What woke us up? Was it Covergirl magazine featuring its first ‘coverboy,’ a dude whose extreme makeup blurs any gender distinctions? Was it ‘Modern Family’ featuring its ‘gay’ married couple advocating for a ‘transgender’ 8-year-old child (talk about the blind leading the blind off a cliff)? Was it the two nuns who broke their vows to Jesus in order to ‘wed’ each other under Italy’s new ‘gay’ civil marriage law, invoking papal ‘mercy’ (‘who am I to judge?’) and intent on doing all they can to convert the Church to their new version of ‘love’?
Maybe it was the ‘coming out’ of our own family members and the muddy ‘mercy’ a worldly pastor offered in response. Or maybe it was our own wandering into enslaving liberties, a world that celebrated our rebellion while consuming our human dignity, one orgasm at a time.
A shameless culture woke us up to our shame, and the glorious light of Life shining on Christ Crucified. Somehow we remembered that He suffered for more than just high-fiving the fracturing of His own image in a host of gender identities. We knew deeper than our doubts that His resurrection cancels out the hell we have made of our humanity and restores broken willing humans to their original stature and integrity.
We glimpsed the reality of a Church being converted yesterday at an ‘Open to Life’ gathering we sponsored for pastors, priests, and therapists. We came in humble authority, declaring the power of Jesus through His body to restore a host of gender-related disorders and to set us free from all the sins we conceived in unyielded brokenness.
We entered in through the Cross; in the light of Love, we examined the fault lines on which the gender-bending craze is built. And we celebrated lives rescued from distortion and despair through members united with their Head—pastors, counselors, devout laity. We rejoiced in the dignity He fights for in the battle over our identities. And we stood together, regardless of the flavor of our faith. We joined ranks, more committed than ever to be the Church that is ready to aid in the rescue of many, ex-slaves like ourselves who too will be washed and ready for Him.
Jesus’ broken body loosed a river of healing, not only for our personal wounds, but also for the massive divides we face as His body, the Church. These divides are many and complicated. Yet how mighty is the flood of blood, water, and Spirit upon broken ones who seek to ‘be brought to complete unity’ (JN 17: 23)!
I share a bit in the wound between Catholics and Protestants. It smarts when I hear either party speak smugly about the error of the other. When I do, I cling to the Crucified and allow a fresh draft of mercy to keep the wound clean. More and more, that burn and that mercy seem to define our Living Waters ministry.
On the eve of our 40-day fast for the Church, I had the privilege of visiting Santiago Chile where Ruth Olave and team have dug a deep well of ‘living water’ in the Vineyard Church there. I originally helped envision them to do Living Waters a decade earlier as a fellow evangelical. Last week I returned as a Catholic.
It is difficult for North Americans to understand the historic wound between Catholics and Protestants in South America. While Catholics continue to be a minority in the diverse religious culture of the USA, Catholics ruled both church and state in the south; in spite of independence from Spanish domain a century ago, the RCC still predominates and has often discriminated against evangelicals. Combine that with ‘born again’ former Catholics who eschew their history as false and serious Catholics who view these ‘sectarian zealots’ as false. Wounded!
In light of our love for each other, the evangelical team of Living Waters leaders in Santiago had concerns about our new ‘whole church’ approach to the program. I entered into our time together not knowing how to answer all their questions, which came fast and hard during meetings in which many leaders expressed concern about Catholic influence, wanting to work with Catholics, etc.
All I could do was hide myself in the wounds of Jesus. That’s where the water is! I can never fully know another’s suffering due to religious conflict but I can feel my own pain and take refuge in His merciful side. Answers flowed from love, however halting and imperfect. By the end of our time, we agreed to walk together in love for any broken person seeking mercy. On Christ, the one foundation (1Cor. 3:11), we will build together. Living Waters alone—His very mercy–makes a way.
After we shared our desire to do Living Waters in our home church, one of the new pastors exclaimed: ‘It sounds like you love the Church and believe that Jesus can change lives there…’ Exactly. He caught our vision.
Soon after, our Living Waters team gathered with twenty men and women seeking Jesus amid sexual wounds and divides; due to scheduling issues, we gathered in the sanctuary of our beautiful church. Before the Crucified, we bowed down and sang and testified and exchanged shame for great drafts of mercy that seemed to pour from His wounded side. We shall gather faithfully there for weeks. We are thirsty.
You could say we are doing our part to raise the water levels in the temple, in the Spirit of Ez. 47—first ankle deep then to the knees, rising to the waist then over our heads, swimming in the healing flood. We give all to the One who gave all for us and we soak in unfailing love, making a way for wounded ones to discover it too. Right there in God’s house.
That’s what this ‘Radiant’ 40-day-fast is all about. We want to give up minor distractions in order to major on God’s desire for His people to love what He loves, His Church, and to cry out for Him ‘to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word in order to present her to Himself as a radiant Bride’ (Eph. 5: 25-27).
In doing so, we shall pray together every day starting this Wednesday October 12th. Download this PDF and join us by reflecting on the daily devotional and praying the small prayer at the end of each one. Then focus on the first prayer at the beginning of the prayer guide and pray this daily, imploring God to bless and build up the particular church and set of pastors of your choice, to give you mercy to extend to church ‘wounders’, and finally, to commit to prayer whatever you would like to do to build up the Bride.
It all begins in prayer. Join us for forty days of loving the Church.
Click here to download the ‘Radiant’ 40-day-fast prayer guide PDF.
I ran along the river in old town Kaunas, Lithuania. As I considered the convergence of streams most dear to me, my heart overflowed and I ran with abandon. Surging in me were ‘currents’ of St. John Paul ll and St. Faustina, a European team of wounded healers who heal me, an American team par excellence, and a host of new friends from Poland who gathered to initiate Living Waters there.
Heaven on earth until my foot caught a crack in the path and I dove like a senseless animal into the then not-so-charming cobblestones. ‘Watch your step,’ intoned a still small voice.
I picked myself up, bleeding just a little, and took heed. We faced giants at our first Living Waters Training in Eastern Europe. Poland takes seriously its Catholicism—the authority of the Church, and that means defending the role of ordained priests in absolving sins. Living Waters takes seriously the role of the community in bearing one another’s sins so we can be healed. The priests and parishioners who gathered with us had serious questions about our approach; many also had serious divides in their souls that could only be healed by a band of fellow sinners who fought in merciful humility for their chastity.
I battled confusion and suspicion then rose to testify of both the priestly pillars of forgiveness (on which I depend) and the continuous links of being known daily with my fellow ‘lay priests’ on whom I rely to overcome sin. Jesus forged a way for all concerned to say ‘yes’ to Living Waters for the Polish church; most importantly, sinners were set free by the experience of both priestly absolution and the healing power of the ‘one another.’
I bounded out of our retreat center and somehow avoided stabbing my foot on a rusty spike protruding on the path. ‘I know, I know,’ I whispered heavenward: ‘Watch my step.’
The next fight was harder. In preparatory prayer, we discerned that we had to emphasize one plank of Living Waters—breaking the spirit of despair–in these lands trampled by the bloody boots of Russia and Germany then choked by Soviet rule. Our friends had grown up in the shadow of violent inhumanity. Christ Crucified is easy for Eastern Europeans; they must fight to live expectantly in the light of Love, risen and bursting with life.
The Word came in power and delivered many from the spirit of death. Then despair rolled over the team like a fog. We struggled under a stifling heaviness for a few hours. Then we gathered and confessed our affliction to one another; Jesus broke through with hope and joy. Relieved, I ran back to my room and fell promptly into a pothole. I received only a gentle ‘dusting’, no harm whatsoever, as if an unseen being padded my accident. I laughed, brushed myself off, and pledged once more to watch my step.
‘He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.’
(PS 91: 11-13)
Marriage is messy business. So much so that Jesus allowed Himself to get messed up for us. He shed blood to reveal our starting point as spouses: ‘O God, the love I desire to give, I do not!’ Or more accurately, I cannot. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Annette and I just finished leading a round of Beauty and the Breach, an 8-week course in which we invite frustrated couples to discover the Cross together through merciful exchanges of blessing, sin, and need. Each couple bore distinct wounds but faced a common block in offering themselves freely to the other. We placed a big Cross in the middle of our gathering as a reminder that Jesus’ covenant with us—His commitment to the marriage–supersedes our own; we stirred up the faith that somehow His blood could bore through the debris obscuring our true selves from the other. His Cross also reminded us that when it came to expressing hard stuff to the other, or hearing hard stuff, we could pick up our little crosses and endure shame and pain for the joy set before us.
Some of the couples could point to big historic sins as contributors to the current breach. A few had thought ‘marriage’ might cure sexual addiction or same-sex attraction or deep-seated fears; in truth, they realized that a good marriage exposes before it absolves. In a previous group, one woman expressed how her husband’s confession of a litany of sexual sins may have been in his words ‘a resurrection’ but for her, it was the beginning of a slow, long crucifixion. She had to die to what she thought her life would be. A source of security had become a threat; her closest walking partner, a dangerous sinner. How to love? ‘Lord, have mercy on me, sinner…’
I am not being romantic here. All sin is not created equal and certain betrayals require solid boundaries in order to protect the betrayed and provoke genuine repentance on the part of the obvious sinner. But it also invites the offended party to reckon with his or her limited love—the way (s)he loves according to contract, because the other keeps his or her end of the marital deal and thus justifies one’s love. When that contract is broken, one feels justified in breaking vows. But we marry based on covenant, the truth that we invoked the ONE who shed blood to grant us the mercy needed to extend mercy, especially to the sinner we’re sleeping with.
During our last night at Beauty and the Breach, the Spirit directed me to Luke 18: 9-14 where Jesus gives wise counsel to any ‘confident of their own righteousness’ (v.9), namely the Pharisee who thanked God for not making him an adulterer. Next to him at church was such an adulterer who simply cried out for mercy. God saved only the latter (v. 14). My prayer? That the Cross reveal to all spouses our inability to love the other as we should. May mercy come quickly to meet former Pharisees and former prostitutes who marry; may the bloody God be glorified on such broken, level and ultimately beautiful ground.