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trust advent

Trust

‘Advent means a heart that is awake and ready, which does not let itself become bitter and deadened by hard blows but stays awake and aware of the free coming of the Lord God. That is why this free God must be met by a free person…who may well suffer hard blows but without going under.’ (Fr. Alfred Delp)

Christmas invites us to welcome Jesus into the mangers of our lives. He alone can make a feast out of what frightens, even repulses us.

Gabriel, the scary angel of Annunciation in Luke 1:5-38, helps us here. How Zechariah and Mary respond to this intimidating creature (don’t be fooled by the androgynous darling of religious art who whispers gently) blazes a trail for me when life announces something dreadful. Rather than seize up with control, I now invite Jesus into the mess. I try and trust that new life is growing in what might otherwise kill me.

Christmas is rife with ugly announcements for lovely people: the cancer diagnosis, parents whose son returns home as a ‘daughter’, the spouse who splits, a church split by an unchaste pastor, death threats from offended LGBT+ers…

Zechariah helps me a lot. His response is much closer to what mine might be. He’s an old religious guy, guided and steadied by rules. Rigor mortis has set into any hint of womb-like elasticity. When Gabriel declares he will father the firebrand John the Baptist, he tries to mop himself off the floor by demanding a map, more knowledge, a strategy. ‘How can I be sure of this?’ he says. Thrown off, he tries to control the situation by insisting on a more logical prophecy. Like us, he demands of mystery what it cannot give.

Perhaps the wise old guy was a preacher who used words to control his world. Not for long. The angel gives him nine months to be still and listen to a voice other than his own. Gabriel mutes Zechariah as he awaits the Baptist–a humbling pregnancy for any priest! Yet rather than scorn Zechariah, I empathize with him. I too grasp for control when levelled by scary angels; noisy with intense, often indecent language, I lose my voice. But I don’t lose the invitation to new life! I’m just chastened a little until I simmer down and can trust God’s design in my distress.

Gabriel encounters Mary after Zechariah. Mind you, the angel’s annunciation to her is far more challenging. Not only has God willed Mary to become a mother, He Himself will father the child. Yet this overwhelming prospect doesn’t provoke a controlling response. Unlike Zechariah who grasps after facts, Mary counters a native fear with faith: ‘Tell me more,’ a response resonant with consent.

And trust. She leans into the mystery, content to grow in ‘the love that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph. 3:19) rather than flail for security in mere knowledge. Soon she will be filled with love’s fullness (v.20), our Savior, her Son, God’s only, expanding in her until she can contain Him no more!

I love her simple answer to angel Gabriel: ‘Be it to me as you said’ (Lk. 1:38). Henri Nouwen paraphrases this beautifully: ‘I don’t know what all this means but I trust that good will come from it.’

May Mary’s wisdom and humility become ours. A good goal for all the scary annunciations that await us in 2020? Spend less time grasping for security in vain things and lean longer into the mystery of divine mercy. I want to try and trust Jesus with every unsettling thing and so abide in peaceful love more than with alien passions like anxiety. Please join me.

‘What transformed Mary into royalty is that she recognized God as a God of challenge. She experienced what it means to be torn away from all normal destinies and, thereby, to be caught up in new possibilities. She stands as a healing and helping source of strength, right in the middle of what no-one can know beforehand.’ (Fr. Alfred Delp)

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

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Offensive

Adjective: causing someone to feel deeply hurt or angry.
Noun: an organized campaign to achieve something.

Jesus’ healing ministry satisfies both definitions of ‘offensive.’ His authority to restore lives enraged the religious while establishing the rule and reign of His Kingdom among the admittedly sick.

Jesus knew that healing would separate wheat from chaff. Why else would He say poignantly (in the Gospel reading for the third Sunday in Advent): ‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them. BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO TAKES NO OFFENSE IN ME’ (Matt. 11:5)?

Happy are the healed, joyful are the childlike who take Jesus at His Word and who step out continuously to welcome wholeness. I had the privilege of preaching at Shabach Fellowship in Los Angeles last week—a mostly African-American Pentecostal Church where Living Waters has flowed for twenty years; throughout the service, gifted healers laid hands on persons in need. Jesus honored their faith in Him as Healer and I witnessed broken hearts mending before my eyes. I left joyfully expectant—awaiting Jesus’ arrival while welcoming His healing Presence now.

For every expectant soul is a dour one, disappointed, offended at Jesus’ claim to heal. Sad are those who rail against Jesus’ wonder-working power. Times haven’t changed since Jesus blessed the unoffended. Not in my world of persons seeking wholeness in their sexual identities. The very claim that Jesus can heal the ‘homosexual’ now meets with derision—hurt—rage—embittered unbelief.

Perhaps it’s the depth of desire, an unwillingness to give up sexy idols, or maybe bitterness at the Church for mishandling our cries for mercy.

One thing is for sure: the assumption that LGBT+ identification is ‘broken’ now enrages the establishment—religious, psychological, political. Add ‘healing’ to the mix and you’ve got a Molotov cocktail aimed straight at our ministries. Offended people aren’t fun.

Meanwhile, Jesus heals the broken. He is King of wholeness who reconciles persons to the original goodness of their powers of life and love. In other words, Jesus frees captives while the ‘whole’ want to criminalize change. California tried this last year with AB 2943. And woke up Bethel Church in Redding California, from which has come a timely and exciting ‘offensive’—the CHANGED movement.

Founded by excellent friends Elizabeth Woning and Kenn Williams, CHANGED mobilizes young adults to share publicly how God’s love led them to seek change in their sexual identities. Many of us from DSM/LW were featured in CHANGED, their book highlighting persons for whom Jesus became the perfect Lover and mirror of their true selves (Find out more at contact@changedmovement.com). Transgressive is the message that God loves and redeems persons from LGBT+ backgrounds: ‘I believe CHANGED is offensive because people don’t want to address the shame that underlies the homosexual experience…we would rather self-protect than expose the brokenness,’ says Woning.

From the offense shines Jesus’ healing authority. Beautiful is the exchange of sin and shame for original dignity. Woning again: ‘Stories of lives redeemed from an LGBT+ identity expose God’s mercy, holiness, power, and grace, as well as His beautiful Kingdom order.’ This is the whole Gospel. Offensive.

‘Blessed are those who take no offense in ME,’ says Jesus. Joyful are we who once blind now see Him, once deaf now hear His healing Word; we who staggered in sexual sin now walk on level paths. We who died to our solutions have become His answers. We have become His offensive as we embody the Word of life.

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

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Fearing the One I Love

Our trouble lies not in heavy-handed religion but in banal lullabies that assure us that God is love, all love, and only wants our best—‘best’ defined by our doing whatever we want.

Our trouble lies in the fact that we no longer fear God. We want the benefits of the Cross but not the call to carry our own. We have made Him in our image, not submitted to the One in whose image we are made. We then dare to shake our fist at any version of Him that gets in the way of our version of ourselves.

For this trouble Advent may not be long enough. For this the Church is genius. Our calendar year ends with Daniel’s apocalyptic vision of the Ancient One ascending His throne—radiant, smoking hot—His royal seat blazing—‘a surging stream of fire flowing out from where He [the Father] sat’ and received the Son before whom the whole host of heaven bows down and declares: ‘dominion, glory and kingship’ (Daniel 7).

In the middle of the fireworks God incinerates His main adversary–the Beast– while lesser beasts are granted a season in which to do their dirty work. Have these lesser beasts charmed us, made us beastly? They give us what we want, including just enough spirituality to assuage our touchy souls. We are sleepy, full of unbaptized ideas and vague discontent. We ladle another round of boozy good cheer and cry ‘abuse’ when the religious disagree with us.

Advent begins, our New Year dawns, not with dreamy glimpses of angels and virgins and starry nights but with an alarm. Wake up people! You think all is well? Think again! The first Sunday in Advent highlights Jesus’ Second Coming; His re-entry will be violent, decisive and conclusive. Of the two men out in the field, only one will be plucked out by Jesus to escape the terror at hand (Matt. 24). No wonder the second Sunday features John the Baptist’s call to repent of every worthless thing we cherish—to get rid of it now before Jesus Himself burns it up ‘with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:1-12).

God is love. And fearsome. For me, these first few days of Advent have been tough, full of minor humiliations that have exposed by touchiness and subtle adulteries of heart. I haven’t much more to offer Him than my sin. So be it. Better to burn now than later.

I fear this God. Yes, He loves me, deeply, ‘His Spirit longs for me jealously’ (James 4:5). He has laid claim to me through His blood and has a right to the whole of me. Every haggard part. All well? Nah: I’m burdened by pet beasts. Wellness to me is facedown, crying ‘dominion, glory, kingship.’ My happiness hinges upon full surrender.

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

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Thanksgiving 2: (Inter)Personal Best

For the last 30 years, I’ve pounded the pavement as a long-distance runner. I ran the LA Marathon in 1989, beat my training partner, and never looked back.

Since then I ran alone. Hard. Desert Stream began to flow to nations; I ran through Perth and Paris, Johannesburg and Jakarta, Auckland and Amsterdam, Medellin and Milan, Hong Kong and Helsinki, Caracas and Copenhagen, Bangkok and Bahrain, Davao City and Dublin. Though I served with teammates, I ran alone, typically in the wee hours. I’ve breathtaking encounters with cathedrals and shrines lit by the sun’s first rays. And more than a few bouts with losing my way in a maze of ancient paths (pre-GPS). Sprinting wildly from one blind alley to another, I’ve come close to missing conferences. Jesus, lead on…

He helped me in the race. My impetus was worship—I ran to the songs that brought Jesus’ presence near. But I ran alone. Charged with Spirit, but alone. I ran through eviscerating conflicts. During one tough bout with international leaders my legs nearly gave way. Emotional wounds physicalized. I asked Him to help me to endure. He did; I was and am thankful for this refuge of the roads.

Back home, I trained and ran about 4-5 races a year. Alone. Post the weather-monotone of So. Cal., Midwest training invited me to enjoy the change of seasons—racing through 15-105 degrees. My mantra was personal best. I surprised myself. Just when I thought my legs had run their last, I beat my time. When I didn’t beat it, I pledged to train harder. I never suffered injury. Thankful.

Early this last year, I prayed for partnership. Our new intern Marco liked to run, had a base of 5 miles 2-3X a week. I asked if he’d train with me for a half-marathon. He committed and didn’t look back. We ran through hurting legs and humidity: in darkness and withering sun. We prayed before and did not talk much during. We needed all the breath we could get.

I loved partnership. I needed it. I faced two big challenges at the onset of our training. A dog roared out of the dark one early morn and took a chunk out of my arm. I nearly snapped my hamstrings (don’t laugh) sprinting for home in a goofy kickball game. My first injury. I couldn’t run anymore.

I wanted Marco to race and I wanted to keep my end of the training bargain. I knew it was unwise to push my recovery but I asked God for it anyway. He heard me. I restarted slowly and trained a little longer, painfully. Marco and I ran the race side-by-side in pouring rain—eyes fixed on Jesus and the best parts of Kansas City. Marco excelled—personal best. I scored too, interpersonal best. Thankful.

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

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homeliness-1

Thanksgiving 1: Homeliness

‘The quality of being simple or ordinary, but pleasant, in a way that makes you think of home.’ (Cambridge English Dictionary)

The other day Annette and I scrambled to receive Camille (1.5 years) and Jacob (2 years) for a day of puppy love (labs are toddlers’ best friends) and clever Thanksgiving crafts (Annette’s decade as a preschool teacher was NOT in vain). In a flash I realized: our empty-nester days are done.

We are homebound, spending much of our week caring for grandkids. And thankful for it! To be fair, Annette carries the day here—merrily, and by day’s end, wearily. She thrives on grandparenting; to be honest, I am falling in love with her again. I recall something of how she parented ours but today with a temperance and seasoned freedom that is appealing. Grandma still got it. And then some.

Case in point: Annette can discern between a kid’s naughtiness (whining, crying, grasping due to wanting everything NOW!) and need, the child’s frustration at not being able to convey something essential. For the former, Annette sets consistent limits; the latter prompts her to swoop the child up in her arms for gentle talk so that ‘needs’ can be recognized and met. There’s no love like a wise Grandma’s….

Ture confession. I like being ‘Boppy’ too (what the kids decided to call me). I’m around just enough to walk the dogs with them, garden (I gather, they scatter), and underscore limits with a voice deeper and less negotiable than Annette’s. It’s fun to parent later in life with skills previously learned (or realize now you hadn’t learned), all with the bonus of a 5pm pick-up time.

Something odd is happening, catching me off guard. The grandkids like me. I recall one remote, grouchy grandpa who died quickly. But these grandkids are already familiar with me and desire my presence. To be sure, Annette is the supernova here; I am more like the semi-random falling star. But Camille and Jacob watch for that star, call out its name constantly, and wrap around it like clay.

Nothing like it. I savor each hug and give thanks.

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

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