultimate reality.  George lost physical breathe,  but was able to breathe spiritually.  We read in Ecclesiastes, “Yet God has make everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11). 

George Floyd, the one in whom the spirit of the living God lives, has now been release to be with Jesus.  In Genesis 2:7 we read, “and the Lord God formed a man’s body from the dust of the ground and breathe into it the breath of life.  And the man became a living person.”  Paul picks up on this when he reminds us, “The Scriptures tell us, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person.’  But the last Adam- that is, Christ – is a life-giving Spirit” (I Cor 15:45). 

To the Philippians, Paul shared that he really wanted to leave and be with the Lord.  He was hard pressed. “For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Phil 1:21)  Then he says “I’m torn between two desires; Sometimes I want to live; and sometimes I long to go and be with Christ.  That would be far better for me, but it is better for you that I live” (Phil 1:23-4).

I pray that those we read about or actually see the mural will consider their spiritual state.  Are they ready to die?  Are they afraid of death?  How will they die?  These are all questions we all ask.  George Floyd died a tragic death.  But where is he now.   With Jesus.  Many don’t have the assurance of this hope. 

Listen to these wonderful words from Paul.  “For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long.  Yet they  produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last forever.  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen.  For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever” ( II Cor 4:17-18). 

 

  

My Ordination

I received an unexpected surprise yesterday (May 26th) when the mail arrived.  It was an certificate, acknowledging my  “50th anniversary of ordination” into the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament.  I was ordained on May 24,  l970 in my home town of Negaunee, Michigan.  

Why do I mention my ordination certificate?  It is a symbol of God’s faithfulness and mercy.  “The unfailing love of the Lord never ends!  By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin fresh each day” (Lam 3:22-23 NLT).   

In my Cambridge New International Version, I have Ps. 71:18 marked  “my retirement (5/11/10),” the day I retired from full time ministry.  These words have become my guiding light as I now approach my 79th year.  “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 who are to come.”   Men, this is why I write!

Isaiah 46:4 has been a great encouragement in these later years. “I will be your God throughout your lifetime – until your hair is white with age.  I made you, and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.”  Every morning when my bride and I pray together I thank God for how he has cared for us for almost 55 years.

So men, here is a brief testimony.   “Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.  I’m proof – Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never had made it apart from sheer mercy” (I Tim 1:14-15 MGS). 

First and foremost,  God loves you unconditionally.  I am a “beloved” sinner.  It took me many years to let this reality sink into my heart.  Remember you are love in all your stink! You are loved as you are – period. Take it from me – you can only receive this by faith.  “There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (I John 4:18).   Receiving God’s love for you is foundational to all the rest of your spiritual journey.

Second, trust Jesus.  Sounds simple.  Trust means to lean totally on Jesus.  There have been times, when all I could do was to cry out to God for mercy, as I wallowed in my darkness and despair.  When you trust Jesus fully, you can cry out for help and be met at your point of need.   Jesus tells us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world  (John 16:33). 

Third, Jesus is Lord.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Always have that up and out posture, as you seek to follow Jesus.  “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’  Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Ps 27:8).  All authority has been given to Jesus in heaven and on earth.  He will see you through anything that comes your way

Fourth, live in daily repentance.  Humbly see yourself as ”an unfinished follower.” “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

Fifth, make sure that you are a kingdom man.  Jesus reigns and already has won the victory for us.  We read in Revelation, “You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth (Rev 5:10).   We know the rest of the story as we follow Jesus. 

I could say a lot more, but if I were talking with one of you, this is what I would want to know from someone ordained to be a pastor 50 years ago. 

   

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