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blazing love

Blazing Love

‘Everyone will be salted with fire.’ (MK 9:49)

I met Ross a couple of years ago and could tell by his puzzled yet open face that he knew little about religion, for better or worse. He did seem attentive to my offering that God—a Father—cared for him and wanted the best for him. It made sense to Ross that if God had set him on course in the first place then He probably did care how his life turned out.

Over the next couple of years, I prayed often for Ross and encouraged him when I could. I could not read his detours precisely. He did confess to drinking way too much and his ache seemed open to both genders. I did not know; in these days of gender gymnastics, I neither trust my ‘gay-dar’ nor do I believe in boxing someone into dead-ended categories. I cared for him as an estranged son of the Father.

Some days his hangovers made him look 10 years older; other days he looked expectant, especially when his lucrative job promised more money. Yet I could see a longing in him for something more. Maybe that’s why he did not avoid me when I came around.

Yesterday in prayer, the Father re-ignited His desire for Ross in my heart. I knew it was the Holy Spirit. I agreed with God that if I ran into him I would act decisively. Sure enough, when I bumped into Ross and he told me that he was soon leaving Kansas City for a job offer elsewhere, holy fire blazed in my heart and I prophesied over him with tears. I reconfirmed the Father’s good will to give him a future and a hope, to free him from robbers who wanted his blood.

Blazing love broke ground in Ross. He expressed a desire to know more about Jesus and His Father before he leaves town. At least he knows now that the Father loves him and desires more for him.

There is a lot of talk in the Church today about loving ‘gays’ but very little is said about our need for the Spirit’s power in doing so. The strongholds of sin are too thick to break through, our own unbelief too great, without blazing love–the flame of the Father’s heart enkindled in our prayers and stoked into a torch by the union of His Spirit with ours.

‘Salt us with Your fire for estranged sons and daughters everywhere, Holy God.’

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ignite the torch joy of love

Ignite the Torch

‘The Church must accompany with attention and care the weakest of her children by restoring their hope like a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way in the midst of a storm.’ Joy of Love, Pope Francis

While Pope Francis magnificently honors marriage in his recent exhortation, he falters in fueling the torch necessary to enlighten persons lost in the storm surrounding homosexuality. Yes, he exposes the lie of constructing one’s own gender ‘self’. But he falls fall short of illuminating Christ Crucified and Raised as the fire that can consume the disordered heart and win it over to holy love.

Pope Francis does not connect the dots. On the one hand he alludes to misbegotten cultural shifts like ‘gay marriage’ and the folly of being tossed about by self-serving, shortsighted desires. He highlights the Gospel passages in which sexual sinners are admonished by Jesus ‘to live more worthy lives’ as His love awakens ‘consciousness of sin.’ Yet his pastoral directives for enlightening persons lost in the gender storm are bland and dim; Francis invokes accompaniment and the law of gradualism and other references to walking with persons in pain. All good—but none adequate to awaken the soul in darkness to the saving light of Jesus.

I longed to hear Francis refer to repentance and sexual sin in the same sentence. He hesitates here. Inspired by the Spirit and commensurate with the damage done, the urgent call for repentance seems in line with Francis’ consistent regard for ‘the immense psychological burden’ that unfaithful adults impose upon children. We serve justice to kids by returning to the Father and casting off destructive identities and relationships. By aspiring to be faithful ‘gender’ witnesses, we the repentant do our part to meet the identity needs of children.

For this, we the Church need to declare the clear and compassionate call for all to turn to Jesus amid confused identities. Repentance is the base on which our eyes are opened and we can begin to make wise choices. Yes we slowly progress in our moral formation, and yes such formation is founded on the Word who exposes our chains and offers Himself as the key.

I now live in a Catholic world where the slight majority uphold gay unions, are intolerant (often cruel) to persons who lovingly refuse to bless ‘gay unions’, and whose clergy men tend to invoke a repentance-free mercy for persons with SSA. Where is the Church who blazes like a torch in order to enlighten her members? Where are the merciful lights to guide lost loved ones home? May God fan into flame a host of blazing lights to light the way in the storm that Francis describes but inadequately guides us through in this turbulent hour.

‘For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent; for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, until her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.’ (IS 62:1)

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Prodigal Pope

Prodigal Pope Embraces the Family (and this family man)

Francis’ long awaited report on marriage and family is good news, a hearty hug of a document that encompasses the best of what marital love can be.

I consumed the 256 page exhortation—Love in the Family—as a hungry man. Pressures on my own marriage and family life had been mounting in the days leading up its release; I needed release from my clouded capacity to be a ‘good-enough’ gift for wife and kids. Like a father embracing his confused son who knew only to turn in the general direction of home, Pope Francis met me; his intention to reclaim and renew the value of marriage nourished me like an empanada thick with meat and vegetables. ‘He set me at His banqueting table, and His banner over me is love’ (S of S 2:4) conveys well the impact of Pope Francis’ fatherly, at times folksy exhortation to this prodigal.

With characteristic tenderness, Francis champions marriage and family as the basic cell endowed with power to transform the world; at the same time, he realizes the anxieties and tensions faced by the modern family. He cites the impact of today’s extreme individualism, consumerism, social networking, and just plain narcissism that renders people immature and unable to see the ‘other’ beyond one’s own effort to find a ‘self’.

Drawing significantly on the ‘imago dei’ (humanity made in God’s image as male and female, Gen. 1: 26, 27) as parsed by his predecessors St. John Paul ll and Pope Emeritus Benedict, Francis summons our capacity as gendered, passionate people to be good gifts to another over the course of a lifespan, a commitment he claims can grow more beautiful over the course of a hard knock life. He melds expertly the ideological with the practical. An extended meditation on the ‘love’ chapter (1Cor. 13) goes hand-in-hand with tough words on why marriage must be ‘open to life’ then tempers the call to fruitfulness with wisdom about family planning, marital communication, and humane parenting. Uncle Francis indeed.

Most interesting to me are his limited references to homosexuality in the document. As you know, I had the privilege addressing some ‘Family Synod’ delegates in Rome last September as to convey an orthodox, merciful approach to persons with SSA. Those synod members wrote reports for Francis from which he created ‘Love in the Family.’

Francis deflates any hope that he has joined the rainbow bandwagon. Twice he states emphatically that ‘there is no ground for considering homosexual unions even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ And he extols every child’s need for both a mother and father in order to mature into wholeness. He decries modern gender theory on the grounds that ‘it promotes a personal identity and emotional intimacy that is radically separate from the biological difference between male and female.’

Pope Francis upholds the most vulnerable—children–who before God deserve the most strenuous efforts of both a mother and a father to succeed at marriage.

At the same time, Francis cites the very real difference between biological gender and how we develop a gender identity. He is nuanced and graceful with this distinction, which leaves room for women to lead and for men to dance. Yes we need to make peace with the gender of our birth in submission to our Creator, says Francis, and yes, we must respect diverse expressions of male and female identity. Alleluia. What a pope.

In regards to persons with SSA, Pope Francis directs us back to the wellspring of life, the nuclear family. He instructs family members to love us well so that ‘we might understand and carry out God’s will for our lives.’

I would have appreciated a little more input on pastoral care of persons with SSA (grounds for next blog, perhaps.) Perhaps that is beside the point, or at least a secondary one. Love in the Family reminds me that I am more than a person seeking freedom from disordered desire. I am a husband and a father who possesses the freedom to love well and so leave a legacy of truth and mercy for persons I love most. Thank you, Pope Francis.

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Magdalenes Rising

Magdalenes Rising

I spent Divine Mercy weekend in Ubon Thailand near the Laos border. Beneath a bamboo cross, an international team welcomed a diverse group of Thai men and women whose love for Jesus compelled them to offer Him their sexual brokenness. Ever faithful, He loosed a flood of mercy for persons raised in a Buddhist culture (only .4% claim Jesus as Lord) where sexual abuse and emotional neglect lay groundwork for many to become sexually compromised as adults.

As we ministered, I glimpsed the witness of Mary Magdalene, regarded by many as the Apostle of all Apostles. Culturally powerless, probably a prostitute, she was yet entrusted by Jesus with the message of the resurrection. Her exchange of false lovers and many demons for devotion to the One forged an intimate communion between Jesus and herself; He was all she had, an authority that could bear the most important message of all.

I witnessed men and women alike at our conference weeping at the foot of the cross over their sexual sins and those committed against them. I watched hope rise as Jesus encouraged them through our healing stories.

thai_divine_mercyI observed a young Thai pastor crying out for purity from his depths, wanting nothing to sully his care for the women he serves.  Another man, older and wizened by years of hard work in an outlying village, said very little but his face conveyed anguish as He listened to our histories of affliction and deliverance. His face shone as Jesus extended mercy to Him throughout our weekend together.

Most moving to me was a young woman—an ex-prostitute—who Jesus is making a deep well of mercy. She knows degradation better than most and the lure of big quick money. But she is committed to exchanging her lovers and demons for the only One who can love her without compromise. She knows she must stay near Him through the Living Waters community in order to live true. She weeps as much as she smiles; her eyes convey a heart united with Jesus for dear life.

Jesus is raising up all three (and many others) as witnesses of His life-transforming mercy. He died to put their sin and shame under His wounded feet; He lives to give them life. On Divine Mercy Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching on Mary Magdalene before my new friends in Ubon. We rejoiced together: ‘We have seen the Lord!’ (JN 20:18)

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Power of Crushed Seed

Power of the Crushed Seed

‘Unless a grain of wheat dies it remains alone. If it dies, it produces much fruit.’

I met Benjie Cruz in Bangkok Thailand, 2000, at our first conference there. He was Filipino, unstable in all his ways, and desired Jesus more than any of his false attachments, including homosexual addiction. My colleague Kin, under power of the Spirit, prophesied that Benjie would lead Filipinos like himself to the cross. I thought Kin was under the power of another spirit.

Next year, we did our first conference in the Philippines where Benjie served our team. First point of team business was confessing our sin. Though there only to transport us, Benjie exposed a spectacular array of sin with trembling and tears. Like most Asians, he suffered much shame for showing his dirty feet to the ‘big’ international leaders. But unlike most Asians, Benjie did it anyway for the joy set before Him. He wanted Jesus’ honor more than the praise of men. He was willing to be crushed for His Kingdom. I began to realize that Kin (and Jesus) were right.

The Philippines is unlike any other nation in Asia: it is the only one where Catholicism took root 400 years ago and where evangelicalism (in its diverse forms) took root under American occupation in the 20th century. In short, Filipinos tend to be open to Christian spirituality. What they are not open to is revealing criminally high rates of childhood sexual abuse that undergirds a host of adult sexual immoralities.

Benjie broke the shame barrier, over and over again, before counselors, pastors, and lay support groups. He did a yearlong internship with us at DSM. He began to integrate as a man. I came to Manila in 2005 to marry him and his beautiful bride Hasel; we have partnered ever since in Living Waters ministry through which he (and team) have built a national network of canals flowing from the cross.

Last week I led a retreat for his leaders where I discovered that after 15 years of ministry, Benjie and crew are partnering with the biggest Catholic community in the Philippines, the largest evangelical church in Manila with branches throughout the world, and with the most influential Protestant graduate school in the country. He is impacting his nation with Jesus’ power to make chaste the broken and unclean. First one must die. Benjie did, and now he is no longer alone. He is fruitful, ‘a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.’

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