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Pierced for the Bride: 40-Days of Prayer

Zechariah prophecies that God will pour out a ‘spirit of grace and supplication’ in order that we ‘might gaze upon the One we have pierced’ (Zech. 12:10). Likewise, we at Desert Stream Ministries are positioning ourselves before Christ Crucified for 40-days of prayer, from October 15th to November 23rd. Our purpose is to welcome Him afresh into our depths, that we might more nearly grasp His heart for the one He loves most, the Church, His bride. Will you prayerfully consider joining us?

As we allow His passion to provoke us, we will ask Him to penetrate our hearts with His burning heart for the saving and healing of many lives. As a result of God’s piercing, Zechariah foresees a fountain of life that will be released in God’s house for the cleansing of our sins, impurities, and idols. (Zech. 13:1, 2)

We will enter into those waters ourselves and cry out for persons bound by sexual and relational confusion. Our desire is to pray effectually for ministry to deepen and new doors to open in the Church for many who are waiting to be saved from their sin, and reconciled to God’s beautiful purposes for their sexual humanity.

Many today are crying out to the unknown God. We want to cry out for them, asking Jesus to rouse His Church to make known His tender, transforming power to them. We want to see the beauty of His image—man and woman honoring and dignifying one another with their whole selves—become a reality wherever we honor Jesus as Lord.

We will provide a daily devotion and several daily petitions for ministries around the world who provide healing for the sexually broken in the Church. For each of the 40-days, the Desert Stream staff will pray at 3pm cst for these themes and needs. In order to sync our efforts a little more with the rhythm of church life, our Sunday devotional reflection will be from that day’s Catholic Gospel reading. Also, our 40-days end on Christ the King Sunday, which is the last day of the Catholic Church year. We shall be ready for the next day, which is the first of Advent.

Please consider joining us in some form. We will fill you in on more in the weeks to come.

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The Difference of Marriage

The two women looked and dressed alike: pleasant, middle-aged, graying hair cut simply, for the sake of ease. I discovered that they had just ‘married’ in Iowa. My first thought: how hard is it ‘to marry’ someone who mirrors yourself—the needs, hurts, and fears of your own gender and life experience? Not very: in order to be authentic, intimacy requires ‘otherness.’ The gift of one cannot be a whole gift to another if the receiver already possesses the offering.

Maybe that explains the frustration I ultimately felt in trying to make a guy a whole sexual partner. I tried. Admittedly, high-octane sensuality was compelling but at the end of the day, we were still looking at the horizon from the same masculine lens. He was a good friend. But we lied to ourselves in pretending that we had become ‘one.’

You could say our fusion was forced. To be sure, sharing the same wounds was helpful but ultimately boring. We could not conceive new life! That requires becoming one-flesh. And one-flesh requires the awesome and awful challenge of someone who shares my humanity but not my gender.

I say awesome because our bodies are designed for this other, even if our heterosexual desires are frustrated or exaggerated. What’s awful is that our grid has been so skewed by a host of injustices, many of which morph into expressions of false justice (‘marriage equality,’ anyone?) that we can no longer imagine that we were all made to long for this ‘other.’ Even many who love Jesus are convinced that their same-gender attractions are chronic, defining, and preclude the possibility for being reconciled to the sexual gift (s)he is to the opposite gender.

We oppose our own becoming. In the words of St. Catherine of Siena, Jesus creates us without our help but He can only save us with our help.

Jesus helps me become the man I am through my amazing wife. I saw this clearly and felt it deeply last month. Annette and I spent August together apart from ministry and other people. Except for the orbiting of our four adult children (who all live gratefully within ‘landing’ range) we did life together, unobstructed. At first this was hard for me. After an exhilarating year of ministry, I struggled to let down and enter into the quiet and deep place of hearing her, knowing her again, not in the everyday demands but in her hurts, fears, dreams, and observations that require attentiveness in order to become gifts. I sought awkwardly at first to grant her that space. Then it came gracefully, eagerly. No-one welcomes me like she does. And no-one provokes me more. We are one only because she is wholly other than me.

God has built into marriage the challenge of gender difference for the sake of teaching us the art of self-giving. Let’s be clear: friendship is friendship, one-flesh is one flesh. ‘Otherness’ is the goal of sexual self-giving, and only one expression of that ‘otherness’–the lifetime commitment between a man and woman—deserves to be called marriage.

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Judge Not (Part 4) Necessary Judgements

How lovely to see others through the eyes of mercy. And painful. At times it is necessary to see with those eyes the damage we do to one another when the faithful act unfaithfully through sexual sin. St. Paul gives us a powerful complement to Jesus’ command to ‘not judge’ when the Apostle implores us as church men and women to exercise wise judgments in regards to our fellows who have fallen into grievous sins. Why? St. Paul understood that unchecked sexual immorality had power in the believing community to impact the purity and holiness of others.

Paul’s Greco-Roman world differed significantly from the Hebrew community of Jesus in regards to sexuality and spirituality. The Apostle advanced the Gospel among citizens who worshipped many gods and goddesses and whose sexual practices reflected that diversity. Whereas Jesus liberated the poor from the legalistic shame of the Pharisee, St. Paul contended with the near shamelessness of new converts emerging out of an idolatrous, highly sensual world.

In I C 5, St. Paul describes a man in the Corinthian Church who was committing incest with his father’s wife. And the Church was proud of it! (1C 5:2) The severe nature of the sexual immorality at hand coupled with an arrogant tolerance of the sin inspired St. Paul to exhort the members of Christ’s body at Corinth: ‘What business is it of mine to judge those outside of the church? Are you not to judge those inside? Expel the wicked brother from among you.’(12, 13)

In other words, we must discern when the integrity of the Church is being violated. That matters to Jesus and it should matter to us: we must each do our part when members are violating each other.

St. Paul clearly is ‘passing judgment’ on this Corinthian man, and he does so without reservation. His reasons are clear: tolerating sexual immorality among believers has an especially pernicious impact on the whole: ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.’ (v. 6) Such tolerance undermines the moral standards of the community overall.

Commenting on Paul’s judgment and discipline of this man, Pauline scholar Dr. Robert Gagnon writes: ‘If the Church refuses to take a firm stand against an obvious and severe violation of sexual immorality then its resistance to other types of sexual immorality will be weakened beyond repair.’

Unlike Jewish disciples who were subject to myriad regulations concerning sexual purity, the Corinthians boasted of their sexual liberties as a sign of their progressive, grace-filled faith. St. Paul reminded them in Chapters 6 and 7 of the power of the human body to bind them to intimate communion with God or to other gods and goddesses. He is simply applying Jesus’ mandate: serial, unrepentant immoral behavior puts one at risk from inheriting the Kingdom of God. (Matt. 5: 27-30: Jesus implores us to destroy what stumbles us so we can avoid hell!)

St. John the Apostle invokes the same principle in regards to ‘tolerating’ the prophetess Jezebel whose teaching ‘led the servants of God into sexual immorality’ at the church in Thyatira. The Apostle prophesies intense suffering for all in the church who fail to repent (Rev. 2: 20-23). Strong language: both St. John and St. Paul bring judgment, a sword intended to separate the holy from the defiled in order to preserve the integrity of the whole.

That integrity includes the invitation for the defiled to repent unto the mercy of God. In truth, mercy motivates both John and Paul in their judgments. St. John invites the Thyatirans to turn away from their deception and so avoid suffering; St. Paul implores the Corinthians to turn the immoral man out of the fellowship so that his sin might be destroyed, his soul saved (1 C 4:5). The purging of impurity from the fellowship is married to the hope of restoration for the fallen.

The excesses at Corinth and Thyatira demanded decisive, divisive judgment in order to preserve the dignity of the faithful.

What matters to Jesus, to St. Paul and St. John and I think Pope Francis is that we do not over-emphasize the threat of others’ sexual immorality. We run the risk of magnifying ‘specks’ and missing our own planks.

Two keys here: although we can and must judge certain acts as being a grave, we must entrust ultimate judgment of persons to the justice and mercy of God.’ (CCC 186)

The basis for such moral discernment is our personal reckoning with moral vulnerabilities. Scripture and Church teaching command us over and over to make wise moral judgments about ourselves. The horizon Jesus has opened for us frees us to make wise moral judgments. And we must, if we want to engender life in our fellows, not confusion or lust or fear.

Solomon implores us to ‘preserve sound judgment and discernment; they will be life for you’, an antidote to not getting entrapped in sin. (PR 3: 21) ‘A man who commits adultery lacks judgment; whoever does so destroys himself,’ (PR 6:32) and I dare say, his marriage too. How blessed we are, when through God’s mercy we have removed the plank from our own eye and can help our brother remove the speck in his.

We want our churches to be safe and clean sanctuaries. But still earthy and honest enough to welcome dirty sheep so they can have a fighting chance to become clean! Perhaps this is among Pope Francis’ main points: Rather than a Church which clings to its own security, He wants a church that is bruised and hurting because it has been out on the streets…‘ If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is because so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the light, strength, and consolation born of friendship with Jesus, and without a community of faith to support them…’ (EG 49)

Might we be empowered by a renewed Gospel that has power to open the horizon of others and grant them a new vision and a new hope for their lives? These men and women surround us in our daily lives: persons with SSA who are blinded by both homosexual fatalism and the stigmatism of the Pharisee.

Might we trust the truth that has set us free, divine love that surpasses our weaknesses and compels us to build bridges rather than walls with others? Let us not be content with being a tidy truthful church but a messy fruitful one. Let’s manifest the mercy that has power to open for all a whole new horizon.

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Judge Not? (Part 3) The Merciful Kingdom

It is impossible to grasp Jesus’ most famous statements on ‘not judging’ (in LK 6:37-42 and Matt. 7:1-5) without understanding Almighty Mercy. Today we face the kingdom of homosexual fatalism and the kingdom of the Pharisees; in joyful opposition to both kingdoms, Jesus opens a horizon—a whole new world—for us.

Fittingly, He prefaces His reference in Luke to ‘not judging’ by referencing ‘mercy’. He said: ‘Our Father is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.’ (LK 6: 35b, 36) He proceeds: ‘Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (vs. 37, 38)

Matt.’s reference is similar: ‘Do not judge or you will be judged. In the same way you judge others, you will be judged. The measure you use will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, given the plank in yours? You hypocrite: Take the plank out of your own eye then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s.’ (Matt. 7: 1-5)

Jesus is speaking to His followers who had received mercy and yet who lived in a legalistic culture. He opened their horizon through a powerful love that exposed their deepest sins and forgave them. His very love established truth in their inmost parts, thus fulfilling the Law. He did not nullify the fact of sin—the moral law–but actually deepened its meaning then filled it with mercy. These listeners had received that mercy. In a merciless religious world, would they in turn extend that mercy and so demonstrate that they belonged to another Kingdom?

That is the essence of Jesus’ exhortation ‘to not judge.’ It is as if He is saying: ‘Consider how I have treated you. In light of the horizon I opened for you, will you let go of your judgments that close that horizon on another? In light of your felony for which I treated you mercifully, will you extend mercy to this person’s misdemeanor? Having been released from the prison of sin and judgment and shame, will you release others from their prisons?’

He highlights our authority as members of this new Kingdom. God will judge us according to the judgments we make of others. Our horizon will stay as open as our hearts are toward those we are tempted to judge. Do we view them as as intrinsically ‘gay’ or as sons and daughters of the Father, men and women of dignity created to live chaste and fruitful lives?

Jesus reminds us to first identify our own poisons, to spit them out, drink in mercy as our cure then extend that mercy freely to those we view as poisonous. To not do so puts us dangerously close to the Pharisees and homosexual fatalists who live small lives and reduce others to their size. Jesus came with a big Kingdom and invites us into it. He may first take us down to our depths but He does so to raise us up with mercy. He gives us a big eternal horizon so we can view others expansively, with generosity. He wants us to love others out of that largesse.

Here we must ask Jesus to see as He sees, not the mere outward appearance of a person but the heart of one whose misdirected quest for love may well be breaking ground for divine love–the cry and cure of every human being.

Pope Francis writes: ‘One cannot help but admire the resources Jesus used to dialogue with His people…I believe His secret lies in the way that He looked at people, seeing beyond their weakness and failings…We must make present to broken people the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and His personal gaze…Such tender attentiveness ‘heals, liberates, and encourages others to grow in Christ…’ (EG)

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Judge Not? (Part 2) Limiting Another’s Horizon

God is the only One qualified to determine the eternal fate of His creatures. The fact that we even aspire to His role as Judge reveals an ugly trait in us. It may not always express itself in condemning others to hell; it may well involve lesser expressions of judgment in which we bind others to a lesser image of themselves.

Our own hurtful experiences with loved ones prompt defenses and fears that tempt us to reduce them to our image. That is far removed from the image of his/her Creator; it is the defensive image of our own design. Wounded hearts pronounce final judgments as a way of self-protecting and of getting even. We the created can operate outside the Creator and close the horizon of another.

For example, Annette and I faced much hardship with a gay-identified friend. In frustration and hurt, it was easy to agree with our friend’s own self-sabotaging, self-hateful ways. Our feelings were at once understandable and diabolical. Jesus gave us the chance to repent and forgive him, so that we could become mirrors and providers of his own dignity. God is faithful to help us keep another’s horizon open even when (s)he wants it shut!

The same principle applies as well to what I describe as ‘homosexual fatalism.’ That involves a secular understanding of persons with SSA in which we make them an ‘ethnos’, a people group defined from birth as ‘gay’. That engenders a strange kind of ‘queer’ orthodoxy in which the vulnerable must become baptized and confirmed as forever ‘gay’ if in fact they are to be true to their deepest ‘selves.’ This new sexual orthodoxy is neither scientific nor particularly moral; it is in truth a worldly spirituality.

As a student on the UCLA campus, two groups vied for my attention: the evangelical one and the Gay Student Union. I found the latter particularly compelling, as it is easier to worship the creature whom you can see rather than the Creator whom you cannot. By grace alone, I found the ‘gay’ world to be ultimately a closed horizon, a form of fatalism.

Richard John Neuhaus writes: ‘Fatalism is resigning ourselves to the inevitable; faith is entrusting ourselves to the ONE who is worthy of our trust.’ I am eternally grateful for the gift and community of faith. There I discovered Jesus– my goal and my path—my ‘new horizon and decisive direction’!

Naming one another as gay and reinforcing that identification closes one’s horizon; it is anti-Gospel. St. James invokes the power of the Creator when he entreats his readers to not close that horizon with false declarations about each other. ‘Brothers, do not slander each other…There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?’ (J 4: 11, 12)

Some macho friends at the gym were ranking on an evidently gender-confused man. I could not take it: ‘You know guys, your judgments only add to the pain and confusion of that dude’s life.’ We must live out in all walks of life this profound truth of St. Paul’s: ‘From now on we see no-one from a worldly point-of-view’ (2C 5:16).

We can train ourselves to lay down the false judgments of our modern age and see and name our fellows according to a true anthropology based on the catechism. ‘Every man and woman should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity; that includes gender difference and complementarity…the harmony of society depends on how that complementarity is lived out.’ (CCC2333)

That’s why St. JPll could say decisively in TOB: ‘The dignity of future generations depends on who man will be for woman and who woman will be for man.’ We each have the high call to help confirm the clarity of another’s dignity as either male or female; future generations will thank us for doing so!

Judging others by naming him or her according to an image less than what God intends usurps the role of God Himself. That tendency took on a more familiar form in Jesus’ day through the Pharisees. These Jewish religious leaders spun hundreds of rules from the Mosaic law and wound up entangling others in their web of religious tradition.

Pharisees complement the worldly spirituality of homosexual fatalism. Pope Francis describes them as infected by a ‘spiritual worldliness’: a religiosity based on rigid orthodoxy, pride in that orthodoxy, yet without an inner transformation of heart. With no ‘cor’ (or heart) shift, these ones could impose rules but not inspire redemption. The Pharisees tended to be punctilious, hypocritical, and uncaring toward those they served. Jesus said it best when he described the Pharisees as having exchanged the commands of God for the traditions of men (MK 7:8).

Pharisaic religion in Jesus’ day reduced the horizon of who God was and how He saw His children. Into that mix, Jesus brought a new Kingdom in Word and wonders. He invited the poor into a mercy tender enough to touch their wounds and strong enough to heal those wounds from the hazards of bad religion.

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