A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

A Glutton For Nourishment, Part 2

‘Can you make the guests of the Bridegroom fast while He is with them? But the time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.’ (LK 5: 34, 35)

Those days have come–feasting gives way to fasting for 21st century disciples who long and wait for Jesus. That is the paradox of going without in order to invite Him in. Fasting can be a feast of His Presence. His Spirit broods over persons who lay aside normal fare in order to welcome the unseen reality of Jesus-with-us.

Gerald May says it like this: ‘To experience a little hunger now and then can be a beautiful reminder of the deeper hunger of our souls.’ That hunger is for intimacy. His love for us is deeper than a brother’s, a mother’s, or a spouse’s: no-one loves us the way He does, because no-one has ever suffered for us as HE did (paraphrasing Pascal.) In the words of St. Faustina: ‘If you don’t believe My words, believe My wounds.’

So we choose the weakness, the faintness, the disquieting effect of physical hunger in order to open ourselves to the One who loves us most. In this way, fasting necessitates that we unplug from normal activity a little. Without food, we cannot do what we normally do. We are inclined to recline back on His unseen chest, to listen for the whispers of Him who said that He abides, dwells and lives with persons who partake of Him, the Bread of Life. (JN 6:56)

That means that we must deliberately turn down the roar of our noisy lives and the calories that fuel us into the fray. Start slowly, forsaking a meal but choosing to spend that time with Him. Let fasting quiet, slow and ease you into His Presence; don’t let it drive you mad as you seek to do all things without food. We surrender food in order to sustain deeper intimacy.

‘Be still and know that I am God’ (PS 46:10). Perhaps our resistance to fasting can be attributed to the fact that we cannot be still. We are overly attached to screens and rings, other people’s stories and demands, so much so that spiritual attentiveness becomes painful. But not impossible. Unplug. Fast from food, Facebook, fantastic plotlines that displace the one you are living. Welcome Him.

Keep in mind that this is not St. Benedict writing. I am naturally addictive, more inclined to grasp at sensational things than to ponder spiritual mysteries. I just know that if I want to give people Jesus I need more than my ideals and a strong cup of coffee. I need to sink into the Source and give time and space for Him to be my main meal. That means fasting. I now look forward to slowing down in order to savor the One I love most. I am a glutton for such nourishment. May the Spirit grace you this Holy Week with stillness and hunger for Him.


A Glutton for Nourishment, Part 1

‘It is not the nature of things we use, but our reason for using them, that makes what we do either praiseworthy or blamable.’ St. Augustine

The greedy grasp after ‘things’; gluttons and sexual sinners (our last two ‘deadlies’) attach to pleasure. You could do worse. Jesus never raged at the unclean and overweight the way He did the religiously proud. Still, freedom from the Pharisee does not atone for sins of the flesh. Lent demands that we face with integrity our temptation to satisfy our desires our way.

Unlike sex, food is a necessity for everyone. We are weaned on it, fortified by it, and blessed by feasts at which we thrive in the joy of fellowship. Food can be a human pleasure, a delightful accompaniment Jesus shared many times with His disciples. In fact the Pharisees tagged Him a glutton. Food is praiseworthy–relished by God and a gift from God for our social and physical nourishment.

Food can also become an arm of our grasping, controlling selves. We become gluttons when we look for food to feed the deepest longings of our heart. Though food can enhance friendship, it cannot be our friend. The glutton romances food. One colleague confessed to extended fantasy over potential meals-to-come; another admitted to a fantasy parade of dancing BBQ meats that tempted her.

Both women are Christian, lonely, and share a history of early trauma and neglect. For as long as they can remember, food provided a kind of nurture, a reward that no human being offered as consistently. Food became the friend they could control, until it began to control them. Benign food became a brutal master.

Addicted to the rush of calories, they experienced consolation in overeating but suffered physically and socially from it. Gluttony thrives in the dark; my friends ate politely with others but binged alone, shamefully. Instead of drawing them into relationships, food barricaded them. Their oversized bodies reflected a kind of self-protection, an evident sign that another relationship was mastering them.

St. Paul said: “Everything is permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything’ (1Cor 6:12). The Christian mastered by food can confess that mastery and like all addicts admit his/her powerlessness. Then grace alone can begin to activate the will to gather with others and face the heart’s true desire for love and intimacy. Quite apart from which diet works, Jesus wants to be the premier love through which we gauge the health of all our other relationships, including the one we have with food.

He helps us to go without and to experience our real hungers; He teaches us to turn wordlessly toward Him in the ache that arises when we refuse counterfeits. He wants us ‘to taste and see that He is good,’ that He is able ‘to satisfy our desires with good things.’ For that goal, the 40 days of Lent is but training for how God wants us to live all year.

One-third of Americans are overweight. Our sin of gluttony is obvious but not chronic. We can turn to the Source of our nourishment and begin to be reconciled to the good gift of food and of our bodies, through the Love that satisfies.


Having Nothing, Possessing Everything

Unless the seed dies, it remains alone.’ (JN 12: 24)

My son Sam’s death took time. His surrender to Jesus was syncopated at best: the sorrows and pleasures of sin alternately roused and deadened him. Though counterfeits made him sick, he managed to stave off the Divine Physician. Ultimately, his defenses crumbled and he pled for mercy. God took His advantage.

Rising into new life took time and effort. It was especially tough for Sam to get a grip on his finances. Like his old man, we don’t ‘think’ financially. Combine that with prodigal living, unpaid bills forgotten in a chemical haze, and general neglect of the big green, Sam faced a slow ascent to becoming financially responsible.

One big motivator was a beautiful girl he pursued who proved to be the real deal. But pairing up demands you give an answer as to how you handle money, beginning with an engagement ring. In God’s economy, one must be able to save a couple thousand in order to seal the deal. That was big for Sam, and he worked hard and saved so he could pop the question with a decent stone.

Having ordered a modest ring, Sam then asked her father if he could proceed. The man blessed Sam as his son-in-law-to-be. He then told Sam that he and his wife had found a one-carat wedding ring in a park and in spite of much effort found no owner. He offered the ring to Sam.

It was the ring that rich boys give privileged girls who expect big stones. Its cost would have at least doubled, maybe tripled my son’s outlay. Sam did not have the earning power. God did. He bestowed that ring on Sam as surely as the father welcomed his prodigal son with a classy ring (LK 15: 22-24). Only the ring was not about Sam’s future alone; it was about his pledge to another, to fruitfulness. Sam’s surrender unto sanctification broke the husk of his aloneness. God blessed him with a partner and shiny pledge that only He could provide.

Jesus calls all of us onto the narrow way of surrender. Along the way, He tosses in diamonds we don’t deserve but that He delights to give. I love that. Sam is following his old man’s footsteps. We don’t think much about money, for better or for worse. We are Kingdom-minded. Like St. Paul, we have nothing yet we possess everything. (2 Cor. 6: 10)


Greed: To Grasp or Give Away

For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

(Phil. 2:21)

The focal point of our faith and of most sanctuaries is the Cross. That emblem of God’s self-giving reminds us that freedom hinges on offering ourselves to others, to purposes that defy self-preservation. The servant is not greater than his Master. Jesus said it like this: the hard seed either opens or remains alone (JN 12:24). Fruitfulness requires surrender to the Sovereign will; the greedy self insists on gathering and defending its own securities. Greed gilds the husk of our humanity and renders us sterile.

We are naturally greedy. By that I mean we gravitate to securities that we can get our hands on. Fear drives our greed, as does envy: we look and long for what might give us the most power and so assuage the threat of extinction or at least insignificance.

I live in a Christian ghetto of sorts where few have much money and most are fairly generous with it. No Scrooges among us–wealthy misers who share only their misery. No, our greed is more subtle; it can appear justified, humane, and refined. But it’s the same old idolatry, the creature grasping after created things to give him the security only God can give. Take heed: ‘No greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.’

(Eph. 5:5)

Maybe we grasp after middle-class protections: retirement plans and insurance, the house on the lake for grandparents and kids, savings that soothe us to sleep. One friend confessed to me his obsessing over IRAs (I feared his association with political terrorists). We can squander much time and energy stockpiling on earth and lose the Kingdom—what it means freely to say ‘yes’ to God until we go or He comes. We must discern when we are padding our own kingdoms or availing ourselves to His.

Maybe it’s ‘quality-of-life’ stuff, good ol’ American consumerism that masks as wisdom or justice. For example, I know many seasoned Christians who have been exposed to so many church models they no longer settle with one. So they remain alone, high-minded and unchecked, disgruntled consumers that hurt the Church rather than help her. Or the spouse that after a decade or so claims to deserve more than the limited, frustrating person (s)he married. I recently sat with a couple who tearfully conveyed their mutual frustration and yet who are beginning to see Jesus’ purposes in the gaps. Do gaps in your church life and marriage inspire self-giving or greed? Jesus grants us the Cross amid idolatrous, consumer-driven options.

We have all been thunderstruck by the effective greed of gay activists. Their ploy? Take a common disorder and claim to resolve it by making it a boast, a right, even the basis for a marriage. But reframing a problem does not solve it. From every angle, homosexual practice is still delusional; it frustrates the very desire it claims to satisfy. Sex is for life, not to fuse misbegotten friendships. The ‘gay’ emperor is still naked and impotent. The greedy seed remains alone.

We overcome greed by giving our lives away to Jesus. Generous self-giving is the sole antidote to greed. That’s why we tithe; that’s why we thank God for hardship and unmet needs and frustrating people; that’s why we keep trying to love our fellow humanity. Ragged yet inspired, we offer our lives to Him and ask Him to multiply our gifts to others. Overtime He becomes our sight and our security. We find ourselves by looking straight at Him. He is God and He is enough.


Breaking Chains, Healing Thais

‘Zeal for Your house will consume me.’ (JN 2:17)

Sue Hunt considered ordination as a Buddhist nun in the Ubon region of Thailand. An Englishwoman with a deep history of gender confusion, she sought relief in Buddhism from what seemed an incurable wound. She was ordained a Buddhist nun yet the idolatry implicit in both her spirituality and sexuality failed her; Sue’s search for truth remained. Sue turned to Jesus as she began to discover the entirely new Life He offered her–a track on which the very ‘living water’ of God could begin to transform the desert of her soul into a garden.

I began to partner with Sue in ministry in 1997; ever since she has plowed a straight furrow to release ‘living water’ wherever she goes. She has recently returned to Ubon to equip churches to release ‘living water’ for all who seek it. I write this from Thailand where I am partnering with her yet again to help clear God’s house from the dulling effect of idolatry and set that house ablaze with the burning love of Jesus.

The needs are legion: Thailand has always been a global forerunner of transgenderism, a land that gives unique place to ‘lady-boys’ who currently compose approximately 10-15% of the male population. These young men emulate the seductive arts of some Thai women who are groomed from an early age to prostitute themselves to wealthy foreigners. Children are often employed in this hideous exchange of flesh for funds. More typically, fornication and adultery flourishes amid adults who are inclined to sensualize their needs for love.

A toxic river runs through an otherwise beautiful, peaceful land and dehumanizes its citizens. Buddhism casts a ‘come what may’ fatalism—a lazy tolerance–over Thailand that perpetuates cycles of degradation. Nothing less than zeal for the One who came to clear out our ‘temples’ from the idols we make to man and mammon will do!

The Thai Church often responds with a thin, ineffectual resistance. She clothes herself in religious garments and manners but often fails to confess her own idolatry. The ‘saving face’ culture of honor in Asia makes it difficult for the Church in Thailand to address her own compromises. What we conceal God cannot heal. So we as a healing team exposed our own idols and the way that Jesus through His Church exchanged our rags for His riches.

Benjie shared powerfully how Jesus had filled in the gaps in his own gender identity formation; Hazel and Noelle exposed their idols and the stern, splendid task of learning to worship the One; as an ex-adulterer who had deeply wounded his wife, Mike wept as he described his wife’s devastation and the recovery of his marriage; Donna expressed shame over an affair with a married man but deeper gratitude for God’s forgiveness and healing; a Chinese brother praised God for granting him a holy birthright after growing up with a father and his prostitute; a Thai sister thanked Jesus for inviting her into deeper healing from childhood abuse.

All this healing through the Church! This is our gift to Thailand, the good news that Jesus’ Bride can represent Him well by reclaiming His human image from the many false images that drive and deride us. A mere appearance of religion won’t do; it will require nothing less than a people in whom Jesus cleared out idols and who now burn with gratitude for His faithful, furious love. Zeal for His house consumes us.

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