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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Glorious Repentance

‘John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All the people of Jerusalem went out to him, confessing their sins…’ (MK 1: 4, 5)

I went to Thailand the second week of Advent in order to repent. Again. Strengthened by our 40-day fast, I told everyone I met en route that I needed to start the Church year with Christians like my friend Sue who have to fight for their faith. We Americans are way too well-fed. We are fat cats, bored and listless, who can barely paw off familiar rats.

On the other hand, Thais face the triple threat of entrenched sexual immorality, Buddhism’s deadening passivity, and the ‘saving face’ culture that smiles at a multitude of sins. These sins threaten the integrity of the Thai Church; pedophiles and adulterers hide in the folds of her lousy religious garments. Tolerating serious sin can render the Church here small, ineffective, and prone to destruction.

But my friend Sue knows better. No stranger to sin herself, she is a better friend of repentance. An older relative poisoned Sue for most of her childhood through sexual abuse. She coped by hating her womanhood while seeking comfort in women and in Thai Buddhism, a quest for nothingness. Dark and darker.

Jesus sought Sue out through a host of Spirit-filled messengers. He gave her the grace to repent and to live daily in the light of His truthful love. She now lives passionately to recover human treasure from the darkness of sin in Thailand.

These treasures are among the most glorious I know. Their witness of living fully and unreservedly for Jesus shames my divided heart and invites me to die again. They reveal my petty concerns and compromises then rouse me to repentance.

The saints who compose Sue’s healing army have to fight for freedom. They pay a huge price for uncovering a host of abuses (many church-related); they must repent over and over until lifelong patterns of adultery are overcome. In the process, they shatter a decidedly un-Christian culture of shame by going boldly to the throne of grace in order to confess and conquer veins of sin that have darkened family-lines for generations. The choice becomes clear: live for Jesus or the pagan gods. Choose this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15).

They are shining gems of Jesus’ redemption. Their way forward is nothing less than the Cross realized through confession and repentance to Jesus and to one another. The call must be true and direct, like the Baptist himself; anything less will not break the power of sin. Such repentance ushers in the Light that rises on these ones gloriously.

While flying over the region where Sue ministers near the Lao border, I noticed the landscape growing more brown and dry. The pockets of water became fewer. But the few that remained caught the Light with a brilliance that made me gasp. My heart leapt at the sight for it captured in full the truth of my Thai family–the Light shines in the darkness and overcomes that darkness (JN 1: 5) through a repentant people. I want to be among them. Sue’s band of prophetic healing saints helps me to repent. Again.

‘And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all humanity together shall see it.’ (IS 40: 5)

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Waking Up

‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come…May He not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: “Watch”!’

We begin Advent 2017 with a disturbing wake-up call, assisted by the outing of men in entertainment (Louie C.K., Kevin Spacey, Jeffrey Tambor, Garrison Keillor), in politics (Ray Moore, Rep. John Conyers, Sen. Al Franken), and in journalism (Charlie Rose, Mat Lauer) who have abused power in dishonorable sexual acts against women (Spacey and Tambor excluded.) Republican or Democrat, morally conservative or libertine, professed Christians or not, these men are united only in their failure to grasp how women not only hate being groped, probed or exposed to vile expressions of their nakedness: they are being fractured by it.

We all are. I would go so far to say that the gender and sexual mess we are in– ‘gay’ marriage and an ever growing list of gender ‘selves–is founded on the fault-line of male privilege and the reverberating impact of previously unseen sexual power plays. Disintegrated masculinity damages all persons and in my opinion has successfully tempted a generation into concluding that ‘gender’ is a social construct employed by men to get what they want. I applaud the courageous women who have sounded this alarm.

My main point here is to raise some awareness of what might tempt otherwise smart, empathic men to treat women so badly. These are not excuses, but factors. A man possesses a kind of focused sexual energy that he must learn to temper into something that will serve the good of the other; he needs his sexuality to be integrated into the whole of his humanity, which includes his longing to be a trustworthy gift to her. Disintegration occurs when his sexuality splits off from his capacity to recognize the whole of another—a woman, a person, whom he has no right to employ as an object of his drive for pleasure or power. An integrated man subordinates his need for hers. Period.

Welcome to the mess we are in. Today we are witnessing masculine disintegration at a grand scale. We must wake up! And we must ask ourselves as a culture: are we sounding the clarion call of repentance unto integration for all men, as well as the training and formation that helps men become whole in relation to women? We perish without vision here, poisoned by grotesque images of dishonorable men. Where are men of honor who have lived the truth of employing their power to protect and empower the vulnerable, who helped conceive lives and who stuck around to fight for their dignity? They are among us, and we need to be roused by their faithful witness of wholeness.

We need vision and we need a way forward. Otherwise, our shame will bury us and we will grieve God by failing to offer our uniquely masculine gift. We must also not forget the fallen. I may not sin on a grand scale today but I am still a sinner and my predatory brother is no less in need of God’s mercy. If I consider him outside the reach of mercy, I know nothing of the Cross. We must call all men to join us in following this Jesus who embodies what it means to be an integrated man and who poured Himself out in order to transform male lust into the fire of pure, impassioned love for women. As we wake up, may His light expose the darkness and steadily become ours.

‘All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.’ (Isaiah 64:6-9)

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Home

The next few weeks beg the question: ‘What is home to me?’ Holidays highlight our origins and our goals surrounding home. In the countdown to Christmas, some forego reflection for a cyclone of activity; surrounded by love, we worry only that we will forget to give love to deserving ones.

Others dread the quiet of remembering what did not happen this year. Will our place at the table this year confirm our progress in forging family or remind of us of the gaps?

I write this on our last morning in a tiny rental house; we move on this freezing morning to a new house we bought three months ago. Now mostly refurbished, this new tent awaits as we pack poles and fold up canvas.

Home. Is it a place? A memory? A goal? I consider these questions in our yearend newsletter that I submit to you here. Might you take a few minutes and reflect upon it? Each member of the Desert Stream/Living Waters leadership team took time to consider their take on the subject of ‘home.’ I hope you are as pleased with the outcome as I am.

I pray for your clarity in defining your version and vision of ‘home.’

Click here to read the Desert Stream/Living Water Year End Newsletter.

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Giving Thanks for You

Amid the din (virtual and otherwise), thank you for quieting your heart long enough to read this.

Amid a thousand requests for your service, thank you for fasting and praying with us these last 40 days, denying yourself for the salvation of others (Jude 20-23).

Amid a thousand requests for your hard-earned funds, thank you for giving to Desert Stream and helping make this one of our best financial years in a decade.

Amid the temptation to wall off sinners who resist God’s mercy, thank you for loving the unlovely generously (Matt. 18: 10-14; LK 6: 35, 36; 2 Tim 2: 23-26).

Amid the temptation to bless a loved one’s immoral choices, thank you for agreeing to disagree as you hold out for his or her best (2 Cor. 5: 16-21).

Amid the many persons who cloud the Church’s glory, thank you for loving ‘her’ by taking your place as an invaluable member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12).

Like the leper who returned to Jesus to thank Him for His healing love, thank you for cultivating gratitude and thus warding off hardness of heart (LK 17: 11-19).

Amid the temptation to detach from God due to unhealed wounds or tendencies, thank you for becoming patient and trustful in His mercy (2 Cor. 12: 7-10).

Amid the loneliness of single life, thank you for showing that His love is enough and that ‘the body is not meant for sexual immorality but for Him’ (1 Cor. 6: 13).

Amid the unmet needs in your married life, thank you for staying true to your vows and thus bearing witness of the saving love of Jesus (Matt. 19: 1-9; Eph. 5).

Amid the temptation to bury your shameful story, thank you for declaring the truth of His saving love in the specifics of your good hard life (1 P 2: 9, 10).

You are the joy of Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries, ‘God’s glorious ones in whom is all our delight’ (PS 16: 3). We give thanks for you.

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Irresistible

In these last couple weeks of our fast, I’ve had the privilege of making two trips to the Northeast where I witnessed the irresistible splendor of Jesus in His Church, both evangelical and Catholic. The Spirit is stirring up His saints, girding them in truth and welling up like living water to grant the gender broken a better Word. One can have any number of freedoms and still be a slave! Jesus alone frees the sin-shackled and makes us true sons and daughters of the one Father.

In Pennsylvania, I gathered with a group of priests who meet regularly to share their sexual vulnerabilities and the healing love that sets them free; in New York City and New Jersey I gathered with turned-on Korean-Americans who are as committed to becoming whole as they are becoming good news for their LGBT+ friends. I spent most of my time in the borough of Queens where I invested in a church renowned for its efforts at creating emotionally healthy community and fostering racial reconciliation. Stunningly so! Yet the pastors have the wisdom to know the difference between ethnicity and gender identity issues; they celebrate a diversity of tribes and tongues while refusing the ‘gender spectrum’ ideology that fractures God’s children. Mercy welled up as we testified of His unfailing love that reconciles us to our true humanity—male and female–in this one body.

Before setting off for these trips, I had the privilege of assisting at the Mass celebrating the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. It is my favorite feast of the church year, as it is the only one that celebrates the Church herself: the irresistible splendor of Jesus revealed in His body. As I read from Ezekiel 47 about the water levels rising in the temple until the saints are immersed and flowing out into the world in order to heal and feed the broken (‘their fruit shall serve for food and their leaves for medicine’, EZ 47: 12), I realized that this is our mission. It is being fulfilled as we gather and lift up Jesus as Healer!

In all of our Northeast gatherings, I fielded questions from countless saints who face increasingly complex hardships due to LGBT+ demands: the deacon working with a nominal Christian family whose 4-year-old daughter showed up in Sunday School as a boy, the assistant male youth leader who announced his ‘transition’ to womanhood, the influential minister now ‘gay married’ and adopting children while extolling the joys of ‘gay Christianity’, the worker whose ‘gay’ boss firmly encourages his employees to stick rainbow emblems on their office doors, and many who simply want to know how to care for loved ones who now live under the rainbow. As we prayed at every meeting for Jesus to come and show us His way–the mercy that is ours only as we enter through the gate of His body and blood shed for us in the one body–the water levels rose and immersed us in the divine love that breaks human enslavement. We bring a better Word endowed with power to save the gender broken. His love radiant in humbled, poured-out saints: Irresistible.

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