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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

River Run

As I prepared to run the inaugural half-marathon in Kansas City for 2018, I reflected on the river of mercy Jesus released for us in Lithuania.

We drove half the night from Latvia to Vilnius, Lithuania’s biggest city and source of the Divine Mercy devotion initiated by an uneducated nun in the 1930’s. God gave St. Faustina a vision of His mercy for the whole world, a world on the brink of WWII which would prove especially devastating to Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and the surrounding nations that fell under Soviet rule.

From their depths, inspired by this vision of Risen Jesus with a healing flood flowing from His heart, Eastern Europeans Christians were the first to cry out: ‘O blood and water which gush forth from the heart of the Savior as a fountain of mercy for us, I trust in You!’ (line from Divine Mercy prayer)

And so did Abbey and me as we awoke in Vilnius for the first of three days of equipping the saints there who lead Living Waters group in Lithuania. From my room I could view the Neris River flowing and I prayed that our efforts there would be like a river of mercy for these saints who, having suffered losses I cannot imagine, now entrust themselves wholly to Jesus.

Another marvel—that morning was Divine Mercy Sunday, the day set apart once a year by the Catholic Church to reflect upon and pray for God’s mercy to well up and envelope the whole world. One billion Christians cast themselves on God’s mercy that day: is it any wonder that the mercy levels rise in the Church like Ezekiel’s vision (EZ 47) of the river rising from the temple altar: first ankle deep, then waist high, then a current so high one must swim in the healing stream that makes everything live (v. 9)?

As we entered our meeting room, I viewed the Cross and the Divine Mercy picture and heard the chorus of worship songs featuring the merciful flood gushing from Christ Crucified and Raised: this is Living Waters! Abbey and I did little but expound upon the basic foundations of our healing groups; we then invited all who thirst in the Spirit of IS 55 to immerse themselves in the flood, to linger there and to receive deep drafts of the Father’s love. We invited everyone who knew that their disordered feelings were sourced in love’s frustration: bonds blocked by Soviet oppression and addiction and abuse that curdled normal longings for affection. God moved deeply; in His great mercy, He loved each one simply, deeply, specifically.

He kept raining His mercy upon us; the river rose higher that afternoon. As we worshipped and gathered before the Cross, Jesus freed us to name how we reject ourselves for having particular kinds of struggle. Shame is a relentless robber that tempts us to refuse the mercy that could be ours. We name sins and receive forgiveness but then fail to extend that mercy to our clean yet weakened selves. We all went deeper in the truth that God loves us profoundly in our still-being-healed state and wants us to welcome His river where we are most inclined to turn away in shame.

The evening was simpler still. How can we not refuse the temptation to despair when the waters are rising? Heaviness rests naturally upon many post-Soviet citizens but when Jesus soaks us in His Father’s love, displacing that spirit of alienation and self-hatred, we cannot help but well up like a fountain of mercy for others! Standing in the river, it was easy to break the power of death and disqualification and to arm ourselves in the weapons of hope: peace, love, joy and the holy purposes our Father entrusts to us as members of His healing army.

Back home, I mused upon that Divine Mercy Sunday in Vilnius and welled up with gratitude for my Lithuanian family, and their legacy of mercy that flows throughout the world. I forgot to fear the rough raced ahead and honestly, ran better than I had in two years. I felt myself to be caught up in the current of something greater than myself, and like Elijah ran furiously til the race’s end.

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Messy, Joyful Easter

I woke from a fitful sleep, jet-lagged and already critical of the things that awaited me at morning Mass. I countered with a prayer for humility and tolerance of things I dislike like dour congregants and uninspiring music. After all, it is Easter! Jesus is walking through walls and telling folks to get their hands off Him then insisting that they lay hands on Him—all kinds of messy, unpredictable stuff.

I cringed slightly as I eyed the cantor for the morn; golden in her intentions, her voice hurts me. As she geared up for the processional hymn, she appeared shaken like a diver peering into the pool below and realizing it may not be deep enough. But she soldiered on and was soon joined by the booming off-key voice of a visiting pastor whose joy in serving us that morning overtook all else.

His sheer exuberance invited us all in to celebrate: Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. Like my critical spirit. Listening to cantor and pastor make a joyful noise at once delighted and convicted me. God is so much bigger than my snide critique. He wants to blow open our defenses, walk through our walls, and rouse us to cooperate with Him in dissolving others’ defenses against the Holy One.

The pastor grinned from ear-to-ear as he showered us with the waters of cleansing (a cool Catholic thing for the several Sundays of Easter); I obviously needed to renew my baptismal vows that Sunday! And I found that if I sang along with the cantor during the offertory I could not afford to be critical of her. The pastor sermonized powerfully on how community is essentially for grasping the hope of new life—we behold the glorified One together. I was proud to be there.

I left Church joyful, expectant. I wanted to give new life away. Later on I ran into a guy whom I had met a few years back. At that time he announced to me rather arrogantly that he was a ‘gay Christian’ with a new boyfriend. Things had gone badly for him: I could tell from his few words and demeanor that he was suffering. Though he did not recognize me at first, I did him and I told him specific things I had not ceased praying for him in the last five years. He was speechless and teary-eyed.

Messy, joyful Jesus is on the move. Walk through walls with Him. It is Easter and that changes everything.

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Outlawing Gender Integration in California

‘We give you strict orders not to teach in His name.’ Peter and John replied: ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard…We must obey only God and not men!’ (Acts 4:18-20; 5:29)

Wake up people. The bill best designed to outlaw Christian efforts to help persons resolve gender identity problems is racing through the California legislature as you read this. AB 2943 prohibits all conferences, teachings, or publications (where money is exchanged for the resource) aimed at helping people to overcome same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. This impacts every pastor, counselor, friend, or family member in California.

Most chillingly, it slams the door on citizens whose conscience guides them to make peace with their bodies as designed by God. The California legislature wants to deny them that choice. Today the Assembly will decide if the state has the right to insist that the only option for Californians with gender identity problems is to transition into the ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ self. Though these are standard values in much of the clinical community, California is seeking to make them the only values. This is an affront to moral liberty.

It sounds preposterous, I know. When I first heard of this bill, I assumed it implausible, dead on arrival. Instead, AB 2943 raced through the first two committees in spite of valiant testimonies by friends Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Jr., Anne Paulk of Restored Hope Network, and Bethel Redding’s Elizabeth Woning and Ken Williams. These last three witnessed persuasively to the power of Jesus and His community to restore true identity but were stonewalled by representatives who only asked sympathetic questions of those claiming abuse at the hands of bad helpers, valid issues for clinical ethics but irrelevant to the rights of persons to choose the kind of help (s)he desires!

According to Ken Williams, ‘the freight train is here, barring persons from the right to help and to heal gender identity problems. This is the first day I have felt discriminated against, robbed of my freedom to hold to my convictions. The government is now seeking to mandate what I do with my sexuality.’

Every person deserves the freedom to exercise moral authority over his or her body and desires. I may boldly disagree with Ellen Degeneres’ and Rupaul’s identity choices (just as they do mine!) but I grant them freedom to make them. We as Americans share constitutional freedoms of worship and speech. According to the Supreme Court, ‘the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought we hate.’

Church, wake up. AB 2943 roused Bethel Redding to mobilize their people to engage gently and well with political representatives. Might I ask all Christians in California–Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals—to invite their fellows to persuade elected officials to vote against this bill? (See californiafamily.org) If this bill passes, the state officially denies Jesus’ will for our sexual humanity and His power to redeem it.

Today, Monday the 16th, at 9am, the lower house of the CA legislature will vote on AB 2943; if passed, it will go to the senate then to the governor. Pray for a miracle of God’s justice. Or that such a preposterous bill, if passed, will be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court.

Pray that a renewed Church will unite and arise in California as a result of this enslaving legislation. Nothing short of our freedom of speech and worship– our right to decide the man or woman we will become–are at stake. If we lose, may we become holy outlaws who obey God, not man, with words and deeds of fire.

‘Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus’ (Acts 4:29, 30).

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Reality, Healing

The Archbishop of Latvia rallied the major Christian leaders in his nation—Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Roman Catholic—to stand together for God’s image in humanity and to refuse an effort of the European Union to legislate ‘gender ideology’ throughout the continent.

Christian efforts appeared to be doomed. But united as one bloc, Christ’s body prevailed and the legislation was defeated. Little Latvia slayed Goliath.

To do so, all the Church had to do was to assert her truth: there is no such thing as ‘gay marriage’–the marital union intrinsically involves becoming one-flesh, a physical and spiritual impossibility in same gender couples. Nor does ‘transgender’ actually exist, as it is a physical and spiritual impossibility for one to change his or her biological gender. Finally, the Church cannot mistake the need to defend the dignity of women for defending the ‘gender spectrum’—fifty ‘gender selves’ that are multiplying like fissures upon the cracked image of God in humanity. Rather, the Church upholds two natures—male and female; she advocates for the dignity of both genders while inviting people into reality.

The good Archbishop, a good friend and advocate of Living Waters in Latvia, is committed to the language and pastoral practice of helping people find reality. We cannot concede to unreality, whether in speech or political advocacy. Only the foundations of reality help wounded persons to find healing. We uphold reality in order to help persons heal.

On the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, we are committed to becoming living witnesses of reality—who we actually are and how Jesus helps us to realize those selves through His healing community. And this is what we did in our most recent trip to the Baltic nations—Latvia and Lithuania in particular—where we are partnering with the likes of the good Archbishop who is committed to the Church becoming a fountain of mercy for persons withering in the unreality of the ‘gender spectrum.’

I marveled at one gathering in which we instructed and prayed for eight teams from throughout Latvia who are committed to welcoming persons from a spectrum of identity brokenness, real persons who need merciful members of Christ to help them heal, to become who He made them to be. Reality. Healing.

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Easter: Snow and Burn

The glorious 50-day season of Easter kicked off in Kansas City with a freak snowstorm (we managed to pull off some not indecent bbq anyhow…) Regardless of the weather, whatever the dismal mindset, God calls us to burn bright for Him. He enables us to do so.

I urge you to pray right now from some good friends who are burning bright today in Sacramento CA. Using their own stories of how Jesus and His healing community helped them to overcome the domination of same-sex attraction, Anne Paulk of Restored Hope Network, and Elizabeth Woning and Ken Davis of Bethel Church Redding (among others) are shining to ensure that AB 2943 dissolves like snow before the sun when it comes up for vote next Monday in the CA legislature.

This insane bill turns goodness on its ear by outlawing any helper (church-based and otherwise) who offers counsel or materials for cost to persons seeking freedom from gender disintegration. That means Living Waters groups would be banned from their state of origin.

Think about it. Today, California leads the nation in celebrating gender disintegration and in seeking to outlaw any remedy for what is an unhappy condition at best. Further, California vilifies anyone who seeks to be at peace with his or her biological gender. In a recent segment of the popular CW teen series ‘Riverdale’, a young girl with confusing sexual feelings (every teen) is subject to a ‘conversion therapy’ madhouse led by a sinister nun who greets her with a syringe and a ghastly smile. The point is clear: seeking to understand and resolve identity conflicts is demonic. Welcoming the demons is cool.

So we urge kids to welcome their demons. Tim Cook, the ‘gay’ CEO of Apple who came out proudly in 2014 (‘I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me’) just veered off the course set by predecessor Steve Jobs; the latter detested porn use on the iPhone but Cook just chided an interviewer by claiming ‘I’m not making fun’ of anyone who employs the iPhone browser in that way. Another ‘gay’ cultural hero, Olympic skier Gus Kenworthy, recently expressed the moral difference between gay and straight couples: gays favor open relationships in which commitment does not involve sexual fidelity. Ugh.

With California leading the way, we have moved beyond granting everyone the ‘freedom’ to do whatever he or she wants, sexually-speaking; we now want to legislate out of existence opportunities for persons to overcome addictions and infidelities that stem from gender disintegration.

Please right now say a prayer for Anne and Elizabeth and Ken. Pray for clear and sane and gentle voices to be heard today in Sacramento on behalf of every person on whom God’s favor rests to become chaste. The right to worship and to heal in accord with the God of Jacob and Jesus should be encouraged, not vilified or outlawed. And pray hard that next Monday April 9th AB 2943 will dissolve as fast as a freak snow storm on Easter.

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