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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Mercy From Rome

While doing a conference in Denver many years ago, a vigorous young man introduced himself to me as Christopher West; he was then the ‘marriage and family’ guy for the Archdiocese of Denver. He loved our emphases on healing through the cross and community. And he wanted me to have a copy of John Paul II’s book: The Theology of the Body, the late great pope’s sweeping take on human sexuality.

Wow. What a meal. For the next couple of years I slowly ate what I now regard as perhaps the most thorough and profound theological work on sexuality. It is a large meal, but not inaccessible. It undergirds the pope’s native compassion with truth: the truth of what our sexuality is for, not just what we should flee, and the deeper meaning of masculine and feminine communion in the divine plan.

Brilliant and relevant, prophetic and yet deeply, richly human; it reinforced what I knew but deepened and expanded the truths already gleaned from Ray Anderson, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner. On planes and trains I would read a section and take notes on it. I would then meditate on the notes before tackling another section.

It prepared me for the battle at hand, the fight for God’s image in humanity being waged on every continent. In that battle, I needed reinforcement.

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Dying to Release Mercy

‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (John 12:23)

Among the most bittersweet realities of ‘Living Waters’ around the world is the surrender of one’s leadership when his/her part has been played. That surrender may be for many reasons—a moral failure, a call to another type of ministry, or handing over the task to one better suited to take it the next step.

Regardless of the reason, the leader in transition usually experiences a kind of death: (s)he loses position and a certain place among the wounded healers that comprise global ‘Living Waters.’

In this grief, I also witness a sovereign aspect of God’s hand. Under His care, the ex-leader is actually allowing the ‘husk’ of one’s ministry to be broken, thus releasing more ‘seed’ for God’s mercy to be released.

It takes courage to do this. To surrender one’s leadership is actually among the most selfless acts of all—it means denying one’s need for significance and security in order that more ‘living water’ might be released in a nation under another’s lead. I have seen this happen over and over—one dies to position in order to release more souls unto life.

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Dunking the River Goddess

I hate idolatry. The worship of false gods turns humans into animals. While worship of the one true God humbles and exalts what is best in humanity, idolatry enslaves us.

No-where is this more evident to me than in Thailand–the first nation I served that had no Judeo-Christian foundation. Through the veneer of Thai women dressed as dainty goddesses and orange-clad monks bending incessantly to Buddha, sexual immorality reaches new lows. The devotion to myriad gods and goddesses of their own design renders the Thais subject to multiple partnerships, the sex-trafficking of children, and other vile perversions.

False spirituality is a set-up for sexual immorality. Yet how much more beautiful is the hunger of those whose eyes have been opened to Jesus Christ, and who, out of worship of the One, long to be set free from the sexual ties that have bound them? And the gender confusion that has blinded them?

No-where on earth have I seen such a pure hunger for holiness than in Thailand. The tiny minority of Thai Christians knows its need for Jesus in body and soul.

Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

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Mercy for the Sinner

I met Benjie Cruz at the onset of our first trip to the Philippines. Virmi, our gracious host, had arranged for him to be our liaison as we prepared for our first conference in Manila.

Like our advances in any new country, particularly those lands where ‘religion’ tends to be very popular, I knew that the church establishment would applaud our efforts. From a distance.

Most church leaders would encourage obviously ‘broken ones’ to attend but would steer clear of our gathering themselves—they simply would not want to be identified as ‘sinners.’ They had too much at stake. The social benefits–a paid position and the respect for being a professional ‘holy one’–were not worth risking.

The truth was: many of the leaders were deeply divided due to adultery or porn addiction or same-sex attraction. But they were not ready to endure the shame for the joy set before them. Other leaders may not have been bound by obvious sin but rather by pride; they nourished a kind of self-satisfaction over their holiness—a recipe for pastoral disaster when it comes to tending to ‘real sinners’ in the local church.

Benjie was different. He led out with his weakness and sin.

He came and met us at the hotel. We as a team did what we normally do when we start the day together—we confessed our sin. Inevitably, a new environment and time-change is all the devil needs to stir up the flesh. I for one am all too quick to oblige him.

So we started with our offering of sin so we could end the prayer with gratitude for His amazing mercy towards us, we ‘the worst of sinners, in whom Jesus Christ displays His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and have eternal life.’ (1 Tim.1:16)

Benjie joined right in and offered God the substantial gift of his sin. He did so in our presence. He endured the shame for the sake of the truth: he knew that God was not surprised by his unconfessed sin. If we were, then so be it. He was in conflict, and he knew that the conflict would only be resolved through reckoning with the truth of sin, so that the greater truth of God’s mercy might rest upon him.

Benjie was still young in his process of restoration as a sexual sinner. He was still making some hard choices about how and with whom to work out a long history of homosexuality. A real sinner was in our midst seeking real mercy for the burden of sin.

He did not try to look good. He wanted to be good. He endured the threat of our rejection in order to repent unto Jesus, to be made ready by mercy to serve us.

‘To some who were confident their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18: 9-14)

During that first conference, God gave me a glimpse that one day Benjie would be the lead ‘ditch digger’ for Living Waters in his nation. He did an internship with us in CA a couple of years later. Along with his wife and son, Benjie is now the leader of Living Waters in the Philippines.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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Merciful Rest

Running hard in the jungles of Venezuela or on the pampas of Argentina (or crazy lost anywhere in Europe) may sound fun but actually it is exhausting. And so I was upon returning home after a particularly arduous trip.

Annette and I took a few days off—no release; I increased my sleep each night—no release. Everything seemed hard and a hassle; even normal sources of connection and renewal seemed more a drain than a gift. I was approaching burn-out (the experts call it ‘pre burn-out’), and it scared me.

I went back into counseling with a trusted Christian and began to see that my works for Jesus were overtaking my devotion to Him. Slowly, steadily, I was spending less time in His Presence and more time tending to the needs of my large family and the growing global family of ‘Living Waters’ ministers.

The Lord turned and looked at me the way He did Peter after the apostle’s third denial. Like Peter, I wept bitterly. (Lk 22:62) I had made a vow to the Lord years earlier that nothing would come between us, that I would wake up every day and seek His face, regardless of other demands. I denied Him that. My works for Him had overtaken my devotion to Him.

I had to return to Him. That began a rather long process of exploring fresh ways to pray. I discovered contemplative prayer, the quiet prayer in which one simply rests in His Presence, calling to mind and heart only His unfailing love. In that way, God works His way in us, without a lot of words, as we seek only to rest in Him.

I spent anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes each morning just gazing on His goodness. (Meditating on the cross and a few choice scriptures helped out here.)

To be honest, I was so tired that’s all I could do—no interceding for the ‘10-40 window’ or racing through the Old Testament for this haggard saint!

I re-entered the rest of what He had done for me. I fulfilled the exhortation ‘to make every effort to enter the rest’ (Heb. 4:9-11), and discovered there was a Sabbath rest for me. If I did not draw constantly from that merciful stream, then I risked ‘falling into disobedience’ (v.11).

That disobedience involved my works outpacing my devotion to Him, and could disqualify me from God’s call—to grow in strength and wisdom as I keep digging ditches around the globe.

I found rest as I sent down my roots into this mercy stream. I could draw from it at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day, as I paused to consider what He had done for me.

He restored my soul. The water levels rose as I made the little daily effort to be still and receive His grace.

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet waters;
He restores my soul.’ (PS 23: 2, 3)

‘In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.’
(Is. 30:15)

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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