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Raised to Run

Raised to Run

‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth. The season of singing has come.’ (S of S 2: 10, 11)

Maybe only long distance runners understand: an unpredictable convergence of things that makes for a great race. Balmy weather, body aches becoming bursts of strength, the inspiration of a flowering tree, managing to keep pace with the guy just ahead of you…all good, all outside of one’s control.

Kind of like new life. Who likes to be out of control? Even if unexpected news is good, we may first find it disorienting. It took the disciples a few minutes to ‘get’ the resurrection. It shook them up before it freed them. Maybe that’s why I still train throughout the year to run half-marathons: I need to rely on the One who is faithful, even if I cannot control the variables that greet me race-day.

Not long ago, I ran a new race and was disappointed. Instead of inspiring, the 13.1 miles of cityscape droned on and drained me. I lost time and my body felt weakened by, in the words of Christina Rossetti, this ‘long-drawn straining effort across the waste.’ I wondered if my racing days were over.

Unsure of motives—staving off a midlife crisis?–I resolved to train harder and set my sight on an Easter-ish run 6 months ahead. The key to training is consistency and one long run a week, come what may.

I even set a higher goal for this Spring run. Race day came. Preparing to launch with my younger ‘time class,’ I felt outclassed and marveled at my presumption.

Yet I also marveled at the ground I had pounded in prep for it: running at dawn through the steaming parks of Shanghai as folks gathered to do Tai Chai or sing ‘P’Opera,’ taking a wrong turn in Manila and passing out momentarily due to unusually high pollutants, climbing a village road outside Mexico City then charging down in flight from canine ‘friends,’ sprinting alongside Chicago’s Lake Michigan in a freeze that had turned the sea into a glacier, chugging along a fogged-in Oregon coastline with only neon shoes to light the way, pierced by a cold rain that became an ice storm in PA. (Note to self: ice hurts…)

Greater than my stubborn vanity was the One who ‘keeps my steps firm’ (PS 37:23) and who draws me into His good will as I resolve to ‘run in the path of His commands, He who has set my heart free.’ (PS 119: 32) In truth, wherever I go, I run with Him, toward Him, from Him. And I trust Him with the variables.

The gun went off and I wondered how long I could keep pace. OK at first: the weather was crazy perfect, and the course (a new one) was tree-lined with blossoms so profuse that they rained upon us. I felt strong yet sure I would slow down toward the end. Never happened. I crossed the line under time with joy and unexpected strength. He is risen. He raises me up to run the race.

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gift of tears

Gift of Tears

“A large number of people followed Him, including women who mourned and wailed for Him. Jesus turned and said to them: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me; weep for yourselves and for your children.’ ” (LK 23: 27, 28)

Last year during Holy Week, I witnessed a bitter fruit of our nation’s idolatry. ‘Gay marriage’ advocates outnumbered us on the Mall in Washington DC while the Supreme Court gave every indication that marriage could and would be defined by any consumer-group (in this case, gay activists) that wanted it.

Nothing sacred about sex or the covenant that gives kids a chance for stability: since last April, the Supreme Court struck down Prop. 8 and DOMA and our nation followed suit. Sociologists claim that US public opinion on homosexuality has shifted faster than any other social issue. Ever. Nearly every protection for marriage and the freedom to define homosexual identity and practice as morally wrong has been burned in the fire of our idolatry.

We cry peace when there is none; we have been duped by the persuasive charms of those so intent on deconstructing gender that we are now considered bigots for clarifying the goal of human sexuality. On the altar of our nation we now worship a libidinous, transgender icon. We are sacrificing our children upon it. Weep over our national wound.

‘Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.’ (Jer. 8:22-9:1)

When we honor sexual unions that cannot engender life and that confuse the gender of both parties, we welcome the spirit of death. Through ‘gay marriage,’ ‘Death has entered in through our windows and has entered our fortresses; it has cut off our children from the streets and our young men from the public squares.’ (Jer. 9: 21)

As we follow Jesus to Calvary, we can and must weep for what has overtaken us. We have brought it on ourselves. We have committed idolatry and our wound is grave. Our hope now rests not in the government or the counsels of deceived prophets and pastors. Our hope lies in recognizing the trouble we are in—the wages of sin and death—and placing our hope wholly in the One who turns death around.

As a staff we are praying for all intercessors to weep and so inspire tears in the hearts of all who have a conscience. ‘Consider now! Call for the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. Let them come quickly and wail over us till our eyes flow with tears and water streams from our eyelids.’ (Jer. 9: 17, 18)

We ask those gifted with tears to release that gift in us. Weeping over our idolatry seems the only apt response to the mess we have made. Through Your Cross, might you, O Jesus, assume our suffering and transform it into a gift of Life?

‘The fact that the Savior bore our sin, sorrow and death does not mean that we bear none of them; rather, it means that we are invited into that place (the Cross) where suffering is transfigured. We (the Church) are His Body. As such we share in His suffering for the life of the world.’ Thomas Howard

PRAYER for Maundy Thursday, April 17th: ‘Who is like You who washes the feet of His betrayers? We have betrayed You with our cowardly indifference. Wash us afresh. May Your mercy prime us and teach us to weep.’

PRAYER for Good Friday, April 18th: ‘Teach us to abide with You at Your Cross. Release water from our stony hearts. Make our hearts tender and our eyes wet with tears. You gave all to gain us.’

PRAYER for Holy Saturday, April 19th: ‘Teach us to linger with tears. Help us to wait, trusting that You will transform our suffering into Life for the world.’

Prayer for Easter, April 20th: ‘May new life spring forth from us as surely as You sprang forth from the tomb. Break chains with cords of compassion. Turn our mourning into dancing, our sorrow to joy. As we break fast, may feasting break out as we join in glorious celebration that You the abandoned are now reconciled to Your Father. And so are we, Your beloved brothers and sisters, united in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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wasted hours

Downward Ascent 8: Woeful Well-Being

‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you…’ (LK 6:26)
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.’ (Matt. 5:10)

Being hated for loving Jesus means you are doing something right. Authentic peacemakers provoke war. Jesus may wash feet, defend children, empower women, and cure lepers but He also mirrors the truth of our sin (JN 15: 18-25). His reflection so unsettled the religious and political figures of His day that they smashed that mirror every way they could. His disciples might expect the same. The servant is not greater than his master.

I refer to the backlash prompted by authentic righteousness, not self-righteous bluster. A pagan friend roughed me up in the early days of my conversion when I was prone to quoting Scripture in faux dulcet tones. I deserved to be decked–religion was making me insufferable. That differed from the gossip that surrounded me when I pulled away from gay friends. Although I was sorely tempted to serve both God and Baal, I knew that the former demanded loyalty.

Jesus makes us very unpopular. How else do you explain Mozilla/Firefox Chief (Silicon Valley magnate) Brendan Eich who resigned under pressure when it became known that a few years earlier he gave $1000 in support of Proposition 8? A popular gay website posted this about Eich and anyone who stands for marriage: ’For enforcing misery, shame, and frustration, you are our enemies, and we wish you nothing but failure.’

Be forewarned: the ‘gay marriage’ machine has just begun to steamroll opponents. Note that its energy is essentially ‘anti-Christ.’ To reconfigure marriage means a failure to recognize both the context and purpose of sexual love as advocated by Jesus Himself. (Matt. 19:4-6) People hate chastity and genuine fruitfulness; for all their talk about wanting ‘gay marriage,’ gay activists hate marriage. Blessed are those persecuted for upholding the righteousness of marriage. Blessed is Brendan and blessed are we.

Two years ago, a global gay-rights group did some research and discovered that Desert Stream Ministries was the source of the Living Waters Training week, which are currently being sponsored in nations throughout the earth. These activists never inquired of us but saw fit to launch a virtual smear campaign throughout the globe, using ads to describe our trainings as coercive and based on the premise that one begins the week with their ‘gay dial’ on and we claim to change the dial to ‘straight.’ All in 7 days! (Preposterous, as the training is for lay leaders being equipped to run church groups.)

Using this visual ‘dial’ image and a paragraph of pure lies, they amassed nearly one million signatures online against us. They submitted these signatures to governments around the world and requested that these nations shut us down for the sake of human rights.

The result? Governments around the world warned our constituents in those nations to distance themselves from us or else. It worked. Colleagues whom we had served on their soil for decades put up fire-walls from us to preserve their ministries.

Those who rejoice in the Cross must also be willing to endure the cross He asks us to bear. Consider the promises you make. Those who enter through the Crucified must share in that suffering. Heaven asks it of us.

From what aspect of Jesus’ righteousness do you seek to distance yourself? What cross do you avoid to maintain peace? As we enter Holy Week, be aware of your own ‘Hosannas.’ Will your love endure beyond the palms and hymns? Will you go the distance with Him to Calvary?

Edith Stein was a German Jewish convert who became a Carmelite nun. She exhorted her sisters with these words before being killed by the Nazis:

‘Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and Antichrist has broken out into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life. Carefully consider what you promise.’

PRAYER for Sunday April 13th: ‘On this Palm Sunday, we rejoice that You choose to dwell with us, Humble King, the Prince of Peace. At the same time, we know that our hearts are not much different from the disciples who loved You during the parade and rejected You in the persecution to come. Have mercy on our fickle hearts.’

PRAYER for Monday April 14th: ‘Reveal any “peace at any price” tendency in us. Show us how we adjust the truth to look good before men rather than before God. As we approach the Cross this week, make us true.’

PRAYER for Tuesday April 15th: ‘Jesus, grant us the grace to distinguish rejection based on righteousness rather than rude, proud behavior. We turn from truth without love. Amplify truth-in-love. Remind us of the intimacy reserved for those who endure alienation from others for Your sake.’

PRAYER for Wednesday April 16th: ‘Father, show us any person or issue toward which we fear to be the truth. Grant us the love to include others in the whole of Your Gospel: crucifixion unto resurrection. Forgive us for wanting You only in the joy of new life and not in the grief of letting go. Forgive us for rejoicing in only one aspect of Your Cross and actually hating the other. Help us to love all that You are as we approach Calvary.’

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prickley peace

Downward Ascent 7: Prickly Peace

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.’ (Matt. 5: 9)

Failing to save ourselves, freed only through Mercy, we rest in everlasting arms: peace like a river. Jesus silences the noisy claims of poverty upon our souls. We are weak, but He is strong. Stilling our hearts in order to listen becomes a gift: instead of attending to old accusations, we wait for the whispers of our Beloved. Glorious peace.

Deeper than the ebbs and flows of daily uncertainties, such peace frees us for others. The war has been won; Jesus now disarms us. Vulnerable but surrounded, we trust the prince of peace as we invite others into His rest. We use wisdom of course, but heavenly wisdom, which St. James describes as ‘pure then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.’ (J 3: 17, 18)

Such peacemaking takes work: sowing peace into others’ lives and seeking to reap the fruitful witness of faith in them can be arduous. We could translate that word ‘peace-making’ as ‘peace-building.’ As builders then, we must be willing to go the distance with loved ones. That includes helping them to deconstruct false sources of peace.

This is where our peacemaking can be viewed as prickly. Whenever others describe the tangled mess of their lives then merrily conclude ‘It’s all good,’ I gently disagree and say: ‘Well, probably not all good. But One who is all good can help you sort things out, and I can help point you in His direction …’

The truth is, we all crave peace and will go to any lengths to secure it, however falsely. Consider Jesus and the Samaritan woman (JN 4). He offers her liquid peace, His merciful ‘Living Water’ then exposes the false wells she has been drawing from (‘You have had 5 husbands and your current lover is…’v.18)

Unlike the prophets and priests in Jeremiah’s day who ‘dressed others’ wounds superficially and cried peace when there was none’ (Jer 6: 14), Jesus tells us the truth of our illusory loves. He is the Lord of peace and will not tolerate imposters. He knows that the battle being waged for every soul will only be won at the Cross. Peace requires surrender to the One who gave all to gain us.

We are His witnesses, guided by His Spirit. Jesus gives us the good challenge to offer ourselves wisely, peaceably, and truthfully to those on whom His favor rests. The Spirit has directed me to a wonderful seeker who wants to know Jesus but on his terms. He is disquieted when I interrupt our peaceful chats with the hard truths of sin, evil, and the greatest deception of all: ‘It’s all good…’

He has a long way to go, as do I as a peacemaker. Yet I have come to accept the questioning look in my friend’s eye as a fulfillment of Mark 9:50: ‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’

‘Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.’

PRAYER for Monday April 7th: ‘Father, show us the peace that results from surrendering our ‘get-rich quick’ schemes. Forgive our efforts to resurrect ourselves. We are as tired of them as You are. Thank You for loving us when we are tempted to disdain ourselves. Show us the peace of surrender.’

PRAYER for Tuesday April 8th: ‘Remind us of the battle You waged for us. As we approach Calvary once more, remind us of what You won for us. Disarm us with the truth that You secured perfect peace for us there. Help us to know the authority You have given us, even and especially in our vulnerable areas.’

PRAYER for Wednesday April 9th: ‘Father, give us strength to be Your peace-builders. Grant us courage and patience for the long haul approach to helping others establish a foundation of peace anchored in You. Grant us the peace of working in tandem with the You whose yoke is easy and burden light.’

PRAYER for Thursday April 10th: ‘Father, grant us discernment when we cry ‘peace when there is none.’ Remove the beam from our eyes, that we may see the speck in our friends’ eyes.’

PRAYER for Friday April 11th: ‘Father, grant us wisdom to recognize the false peace loved ones have made. Help us to pray for them. In particular, we lift up_______. Jesus, we ask that You might reduce him/her to Your unfailing love. Be their peace, we pray.’

PRAYER for Saturday April 12th: ‘Show us Jesus how, when, and if we might address the false peace they have made with any number of things. Grant us more love and more discernment than we have. Teach us to be peacemakers that reveal the peace only You can give them. In that way, might we manifest the truth that as peacemakers, we have become Your sons and daughters?’

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WEB-2-Downward-Ascent-6-Blessed-Impurities-Honesty-Photo-by-Michael-Coghlan

Downward Ascent 6: Blessed Impurities

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ (Matt. 5:8)

Lent is an extended season of exposure. For 40 days, God tends to reveal the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; He highlights what is in our hearts rather than what we would like others to think. For example, this Lent God is exposing the folly that I am in truth a merciful person. Yes, I am inclined to show compassion to sexually broken people. But toward traditional men with a regional Midwest mindset I am in truth arrogant and unforgiving. I love partially, at best.

I expect God to level me at Lent. I need to be. So does Desert Stream. He disciplines those He loves. He loved us enough this year to reveal division in our ranks, petty unspoken judgments that threatened to become rifts on our small staff. One year He revealed sexual compromise, another year financial and administrative ones, the next year our failure as a ministry to tithe. We have learned to accept the revelation of our impurities as a terrible gift.

No-one likes to be humbled. But to be emptied again in order to be filled with mercy and power from on high—smells like Jesus, a fragrance that frees us once more to stay true to Him. Accepting the truth of impurities invites us to welcome the Pure One who alone has power to cleanse us. So purity hinges on the exposure of our impurities.

Maybe we need to rethink ‘exposure’. Though the term naturally invokes shame– the dread of being found out–we may want to turn that around. Perhaps our awareness of impurity is actually a sign that we are becoming pure: less tolerant of falsehood and more sensitive to what pleases Him. Awareness of impurity may actually be a sign that we are becoming more like Him.

C.S Lewis thinks so. He writes in Mere Christianity: ‘When a man is getting better, he understands more clearly the evil that is left in him. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present; it is the very sign of His presence.’

Realizing impurity is a sign of intimacy with Him; submitting that impurity to Him can serve to deepen intimacy all the more. What the devil wants to use to destroy a soul or a ministry, God transforms into an occasion for holy love.

The most winsome Christians I know are those who are painfully aware of their propensity to sin and deeply reliant upon Jesus and His friends as the basis for their purity. I smell the fragrance of holiness in them: holiness sourced in mercy and gratitude.

Purity is a gift from God to persons who respond to the revelation of impurity by plunging and remaining in the mercy pool at the foot of the Cross.

Might we be less shocked by Lenten exposure and more grateful? Let the Spirit of St. Teresa of Avila fill you. When opponents accused her of being sexually impure, she responded: ‘If they really knew me, they would say far worse things about me than that!’

Jesus said that the heart is the source of murder, adultery, lying, theft and slander (Matt. 15:19). Blessed are those who welcome their Source at the source of sin. Purity results: the freedom to see the One who sets us free. For such freedom, the 40 days of Lent may not be long enough!

PRAYER for Monday March 31st: ‘Father, we ask for the grace to behold whatever impurity You want to expose in us this Lent.’

PRAYER for Tuesday April 1st: ‘Father, help us to know our hearts in regards to such exposure. Do we tend to turn away, tempted to hide, or do we turn to You? Reveal the source of our disquiet: is it fear and shame, pride or presumption? Help us to accept inspired exposure as a gift, not a punishment.’

PRAYER for Wednesday April 2nd: ‘Father, renew in us the power of the confessional. May we revisit those ones You have placed in our lives to whom we can pour out the truth of sin and in exchange receive wisdom and forgiveness. Grant us a taste of the purity You offer us in the place of impurity.’

PRAYER for Thursday April 3rd: ‘Father, show us persons in our lives who manifest holiness born out of mercy and gratitude. Help us to be more like them, more like Jesus.’

PRAYER for Friday April 4th: ‘Father, reveal to our loved ones the love that exposes. In kindness, reveal their inspired need for the purity and integrity only You can give them in exchange for their sin.’

PRAYER for Saturday April 5th: ‘Father, reveal how we tend to dismiss our sins in light of the more obvious violations of fallen loved ones. Show us our smug religious pride. Please free us from self-satisfaction; free us for loving hearts and deeds toward the lost born of mercy and gratitude.’

PRAYER for Sunday April 6th: ‘Father, make us Your pure Church, born out of honest reckoning with our impurities. Help us to see You. We welcome Your exposure as You prepare us to become a radiant Bride, without stain or wrinkle (Eph. 5: 27).’

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