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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Breaking Water

When Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles opened our Truth and Love Conference last week, his words about how we participate in Jesus’ baptism brought this to mind. C.S. Lewis describes a diver breaking the water’s surface then descending into the depths to retrieve treasure from the ocean floor. He breaks the water once more in ascent, joyfully holding out his ‘catch’ for the world to see. So Jesus reclaims our true natures as the Father’s beloved sons and daughters from the depths of enslavement (Gal. 4:3-7; Rom. 8:15-18). In so doing, He reveals His glorious mercy through grateful children.

I marveled at the Archbishop’s clarity; due to Jesus’ baptism (and baptism of suffering of Calvary), we who were slaves to the world’s system of defining ourselves can be free and shining expressions of the Father’s design. He cleared the way for people like me who experience same-sex attraction to forego all worldly claims (LGBTQ, etc.) upon our identities. Instead, we can settle deeply into the truth of who we are as children of the Father who delights in engaging with us in order to impart what we need to grow into maturity.

No small or easy thing, this baptism of Jesus and our own which makes all things new. The stakes are huge, for us and for others; in a world that invites persons made in His image to create their own ‘gender’ reality, we uphold a deeper truth of the Father’s claim upon His children. Let’s start 2017 by actively engaging with our own baptism and the Father’s will for our sonship and daughterhood. Toward that end, I would encourage you to:

Behold the Lamb; we become what we behold. Turn off your screens (after you read this of course) and be still before the Crucified. It helps to simply gaze upon the Cross, which conveys in an instant the watery death He died and His ascent. In the Cross lies all that we need to know: the Son won back for us our true selves. Gazing on the Beloved mediates who we are as beloved children.

Devour Scripture; we become what we eat. Meditate on verses that summon who He is and who we are. The aforementioned passages from St. Paul are a good starting point, as is Song of Songs, a love letter from the Father to His kids. Open the Book and let it permeate you. I memorize key verses so I can summon the truth at hard moments in the day.

Listen to the Father’s voice; we become what we hear. Turn off devices and be still. Listen in quiet to what He wants to say; His sheep hear His voice (JN 10:3). Don’t worry if at first all you hear is clutter. He loves your effort and will honor it. Quiet your heart in the Spirit of Jesus who upon breaking the water heard: ‘This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased’ (Matt. 3:17). You please Him; He loves you, His child.

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Crowns Down

‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved’ (St. Peter, Acts 4:12).

Three kings bowed down before the Infant King, subjecting their royalty to the Lord of Life. No power on earth gave them certainty except the ground of Jesus. Before Him they bowed low, crowns down. They realized what St. Louis Anjou articulated 1300 years later. Born of a queen with a brother who became a king, Louis discovered ‘Jesus is my Kingdom. If I do not have Him, I lose everything.’

Americans eschewed authentic royalty from the start; instead, we crafted the cult of celebrity and made idols out of fragile creative people amplified on concert stages and big screens. Last year, we lost Prince, the androgynous pop innovator, and Star Wars’ Princess Leia. The frenzy that followed suggested Queen Elizabeth had been killed. Yet today’s frenzy will morph fast into tomorrow’s fresh flesh. In the glow of new images clamoring for our devotion, we forget old idols.

In truth, we have been seduced by media manipulations of persons who live risky lifestyles and who may well have drunk the Cool-Aid themselves, believing their own press rather than casting their crowns at the feet of Jesus. We drive the mess. As the protagonist of ‘La La Land’ says about the Hollywood machine, ‘We worship everything and value nothing.’

Especially poignant to me in these celebrity deaths was the exclusion of any reference to Jesus. Had the Prince and Princess made peace with Him? Does anyone care? Carrie Fisher’s (Princess Leia) mother, Debbie Reynolds, grew up a devout Christian and in her early career was outspoken about King Jesus. Yet in the face of her daughter’s untimely end, the 84-year-old said that she wanted only to be with her daughter in the afterlife, and gave up the ghost. Understandable, but shaky ground. Our loved ones aren’t the gate-keepers. Jesus is. Jesus alone. The only sure way to prepare for death is by calling on His name and repenting of every star we have worshiped or sought to become ourselves.

Death awaits all of us. And Jesus is the ground of heaven, our sole path to a happy eternity. Jesus commissions us, His faithful ones, to do everything in our power to love our friends and family into faith in His Name. Like the Magi, let us lay down our crowns and worship the One. Let us then arise and make Him known.

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Ponder, Proclaim

‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ (LK 2:19)

Many of us experience a tension between prayer and action. We may know well the value of pondering the mystery of God-with-us, this baby Jesus who wants to ‘tabernacle’ with us. Prayer is the main way we become that home where God dwells with us through His Spirit.

Yet we are surrounded by many homeless ones who are clueless that God became flesh and now wants to dwell with them. If you are like me, something ignites during prayer and flares up to break the silence: ‘God came; He’s here! He wants to be with you! You don’t have to work out your hard life alone!’

Perhaps this call to ponder and proclaim are two parts of the same message. Our faithfulness to both is how we create a whole message for the world to hear.

LK 2:15-20 gives us clues to this wholeness. A lot goes on here—a host of angels had just dazzled these shepherds with the proclamation that God the Savior was alive and well and living in a nearby stable. The shepherds found Jesus; we can assume they were more awestruck by God in His littleness than the power-and-light-show of the heavenly host. Jesus must have radiated glory from the manger.

The shepherds were the first non-family members to witness God-in-the-flesh. They were at the lower end of the world’s system; poor rovers, they often were suspect of petty crimes and artful dodging. Fitting that they would become the first new members of the holy family! St. Paul said that we were all slaves to the world’s system until God came; Jesus transforms us from worldly slaves to sons and daughters of the Father. In Him, the homeless secure a home (Gal. 4:3-7).

Mary treasured this encounter between shepherds and the Child-King. She pondered it (v. 19). For the first time, she witnessed the impact of her newborn upon others. It must have taken her breath away. Wow, she thought, this baby is the real deal. He will ditch the rich and lift up the lowly. Everything the angel said is coming to pass.

In Greek, ‘ponder’ means to bring together a few ideas and brood over them in order to create a richer deeper thought. The Latin word for ponder is ‘to conceive’; through her pondering, Mary is once again conceiving new life as she considers the life of her Son. She lights the way for our prayerful renewal as well.

Think of your growing awareness of the truth of Jesus. He probably did not overtake you right away. Rather, His gentle, hidden movement in your life became apparent in prayerful moments and you knew: He IS the Light of my world, just when the darkness seemed to have the upper hand.

That’s good news! Pondering the light of Jesus in our real conflicts is the substance of solid proclamation. Let’s go back to the shepherds. They find glorious Jesus and upon seeing God-in-flesh, they race out to tell others that in truth He is the Savior of all, much to the hearers’ amazement (v. 17, 18). This Jesus has power to make poor ones rich, homeless ones secure, sons, slaves!

As you ponder the impact of Jesus in your life, consider how He is helping you forsake worldly enslavements for your true status as a child of God. The deeper you ponder your transformation the truer will be your proclamation. People will hear the Gospel through the contours of your broken, glorious life!

And you will receive more authority in your own life as you courageously step through fears like ‘People don’t want to hear it; I don’t want to be a hypocrite’, etc. You overcome fear and other enslavements through your proclamation (Rev. 12:11), and make a way for others to overcome too.

Early on in my walk with Jesus, I tried to dull my identity conflict (between ‘gay’ or Christian) by moving back into the ‘gay ghetto’ with an atheistic French family. God would not let go peacefully. Sick from my vacillations, I pondered and prayed and at last decided to follow Jesus simply because He was real. Peace flooded my soul that night; I nearly bounced into a party given by my French family.

A woman there eyed me suspiciously, and asked about the cross around my neck: ‘What does this Jesus do for you?’ I calmly responded that He was setting me free from my ‘gay self’ and same-sex addictions. She started crying and asked if I would speak to her son who was ‘gay’ and suicidal. I did just that. She now knows God is both merciful and powerful. He makes slaves sons.

‘His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.’ (Jer. 20:9)

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father-figure

Father-Figure?

‘All I wanted, something special, something sacred in your eyes; I will be your father-figure…’ George Michael

The pop singer died on Christmas, the day Christ was born afresh in the hearts of faithful ones. Michael’s broken heart gave out as Jesus offered us broken ones the Father’s heart. ‘When you were children, you were slaves under the world’s system. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son…so we could receive our full rights as sons and daughters. Because we are now His children, He sends us the Spirit of His Son, who cries out “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer slaves but sons…’ (Gal. 4:3-7)

Few represent enslavement to the world’s system better than George Michael. He gifted us with infectious pop hooks and videos, while slowly taking his own life in homosexual addiction and drug use. Some claim that homophobia drove him to cruising bathrooms and smoking crack but I say it is the nature of the world’s system itself; the holy longing for Father twisted into enslavement to eroticized ‘father-figures.’

Guilty, sure—sensitive people ‘get’ dehumanizing practices. But bad feelings do not break chains. Drugs dull the ache but cannot take it away. Neither do ‘gay-affirming’ laws (spoiler alert: male ‘gay marriages’ make few if any claims to monogamy) or the likes of Madonna and Elton John whose effusive eulogizing of George Michael suggest their own guilt.

In the glare of a man struck down by a world that enslaves estranged sons of God, we are all a little guilty. We choose to no longer even use the language of slavery to describe the divided life Michael lived. We fear that the ‘gay feds’ will brand us ‘haters’ or worse, ‘reparative therapists.’ Even churchmen qualify the truth that Jesus transforms the ‘gay-identified’ into sons and daughters of the Father.

So we mute the power of Christmas. We turn down the relevance of Jesus’ descent into the muck in order to reclaim children of dignity, who summons what is real and true from the rubble of our lives and who stokes His refinement of us by His Spirit. We are now artful dodgers; we so nuance St. Paul’s words that we reduce the Holy One to a ‘father-figure’ rather than the Lord of all.

George Michael postured himself as a ‘father-figure’ in a vain effort to secure the love he needed. But his world was a cruel, unforgiving one that tempts men only to torment them. His light burnt out. May his tragic end bring us to our knees and provoke us to manifest the One who makes sons and daughters out of slaves.

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Home. For Good.

‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling with us’ (JN 1:14).

In youthful efforts to find ‘home’, a place of belonging where my part of the social equation fit and totaled something valuable, I failed. As ‘gay’ relationships faded, reliance on pills and powders grew. I wondered why I could not deliver on the good I possessed. That depressed me—I wasn’t being true to myself and others.

I had a pretty good home life but that did not make me a good child. I never swallowed the sixties’ rot that we were all God’s children, natively inclined to peace and harmony. I wanted to love but could not, not really. Good intentions capsized under the weight of selfishness. It made more sense to me that I was a child under the devil’s sway, estranged from the Good.

I knew Jesus was real but did not know how He could make me real; how could I align myself with His greater good and so become good? That’s why I love the Catholic Church’s reading this Christmas Day from John 1:1-18. God came into the mess we made of His world ‘and made His dwelling with us’; He draws near to us vagrant ones who become violent in our alienation when we do not recognize Him as our Father.

Maybe God knew that the ‘father’ bit was too much for our foolish hearts, how we project our fears of masculine power on Him. So God came as a child in order to free us to become children again, kids who know some good and long to become good. As we by grace see Him as He is—Almighty in a manger, Lord of all living yet lowly, we can get low and worship the child king. This Christmas, hold nothing back—let us offer Him the whole of our divided lives! Therein lays His power to make us His own, to make us good.

Get real. Become good. Forsake the lie that your good intentions suffice. Only God in Christ can give you a home—the Father’s embrace which transforms children of darkness into children of Light.

‘He came to His own but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God—children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (JN 1: 11-13).

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