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Glorious Absence

‘I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go I will send Him to you…When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth’ (JN 16: 7, 13).

Jesus must decrease in order for the Spirit to increase. Certainly, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and the Son—no competition there! But Jesus chooses to forego His bodily presence with us in order to endow us with His living, unseen presence–the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit at work in us, Jesus claims that He will accomplish bigger and better things than His own rather impressive ministry on earth.

‘I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My Name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in My Name and I will do it’ (JN 14: 12-14). Ascension reminds us: Jesus must leave earth in order to make us great. Glory overcomes grief, the pain of change, when we submit our losses to the Spirit who overtakes us and empowers us to do what we would not do in the presence of the more powerful one.

Jesus is our model; the servant is not greater than his master. And every servant of His must forego the tendency to so deify our leaders that we fail to see how Jesus is calling us to become more—to do what He chooses to do through us in the absence of the one to whom we may tend to defer on the basis that (s)he has power we do not. Pentecost levels that ground. The Spirit is an equal opportunity employer.

Pentecost reminds us that He wants to do mighty things through us. And however mighty and vital each of us is to His Kingdom come on earth, Pentecost insists that we not congratulate ourselves too much. Our bodily presence will fade out too; mortality reminds us that we are expendable and must always quicken others, especially younger ones, to take their places on the team.

Monique, Claude, Andrew, Charlotte & Werner.

I just returned from France where one of my best friends and colleagues—Werner Loerschter–just handed off nearly 25 years of leadership of Living Waters in that country. What a guy! What fruit! All things considered, France has represented our work better than any other nation, significantly due to Werner and his wife Charlotte’s leadership. In the Spirit of Ascension and Pentecost, they labored for over five years to identify and disciple a younger couple to take over the work.

Last weekend in Lyon France, together with Living Waters leaders from around the French-speaking world, I had the privilege of presiding over this handover. It was glorious. And not without a little grief. I love this couple more deeply than I can express, know the new couple only slightly, and feel the loss of a season rich with the splendor of the kingdom. Yet I know that my friends must decrease in order for the Spirit in their land to increase; new wells must be dug by new people in new ways. Humbling. Hard. Splendid: the rhythm of the Kingdom.

Next year will be the 40-year anniversary of Desert Stream Ministries—40 years of me at the helm. Lord, have mercy. In Werner and Charlotte’s noble reflection, I catch a glimpse of my own mortality and pray for clarity as to who will receive the baton from me. Pray for me to face this Pentecost bravely, with expectancy. May none of us grip what God has entrusted to us so tightly that we fail to release others into their full measures. May we welcome the eclipse of our labors by Jesus’ glorious presence in those who follow us. Bon courage!

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Generous, Jealous Love

‘Do not give in to the feelings of guilt that assail you because you are not living up to the ideal you have set for yourself. I do not ask you to be faithful to an ideal. I ask you only to be My friend and to live at very moment in the grace of My divine friendship.’ In Sinu Jesu

Aging isn’t making me better. I naturally feel more outrage and less mercy for the moral atrocities that surround me. And that proliferate every June, LGBT+ Pride Month. Some are silly, like the ad I received from my airline: ‘All routes lead to love at United: Follow your heart and travel to Pride—grab a seat for a special drag queen bottomless brunch’ with United employees after ‘gay’ parading throughout its big city hubs. More serious is this year’s federal Equality Act which sailed through the House of Reps in route to the Senate and basically overhauls our federal civil rights framework by making female impersonators and the like a protected ‘class’ on par with immutable, involuntary characteristics like birth gender, age, and race.

All of these faux justices invoke love as their driving force. But doesn’t love have to answer to reality, namely the truth of who and what persons are? Love must answer this question: am I authentically seeking another’s good? If I am, then I cannot deny another’s human design and the Designer who made him or her in His image and who chose to reveal something of Himself in that person’s male or female personhood. If I agree with another’s misbegotten identification, I am actually not loving him or her well at all, but rather confirming a falsehood. I agree to deface that one, even if that one hates my disagreement with him or her.

God is love; His loving gaze is ever true. But frankly, my sight is becoming a squint. I can seek another’s good very badly. So I have been spending some time in the book of James repenting unto God’s heart for those He loves who have been hoodwinked by one of the greatest delusions of our day. As I sought Him, I came across this verse that I had never quite seen before: ‘Or do you think that the Scripture says without reason that the Spirit He caused to live in us longs jealously for us?’ (James 4:5).

What? You long for me, O God? You are actually intensely jealous for me to just be still and welcome Your love? Is that the longing of Your heart, a divine ache that can only be satisfied by me opening my heart to You, best I can? All You want of me is to be loved by You? All of the sudden I realized that I didn’t have to pray wearily for the right attitude or words or ‘feelings’ of love for LGBT+ friends. Rather, I needed to race into the merciful heart of Jesus and just be loved. There alone is generous love, a love aimed at the very depths of me. So I have been positioning myself before this Jesus who overflows with love for me.

Only divine love can fill the gaps into which truth has sunk. It will rise again as Mercy refills my foundations.

Truth must arise. Pride Month provokes it. May our authentic vision and love for the fractured flow out of intimate communion with the God who made us and who longs to convert us. He does so by joining us to Himself in an achingly tender bond of love, through ‘the Spirit that longs jealously for us’. May we seek out others with a similar tenderness that aches only for their good.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Fruit of Scandal

‘For you became sorrowful as God intended…Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done’ (2 Cor. 7: 9-11).

Like you, I strain to see good come from Church-mishandling of abuse. And I’m not sure if mandates from the top down—even decisive, far-reaching ones—will satisfy. We must pray, bearing with her exposure; we who wait expectantly will be doubly blessed when we behold beauty emerging from the broken ground. I am doubly blessed as I write this. During a trip to a state where the Church has been rocked by criminal investigations, I began to see life signs.

First, the abuse scandal has prompted a renewed commitment to healthy communion among priests. I was privileged to attend a chastity group run by a priest for priests. A handful of men have forged deep bonds through their differing vulnerabilities—same-sex attraction, porn temptations, inclinations to unchaste relations. These brave men are equally diverse in their stations in life. Some are young and newly-ordained, others at midpoint, still others retired. All led out humbly with their frailties and have forged a fraternity of mercy and accountability that is glorious, free of competition and drab shoptalk (aka grumbling). Authentic, attuned care prevailed.

I witnessed the fruit of their communion, as I had met most of them a couple years earlier. This round they were more focused, more earnest to ensure that their weaknesses become holy strengths; instead of isolating in fear, these men are learning to connect with humble courage.

Second, I had the honor of meeting Paul, the Dean of Students at a large seminary in that state. He is extraordinary—open, humble, holy. And grateful that the seminary is flourishing, with this year’s class being the largest one in twenty years. Amid the scandal, solid young men are being summoned by God to become a new standard of integrity.

Paul and his team have a lot to do with that. Among the main priorities of the seminary is cultivating a culture of transparency. Mentors are activating the students themselves to set up a variety of small groups in which peers provoke one another to holy self-giving. I asked Paul if a ‘gay-identified’ student could make it in the seminary. ‘His brothers would never let him get away with it. He would have to lose the ‘gay’ rap and get on track towards integration like everyone else.’ Awesome.

Paul continued: ‘We work especially hard to discern the emotional maturity of students, to ascertain that they are growing in their capacity to form healthy relationships with both men and women. They need to wrestle with what it means to make a fruitful commitment to celibacy. That may mean taking a break from the seminary in order to figure out what they really want. Seminary should be a place where people come and go. We pray that some will return, better able to say ‘yes’ to God in a healthy, fruitful way that will endure.’

What Paul emphasized was that seminary is not just about individuals discerning a lifetime commitment to the Church but also the Church discerning a lifetime commitment to them.

For the first time, I witnessed the fruit of scandal. From the fire of abuse, a repentant Church is emerging. She is at once sorrowful for her sin and zealous to glorify Jesus, each member doing its part to become one chaste bride.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Living Waters

Reach

‘Remember not the former things…behold the new!’ (Isaiah 43:18)

Living Waters is a long narrow cross-walk that always opens to Life. To be sure, it can hurt to face the uneven, perilous ground on which we were at once victim and perpetrator, oblivious to both! Eyes open now, we flinch at the poor choices we can still make in light of the Risen Christ. Growing up is hard, and dodging His call to follow onto solid ground offsets the weight of decisive obedience. Yet here lies our cure, our happiness: surrendering to the luminous Christ, His wounds yet visible, who alone has power to transform weakness into creative communion.

That’s why the transformation of persons with same-sex attraction will always remain the prophetic core of Living Waters. Only a third of our people struggle in that way, but those who discover Jesus in the depth of historic yearning for same-gender completion become the strongest, most sensitive lovers of the other sex. As such, we harmonize with Leanne Payne: ‘The healing of the “homosexual” is the healing of all persons.’

Case in point—after a passionate, liberating day at the cross in Manila where we faced the dishonor we incurred and extended to our ‘better’ half, I felt that we needed to celebrate the fruit of our suffering—the evidence of how Jesus trains the faithful to reach beyond personal healing into interpersonal gift-giving. His passion reclaims and realigns our passions!

That night, I asked two Asian couples (Filipino and Chinese) to share candidly of how Jesus through Living Waters communities in their lands helped forge family life out of what the world (and worldly church) would define as pretty raw material. Gratefully, Jesus has overcome the world.

As a young teen, Jerry received hope from his pastor that someday he would thrive as a husband and father. Sexual abuse, same-sex attraction and a promiscuous young adult life that resulted in an HIV diagnosis shattered the prophecy. In his late thirties, Jerry staggered into a Living Waters group to make peace with God. Sue—a leader on the team–did not like men as a rule due to historic wounds but she liked Jerry and somehow knew this was her guy.

After the group ended, Jerry and Sue began to date and he grew rather quickly in love with her; he began to fight for her honor. He won her over and after good counsel they married and immediately became pregnant. Sue released an egg from a medically-pronounced dead ovary, and the child (and mother) remains HIV-free. They can hardly wait for a second child.

Ben met Sara, a native Chinese woman intent on overcoming despair over the failure of men in her life, at the first Living Waters group in their big city. He had just arrived from America to fulfill an early call to serve China. Overwhelmed by the challenges of language, culture and tent-making, Ben barely remembers meeting Sara at that group. His first couple years were a dark night of just getting by, with intermittent return to porn use and lots of self-pity. By God’s grace, he rallied and forged a healing community to support his recovery, which had started years earlier in a Living Waters group in California. He began to pray: ‘Lord, I need a beautiful, smart, empathic wife if I am going to make it here.’ (I love the fact that Ben knew his SSA deterred not from the gift he was and needed to offer!)

He re-met Sara at a party and knew she was the answer to his prayer. They discovered a common language and commitment to wholeness; they soon married and now can attest to how much richer and expansive their lives are together. ‘We can simply give that much more to others.’ They are expecting their first child in a few months.

Jesus reclaims our pretty good broken lives and refines them in the fire of love. He asks us to reach beyond what we’ve known in order to discover the fullness of His will for our humanity. That always involves knowing the gift we are and giving it away.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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who you looking at jesus

Who You Looking At?

Easter opens the eyes of our heart to see the Risen Christ. For the first time, again. He is here! He has walked through our walls; His gaze, lit with tender mercy, catches ours and enlivens our hearts, summoning us from the dead.

On Easter Sunday Annette and I experienced together that slight disappointment which one more often experiences on New Year’s Eve—high expectancy, low return. We were weary and subject to the slumber of small disturbances. We stalled at the empty tomb, our gazes cast down and dulled to the marvel of Jesus on the lam. I was jolted to life by the angels’ words to grieving tomb women: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He is risen!’ (LK 24:5).

I immediately went into prayer, looking for this holy Rover. I found Him in my Divine Mercy image, the Risen Christ regarding me kindly, His wounds yet visible and pouring forth a life-giving stream of blood and water. I love this glimpse of Jesus and I centered on it like a spent child hungry for a parent’s attention. I’ve stayed near merciful Jesus since then as I journeyed to the Philippines for our biggest training there yet, one distinguished by Chinese translation and many participants from that great land. Challenges of size and language came easily as I fixed my eyes on Divine Mercy in the meeting hall and in my room. Wherever I went, I knew He was nearer than a brother–looking, loving, and sustaining my efforts through pure mercy.

During the first night of ministry, Jesus said: ‘Now that your heart is clear due to the way I look at you, I want you to look at every person that way, the way that I look at you’! What? I protested: ‘God, I am a busy man: I put my head down and charge to the next thing. ‘Linger’, He instructed, ‘Look with marvel at each one I have sent. Be My loving gaze upon them.’

DSM Staff in Manila.

I did what He said. When I was tempted to race, I looked up and out and inquired visually of each one’s well-being, blessing each in a Spirit of generous mercy. Especially with frustrated or annoying faces before me, I maintained a stream of merciful contact. I was helped by Acts 3:4 when Peter said to the hurting man pleading for healing: ‘Look at us.’ The cripple obeyed and was instantly healed when he gazed at Peter and John. I claim no such apostolic power but I know that an inspired look of love to a soul cast down steadies the uncertain heart.

After a while, I began to see other things—from the merciful gaze came prophetic sight as to who these ones actually were. Prospective burdens became beautiful sons and daughters of our Father. A royal procession emerged from the ash heap: kings and queens, lovers and warriors, exquisite representatives of Jesus. The prophetic vision lasted throughout the week and only increased when God knew I would say what I saw. These ones now know that Jesus has destroyed the low ceiling that stunted their stature. As they emerge into their full, original form, we together proclaim in awestruck wonder: He has risen, and we with Him!

‘It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as what you meet…only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another.’ – C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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