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.’