A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
Shaken, Waking Up

Shaken, Waking Up

Advent starts with a bang this year if Jesus’ words in Sunday’s Gospel reading are true. Luke 21: 25-36 describes the terrifying world-scape into which He will enter, not as a helpless babe but as Almighty Judge separating the faithful from frauds. Season’s grievings!

History unwinds like a ticking bomb: explosions in a Parisian concert hall, a Mali hotel, and a Russian-bound jet over Egypt contract like excruciating birth pains. Brussels shuts down as innocents are subject to a kind of martial law as authorities search for the fearless few who now hold the world captive to terror. We are united in fear. Disempowered people invoke murderous demons (Rev. 9:21) in an effort to captivate the world by the threat of random massacres. Nothing new under the sun: Jesus said that ‘People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world’ (LK 21:26).

On one hand, it all seems far away from our insulated roost in Kansas City. But the spirit of murder increases here too, just as arbitrarily and perhaps sourced in the same theme of disempowered people grasping at demonic exaltation. Not long ago, I rode my bike home for lunch through a pleasant street of small condos, mostly inhabited by the elderly. An hour later in broad daylight, a man broke into two units and brutally murdered 5 persons.

I say this not to frighten but to alert you this Advent. Where does our security lie, in false prophecies of peace or in the peace that can only come through Jesus Christ who promises not a harmonious world but Himself? Alfred Delp, a German priest who contested Hitler and was executed, wrote this before his martyrdom: ‘There is perhaps nothing we need today than to be genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; where it is unstable and has no foundation we need to know this too and to endure it…Advent is a time when we need to be shaken. The necessary condition for Advent’s fulfillment is the renunciation of presumptuous attitudes and dreams through which we build imaginary worlds…Being shattered, being awakened—only with these is life made capable of Advent.’

Jesus alerts us that the darkening world-scape can weigh us down ‘with everyday anxieties’ (LK 21:35). He also notes that our response to such fear may well be drugging ourselves with ‘carousing and drunkenness’ (v.35). Friends, might we who love the Holy One not fall prey to deadening ourselves with foolish diversions but rather seek Him first as our foundation then prayerfully help secure others in Christ? Let us heed Jesus’ command this season ‘to always be on the watch—vigilant—and pray that we might have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent so that we can stand before the Son of Man’ (v. 36).

Our Advent begins with preparing for Jesus’ second coming. We might begin by identifying and renouncing the illusions we employ to ward off fear. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus and so establish our lives on the only foundation that will withstand the shaking to come.

‘When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your hands because your redemption is near’ (LK 21:28).

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before the flood gracefully

Before the Flood, Gratefully

One habit to which I attribute any good that comes from me is abiding before the Crucified. Each morning I awake to a Franciscan cross from which the flood of God’s mercy–blood, water and Spirit—flows graciously into an otherwise dry and stingy vessel. I remind myself that ‘without Him I can do nothing’ (JN 14:4). True that–don’t even try. Almighty God became a humble gift so I could be a good gift to others…nothing better. I then savor His gift to me in the Eucharist.

It’s not because I am dutiful that I pray and partake of daily mass; it’s because I am desperate. People like me who almost died due to bad habits and who can still hear sin’s drumbeat on the door need the daily gift of God in Christ. He is so willing, so kind; Jesus delights in availing Himself yet again to the hungry who want to feed others but who know that divine bread must be acquired daily.

So here’s to good habits that bring His presence near. He loves to come because He loves it when my wife gets a husband composed by divine love. I can help secure her in love when I am not obsessed with other hungers. Before the flood, I am well-fed and watered, gratefully.

My four kids, three daughters-in-law, and one grandchild on the way (yeah, it’s true) need no primary parenting but they still need us. And that’s the rub. We may have concerns but need to pray more than say and do stuff that might encroach on the ground God has given them. So we live before the flood, trusting God with our desires for their good lives. We delight in giving ourselves to these charter members of our home church. Nothing better, thank You God.

And the Desert Stream staff–Annette and I have the privilege of serving daily alongside a committed group of wounded healers who share our ‘love of the flood’ but who possess backgrounds and brokenness different enough from ours to keep us before the flood. We unite in the belief that our weaknesses are the threshold for God’s almighty mercy in the workplace. So we show up with hungry hearts and open hands and ask for the waters to rise among us. We live before the flood, gratefully.

God can withhold the waters whenever He wants. That’s the truth. When He deems our non-profit org. unprofitable, DSM is done. In the meantime, we ask for the waters to rise and to water many. We live before the flood, gratefully.

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Royal Flood

We end our 40 days on the Feast of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the Church calendar. Crowned with thorns and pierced with sword and nails, our Crucified King loosed a royal flood. We can begin to understand that river only if we consider its Source, Jesus Christ, Lord of the Universe.

He is Creator—‘through Him all things were made’ and ‘in Him all things hold together’; He is Redeemer—the One through whose blood ‘the Father reconciled to Himself all things’ so that Jesus might reign supreme in all of life (Col. 1: 15-20).

Our King–Creator and Redeemer—rules, not by wielding a sword, but by being pierced by one. He surrenders all for our rebellion. Mighty in power, how much mightier is that power when poured out in blood and water—blood to break sin’s bonds and water to cleanse us from its debris? Only the King who allowed Himself to be crushed for us can dissolve the darkest stains of humanity. No sin is too great, no rebellion too devious: He poured out His Life in a royal flood in order to transform the hideous into holy ones. Only a King can offer Almighty mercy.

Scripture directs us to anchor that royal flood in His house, the temple Ezekiel describes (47) as the source of this river of Life, which ushers out of the altar and is filling this temple one foot at a time until its waters flow out to the streets. This rising tide combines the fruit of Crucifixion—blood and water—with Resurrection, the power of God’s Spirit to animate the forgiven into agents of His Kingdom.

The river of our King belongs to kids of His kingdom. As we take our places in His temple, living humble before the Crucified and radiant in His rising, so do these waters rise. Lost children become royalty, slaves become sons and daughters of the King. As we the Church are transformed, how can we not arise and welcome aliens so that they can become full citizens in His house, through the royal flood?

Today we live in an apostate culture in regards to gender and sexuality. Millions are being deformed by a host of enslaving ‘liberties’, dehumanizing identities and acts that are fanned by porn and media adulation. Yet a discontent burns in the hearts of many, born of both a fear of the Holy God and longing for the mercy that makes all things new. These are ‘the multitudes in the valley of decision’ (Joel 3:14). As the darkness in the land increases, so does the battle for their souls.

We are the people of the royal flood, endowed with Kingdom authority to release that river from the temple so as to reunite slaves with the King. He longs to be the Source of their freedom by granting them a place in His household. Idols are fickle masters; they ignite the weak only to incinerate them. In contrast the King composes His kids and restores their original dignity. How mighty is our King’s mercy for lost and broken ones!

How generous is He to grant us a share in His Kingdom. Will we bear His heart for lost children? Will we take our places in His house and be among those through whom ‘the river flows so that everything will live’ (Ez. 47:9)? We have immersed ourselves in the royal flood that has become our freedom. Now is the time to impart the waters to others. Let us raise the water levels in focused, daily efforts to create a Church awash in Almighty Mercy. May the royal flood overflow and become life for the world.

‘Whoever believes in Me, streams of living water will flow from within him.’
(JN 7:38)

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no minor miracle

No Minor Miracles

‘Everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; to him who knocks, the door will be opened…if you who are evil give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!’ (Matt. 7)

May I encourage you in the last few days of our prayer fast to press into the God who hears, sees, and acts on behalf of His persistent ones? Focused prayer opens our hearts to the needs of others; we invite God to consider those needs and He invites us to trust just how He intends to meet them. In blessed moments, we behold His sovereign care of those we love most.

I am tempted to dismiss the following as coincidence or luck. I rebuke myself. Perhaps these are glimpses of how God rouses and protects His beloved ones in response to our prayers. Consider:

As Annette and I prayed for Sam and Chelsea on the eve of their wedding, Sam was hydroplaning on a wet freeway due to his poorly weighted truck. He was en route to get his wedding license. Unharmed but shaken, he called us just after we had prayed for him. He then proceeded to the bureau in peace.

During a windy day last week, Ann Armstrong prayed with the staff for protection upon our homes. I thought her request unwarranted: ‘The winds aren’t that bad…’ Around the time she prayed, a strange gust blew inside our house and flipped a large glass-paned print off our mantle and onto a lit candle on the hearth beneath it. The pane should have shattered and knocked the candle onto the carpet. Instead, the top of the frame fell smoothly into the thick soft wax, putting out the flame and breaking the fall of the 4’ by 2’ picture. Annette heard the thud from the other room and was incredulous at the lack of damage.

We have been praying for and reaching out to a mother and son whose father abandoned them. They have experienced much fallout from this, including serious illness and spiritual disillusionment. In these 40 days, we have stepped up our prayers and outreach to the mother. She is beginning to trust Jesus again and is experiencing a kind of well-being that has eluded her for years.

3 years ago, I met a ‘gay-identified’ man and the Spirit directed me to fight for his salvation. He stopped going to that gym a year ago but I kept praying for him, especially in these 40 days. When I ran into him in a store the other day, it was as natural as the weather to resume the conversation with him. He admitted some hard knocks, and I, endowed with the Spirit’s power, urged him to build his house on Jesus, imploring him that any other foundation will crumble.

I believe that my friend took my words to heart. Perhaps prayer helped break the ground of his heart and prepared me to plant seed there. Jesus loves this man and wants Him to know the Father’s love. The Holy Spirit gives us the privilege of partnering with Him as He acts through, and on behalf of, His praying Church. We become a prayer, provoked by God’s passion that none perish without Jesus.

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Glory Stories: How to Tell Yours and Make Jesus Known

Nothing conveys God’s love better than telling our stories of God’s unfailing love. Our surrender to His on the Cross has become for us the threshold for a new creation; He broke our low ceiling and opened for us an eternal horizon. Yes, we had other options: gay selves and relationships, even ‘gay marriages’ and becoming another gender. His love summoned our surrender.

As we enter into the last few days of our 40-days of prayer, we realize we can become an answer to our prayers. We can make Him known by making known how He is actually setting us free.

Rocky Delgado and I had the privilege of sharing our stories for a large gathering of Catholic priests. As you may recall, Rocky’s same-sex attraction devolved into him identifying as a woman, winning drag shows and nearly expiring in that culture of death. Christians stood in the gap for him; they prayed and fasted and included him in their community until he was ready to surrender to Jesus. At 20-years-old, he began the long road home that continues today. Rocky is not a Catholic. But as he shared, waves of mercy rolled out upon that sea of beloved black-robed men in a way that they perhaps had never experienced. A well-told testimony of mercy can be more effective than a scholarly catechism.

How do we best tell our stories? After 35 years of giving mine and training the ‘Rockys’ of this world, I offer you 10 points.

1. Use the Cross as your structure; ensure your story lines up with Jesus’. The irresistible love of the Father, surrender to the Cross (many variations here), then the new life that arose and is arising. If you are avoiding the Cross in your brokenness, please do not testify. We want to know Him more, not be confused by your artful dodging.
2. Tell your story only if the gains are time-tested. We are all vulnerable to relapse. Bear witness of self-control only if you have some. Otherwise, the enemy will successfully knock you off your public platform.
3. If you share about other persons, especially family members, make sure they know what you are saying about them. They may not agree on your take of history. But talking it out will soften any tendency to vilify others. You lose people when you speak in melodramatic ways of family members.
4. Balance the gory with the glory. Be clear about the brokenness in your life but do not amp it up. What is evil will speak for itself. Give the corollary of how Jesus is turning around foul things with His just, merciful love.
5. Be specific and share experiences that convey the essence of your pain and your healing. People remember well-told memories more than psychobabble and Christian lingo. This is an art. You will get better at it.
6. Describe a restoration that includes a variety of interventions. No one thing set you free. Consider the host of encounters and disciplines that helped you. Yes we know Jesus is healer. How did He heal you? Be specific.
7. Tell us the benefits of healing. What are you now free for? In other words, make a case for why I should go the way of the Cross with my brokenness.
8. Describe a process that continues to this day. You are never done becoming a good gift. You are saved and getting saved, chaste and becoming chaste.
9. Anchor your hope in Jesus with His body. Of course we all have experiences of the church’s failure. But you would not have hope today if not for some Christians. They are the healing church for you. Unite Head and Body.
10. Tailor your story to context. Trim it according to time constraints. Be led by the Spirit to share snippets to someone in need NOW. You are good news.

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