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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Highway to Holiness

‘Let us make good use of our time. Out steps must conform to God’s call on our lives; let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling and with burning love and zeal for the salvation of our neighbors.’ St. Junipero Serra

I write this from Mission San Gabriel, perhaps the most excellent of the Franciscan churches founded by Father Serra who introduced Christianity to California in the mid-eighteenth century. He endured unfathomable hardships to blaze a highway of holiness from San Diego to San Francisco: he did so by planting a series of outposts, like stations in a relay that could sustain evangelization and discipleship of the native peoples of California up and down the west coast.

Mission San Gabriel, not far from one of our most fruitful Living Waters groups at HROCK Church in Pasadena and closer still to our excellent regional leader Brian Barlow and family, was especially strategic for this ‘highway’. Its fruitfulness supplied many of the needs of the other 11 missions; its success consoled Serra during the last 25 years of his good hard life.

I find a small niche on the side of the original chapel of Mission San Gabriel, the oldest standing building in Southern California, and marveled that Mass has been held in this sanctuary every day since 1771. From my roost I can see grapevines and orange trees which the Spanish padres introduced to CA in the ground of this mission, thus laying the base for the state’s rich agricultural future.

I reflect on Serra’s life as I await a prayer gathering with our Living Waters leaders from Southern California. We shall pray for the defeat of AB2943, still pending in the state senate. We shall welcome Brian and Pastor Gwen from HROCK back from Sacramento where they have spent the day testifying of transformation before leaders who are unsure; these two are heroes, like many today who Jesus is summoning to declare His highway of holiness throughout California.

Of course we shall pray that the bill will die. Most importantly, we pray that the Church rise and shine in glorious unity—each faith community a station in a relay that restores dignity to the fractured.

Like Serra and his padres, our hope is sure and we shall not back down. Serra traveled 24000 miles over land and sea with an ulcerated foot in the last decades of his life to plant the cross in CA. We shall do the same. We like Him shall try to look more for Jesus’ interests than for our own (Phil. 2:21).

Serra’s greatest ‘cross’ was the state—government authority driven by greed and pride that continually thwarted his spiritual plans. He especially hated the mistreatment of his charges–the native peoples—by Spanish soldiers who abused them and so defiled God’s will for them. Native uprisings against Serra and the padres were provoked by military abuses, not religious ones. He grieved then; we grieve now for the abuse that AB2943 inflicts upon the most vulnerable.

Like Serra, we shall not lose sight of the prize, which is the saving of many lives. We fight for wounded lives to have a fighting chance to know the Healer, the One who unites us with the good of our gendered selves and guides us lovingly as we return to the Father in our disordered affections and choose to walk the highway to holiness, seeking through grace to unite our thoughts with God’s best for us.

Amid his multiple afflictions, Serra wrote: ‘All things are sweet to a lover.’ He was espoused to Jesus and like the leader of his order, St. Francis, he kept his eyes and heart fixed on Christ Crucified. I enter now into the old sanctuary and am most drawn to the beautiful image of Francis above the altar gazing with affection upon the small crucifix in his hands. All for love! We can do all things through love, drawing continually from its Source.

Nothing shall stop us. Jesus invites each one of us to become and to declare the way He makes for every willing soul to discover their place among the beloved. Serra died happy, surrounded by the saints. He poured out his life to forge a highway of holiness on which the first Californians—over 6000 persons—were baptized and confirmed as Christians. We follow him today in the Spirit of St. Francis, the Holy Spirit who makes all things sweet for those who walk in Christ.

‘And a highway will be there, it shall be called the Way of Holiness…’ (IS 35:8)

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At Risk

‘If our Gospel is hid, it is hid toward those who are perishing’ (2 Cor. 4:3).

An outraged congregant railed at Pastor Patrick on the eve of our Gender Matters conference at his church: ‘This isn’t one of those “pray away the gay” groups, is it?’ Unflinchingly, the good pastor responded: ‘Yes, our church believes in the power of prayer for all broken persons seeking Jesus.’

Worldly Christians—more influenced by snide soundbites from the Internet than by the Kingdom of God—now contribute to the din of unbelief and popular ‘born- that-way-can’t change-anyway prejudice that surround persons with gender identity problems.

In failing to extend God’s Kingdom to those at risk, worldly Christians risk the loss of that Kingdom. Their light dims, the snap of their salt dulls.

Hopefully, the overreach in the California legislature of AB 2943 gives all Christians the chance to wake up and forego this compromised, guilt-by-assimilation mindset toward persons with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Together, let us burn off lies by reigniting these three truths:

First, persons most at risk in their gender identities need the Kingdom of God more than state-mandated identity formation, e.g. you must embrace your ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ self. Only the Father through the Son and by His Spirit can confirm true identity. This is the business of the Church and the cure for the fractured heart.

Second, persons most at risk in their gender identities are helped far more than they are hurt by the Church. In the same breath that we acknowledge our failures, we declare it libelous to frame faith communities as rife with fraudulent ‘conversionists’ who impose impossible burdens on the vulnerable. I work with hundreds of churches in California where I witness humble groups who welcome all persons who know they need the Savior. California is especially adept at providing multiple onramps for seekers to receive blessing, belonging and transformation through Jesus represented well in His yielded members.

Third, persons most at risk in their gender identities are not well-served by the lie that drives AB 2943, namely, that persons who seek change in their desires will hurt themselves because change is impossible. That is patently untrue: not just questionable science but fraudulent science. In ‘Ex-Gays?’ (IVP, 2007), the impressive book that details the best ‘longitudinal study on religiously mediated change in sexual orientation’, Drs. Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse make clear that people can and do experience change in their sexual desires and identity, and that seeking such change does not incur harm. Check it out.

The bias against change for an ‘at risk’ people now drives the psychological community which fuels the LGBT+ political caucus that leads the California legislature by the nose. Persons most at risk lose options that could set them free.

Christians, wake up. Arise out of your risky state–your agreement with popular lies. Burn again with the truth, endowed with power, to secure at risk persons in holy love.

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California’s New State Religion

‘In this world, God loves nothing more than the liberty of the Church.’ St. Anselm

AB 2943, which prohibits churches from selling resources that helps members live chaste lives, sailed through the Assembly and (barring a miracle) will do the same in the Senate in the next few days.

Not only does this bill prohibit citizens from resolving gender identity problems according to their faith, it imposes an immoral standard upon them. California may become the first state in the nation to demand that citizens with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria resolve their conflicts according to state-determined (im)morality. When it does, California will effectively roll out, in the words of David French, a new state religion of sexual libertinism.

How could this happen? The California legislature is controlled by a handful of special interest groups, none more powerful than the LGBT+ juggernaut which regularly composes and pushes through outrageous acts of legislation (their new sex education mandate for all California students is a doozy). AB 2943 takes this a step further by silencing the voice of the Church as it pertains to sexual identity.

We all know now that this group is guided by a popular bias, supported by junk science (whenever any group claims absolute authority based on a handful of psychological studies, stop listening), which wants us to believe that those vulnerable in their sexual identities will be irreparably damaged by any effort to restrain and redirect their same-sex attraction. Similarly, this group holds to the dubious claim that anyone who hates their birth gender, especially children, do violence to themselves by being reconciled to their gender. This is nothing short of a new morality, a new vision of human dignity and freedom, in essence, a new religion.

You can see now why AB 2943 wants to silence the Church; she holds the opposite view. To be defined and driven by one’s same-sex attraction is an act of violence against the person made in God’s image, and to mutilate one’s body under the pretense of changing genders (an impossibility) is at best delusional. Given the fact that many in our ranks experience diverse temptations related to sexual identity, we cast ourselves upon the One who took the hit (2Cor 5: 21) for us and who alone has power to unite us with our truest, most authentic selves.

AB 2943 creates an alternate morality and outlaws the Church’s. If the bill passes:

Our eight Living Waters groups in California may become illegal.

Any books by Christian authors which highlight transforming power of Jesus in the area of sexual identity may be banned.

Conferences that include such witnesses may be prohibited.

Let’s not write AB 2943 off as west coastal silliness. California is on the vanguard of progressive politics for our nation. Her courts overturned the citizens’ choice to ban ‘gay marriage’ (Prop. 8) which in turn became the case that went to the Supreme Court, redefining marriage in our nation forever.

Please pray for miraculous intervention in slowing done or stopping this bill. California citizens would do best to call Gov. Jerry Brown directly at 916-445-2841 and simply stating their opposition to AB 2943.

Please pray that the Church in California wake up and unite in her radiant truth. I am not a political animal, I am a Christian who believes in another Kingdom that surpasses both right and left. Nothing is more essential to God’s heart than His will for humanity made in His image as male and female, and California politics today desecrates that image in the name of ‘freedom.’ Real violence will be done to our most vulnerable by AB 2943. May we as the Church arise and answer the cries of persons in identity crises.

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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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