Category: Living Waters

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Stretching for More

‘We are becoming persons. You are not who you will be. I am not, by the grace of God, who I will be.’ Leanne Payne

Pity the man who stops becoming who God created him to be!

As I reflect upon the joys of grandparenting, I recall the early days of my relationship with Annette and how easy it might have been to refuse her gift on account of my perceived deficiencies. She invited me to flex some unused muscle; secure in my ‘gay’ defense, insecure in manly confidence, I confused her.

God is faithful. I knew I was made for more so I stretched and kept reaching for her til I discovered her, like Ransom in Lewis’ Perelandra who upon seeing human beauty and order for the first time cried out: ‘Do not move away…I have never before seen a man or woman. I have lived my life among shadows and broken images.’

I am glad I aspired to discover Annette. I became a man in our becoming one. Through this call to marriage, I learned to fight off sloth—that dark familiar blanket that cobbles a self and dismal future from disappointments. Cancerous-comfort-sloth—it fits like a glove around the mopey self and reminds one constantly that light beyond the low ceiling is illusion.

Sloth is dangerous because it persuades us that Jesus’ triumph over sin and disorder, however true, can’t touch ours. Rather, we won’t offer ourselves again to Him. Too hard. Sloth guards us from another disappointment.

Sloth is arrogance. It elevates one’s experience over Almighty Mercy. It declares: ‘What I perceive is final—I am helpless and hopeless in my sorry state.’ Yet how humble is the one who catches a glimpse of more and who aspires to it like a child who wants a second helping of ice cream after a diet of oatmeal?

I rejoiced with a brother who after a long pursuit of healing cracked to behold the love of the Father. He could not believe it—’this God loves me and wants me!’ He knew upon tasting a little that a banquet awaited him but that its revelation might unfold in fits and starts, like the blindman whose healing began with a vision of ‘trees walking.’ He perseveres to this day. I caught sight of him at church the other day, expectant and beaming.

He is reaching for more. I urge you: in one hand, take up your sword (the Word of Jesus’ hope) and slice up sloth, and in the other hand, reach for more. Confess the presumption that you know better than God and avail your whole being to what He has in store for you. You have yet to probe the height and depth of His marvelous love for you.          

Glorious Orientation

Orientation refers to where one is going in relation to others, which include his or her thoughts and beliefs that guide that direction. Much is made today about different ‘sexual orientations.’ I suggest that there is one glorious orientation: ‘the deep orientation toward the personal dignity of what is intrinsically masculine and feminine.’

St. John Paul ll said that line first and best in his masterful Theology of the Body (TOB). My friend theologian Christopher West joyfully invites us all to make the late great pope’s orientation our own. West is the TOB bridge over which thousands of us have been re-oriented towards our original dignity as men and women and the adventure of a lifetime: activating our sexual dignity in a way that dignifies this ‘other’. A lifetime trajectory indeed!

We at Living Waters know this in our own way. We need Jesus and His Church to be reconciled to the sexual gift we are. But that gift means nothing in social isolation. Confirmation of our sexual integrity comes not in the mirror but in the grateful face of the other. We become who we are in holy, earthy communion.

Abbey, Marco, and I had the privilege to impart our gift to West and his team last week. Humbling. They are my heroic guides. The TOB Institute in Lancaster Pennsylvania hosts weeklong immersions into this ‘orientation’ toward sexual dignity; I dive into these waters often and emerge more converted each time.

As we shared and prayed for West’s 11 team members, I marveled at the way each lives the truth of TOB. The staff is transparent and submits humbly his or her unique gift to the whole. We from DSM gave what we had and received more.

Noteworthy were the witness of both Abbey and Marco, young adults who don’t know TOB through the lens of marriage but as single persons who in Jesus aspire to give their gift to others with integrity. They embody Christ-centered mercy, courage, and insight; all three gifts helped the TOB staff to know how to best serve persons with identity conflicts in their glorious reorientation.

Regardless of one’s starting point, we at DSM and TOB agreed: there is one destination—the dignifying of our intrinsic masculine and feminine selves in community. That is the glorious orientation of the sons and daughters of God! On the plane home I felt more inspired than drained. As I rested, I longed for Annette and eagerly awaited our reunion.

Fruitfulness

By Abbey Foard

Anniversary celebrations run the risk of becoming sappy and nostalgic in ways that diverge from reality. Don’t get me wrong: reflecting on accomplishments is important, but best when inspiring a good future hope! Gratefully, we experienced such clarity as Desert Stream celebrated 40 years of ministry last week in Kansas City.

We considered 40 years’ worth of reflections from Living Waters representatives who gathered courageously amidst COVID. (Maybe the courage was reminiscent of what each mustered the year he or she first set foot in a Living Waters group?!) We worshipped the Lord with a team that spanned geography and eras; we became ‘church’ in all our diversity and celebrated the work that He began and has not stopped doing in each of our lives.

We honored Andrew and Annette, our fearless and passionate leaders, for their integrity, faithfulness and commitment to Jesus and this unique work. All of us in the audience were delighted as the four Comiskey children emceed each decade. They noted their intersections with Desert Stream/Living Waters and in sum gave us a tangible picture of the worthiest fruit of this ministry: the life that flowed from the couple who founded it.

A marriage that the world tells us should “never have been” now exhibits and envisions the fruitfulness that comes from Jesus; is this not what life-in-Christ is about?

Fruitfulness is unique to each of us. It may look different than we expected–partial and progressive, still in process in our lives. But fruit is always a byproduct of our “yes” to Jesus. He tells us that when we remain Him and Him in us, we “will bear much fruit” (John 15:5).

The Comiskeys bear fruit, as does Desert Stream. Not because of any superior gifting or inherent strength. Having walked closely with Andrew and Annette these past four years, I can say that they are fun-loving, earthy people who live simply to love Jesus and others. They don’t seek to be “special” but to be “faithful.”

That’s what makes them special: they seek to be true to Jesus. He wells up from them like “living water.” He makes them fruitful like the trees in Ezekiel 47 “whose leaves neither wither nor whose fruit fails; they bear fruit every month because the water from the sanctuary flows to them, with their fruit serving for food and the leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12).

As we reflected on the fruit of Andrew and Annette’s persistent ‘yes’ to Jesus, He inspired us to bear fruit for another 40 years (at least!), fruit well-watered by Desert Stream.

About a Wedding…

Much could be said about our 3 day anniversary feast: thoughtful reflection upon each decade of DSM, longstanding co-ministers who overwhelmed Annette and I with poignant and pointed blessing, courageous attendees who refused to allow covid to come between them and their tribe—wow. Our cup runs over.

But these 3 days may best be framed as a wedding, the celebration of Annette and my union and its fruit–our four amazing children who anchored each session/decade with their take on DSM, at once humorous and insightful. I loved how they loved the gathering; as charter DSM members, they share in its essence and have embraced the ministry as part of their legacy and offering to others.

I realized that our family unit points beyond itself to a greater wedding, the wedding feast of the Lamb. Jesus is returning for a spotless bride. Though our family is in no way blemish-free, it possesses an integrity that reveals Jesus’ love for His Church: how He redeems the unchaste and makes them fruitful for Kingdom purposes. DSM/LW is about nothing less. We (all LW workers) exist to prepare for Jesus a people for Himself. As flawed vessels, we depend on Him daily to embody the integration we invite others to discover. Unseen but dynamically present Jesus is our means and our goal—He is preparing us for face-to-face consummation. Forty years and counting, we bear witness of our soon-coming-King for all who have eyes to see, ears to hear.

Abbey Foard and Marco Cassanova led the three days. Fitting. These two are among our most excellent spiritual children and are being prepared to take DSM/LW far beyond Comiskey limits. It is pure gift to love and trust two people deeply and to take time in our vigorous years to impart all we have to them. Both show evidence of Jesus’ leadership. They make our joy full.

On the last night, I shared my love for the whole Church, and more personally, how our marriage has suffered and grown through Catholicism and Annette’s ongoing Evangelicalism. Tough stuff, and prophetic for how DSM/LW functions to serve all Christians who aspire to chastity. That night’s witnesses included the Catholic Bishop of our diocese, the pastor of Redeemer (a robust reformed congregation in KC), my parish priest, Bethel minister Elizabeth Woning who cofounded the Changed Movement, and Anne Paulk of Restored Hope Network.

Jesus is returning for Christians of all stripes who have made themselves ready. Our service is one inspired expression of how He is preparing us for the Wedding above all weddings.

True Worship 2

Why do we worship Jesus, anointing Him with our love songs? Gratitude: He did for us what only He could do—He forgave our sins.

Only God can wash us clean. Only God. Good people can forgive us our sins. But only God can make us new.

So we sing out of gratitude. We wash His feet with tears of thankfulness. Only Jesus knows the depths of what we’ve done; only Jesus can break off us the burden of sin and shame.

In that way, we need never deny the monstrous things we’ve done and even the monstrous things we are still capable of. He alone is sin’s cure. Our disease invites us to rely upon this doctor deeply and constantly for the sins He has forgiven and the sins that still seek to sicken us.

Might we even rejoice in sinful inclinations that Jesus employs to keep us near Him? He trains us to live gratefully before Him. In that way, our worship is warfare—it cancels every accusing word or glance that seeks to separate us from our merciful Cure.

The sinful woman in Lk. 7: 36-50 teaches us how to live as a grateful worshipper. In this passage, we witness two parties encountering Jesus: the first, that sinful woman, lives close to the edge morally and economically, and is cast into the outer courts of the temple, vulnerable to other gods and men under their sway who took what they wanted from her sexually. Is there any sin as profound as opening one’s body to others who leave only shame while taking something that can never be returned?

The second: a smart religious man, a Pharisee, is probably sexually pure—his tribe set the standard for holiness. With one glance, he knows this sinful woman is infectious, capable of polluting the holy ones. And with the same glance he conveys to her that she is a living shame. Her worship tempts the Pharisee to doubt Jesus. He thinks: ‘How can a holy man tolerate tactile, nearly vulgar devotion from an unclean girl?’

Two people seeking Jesus: a thoughtful religious man unsure as to who Jesus is,
and a sinner grateful for her Cure.

A paradox! The Pharisee whose home it was makes little room for Jesus in his life, while the woman who broke into the Pharisee’s home makes Jesus her home. She had already received His mercy- bursting with gratitude, she disregards her religious accuser so she can thank Jesus for cancelling her sin.

She washes His feet with tearful gratitude. She gives Him herself; she flings open the doors of her house of shame, He floods it with mercy, and transforms her into a living temple. Now she worships: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who bore my shame and makes me virgin again!’

That is the power of gratitude; it gives us courage to break shame—to go boldly past the Pharisee and worship the One. Jesus said it best in the parable of the debtors: Those who are forgiven much will love Me much!

We the forgiven become true worshippers. We have authority to break through bad religion and live thankfully before this One who cures every sin. I am one such worshipper. Jesus freed me from homosexuality years ago and I’ve not looked back; I look forward, fully engaged with merciful Jesus and His Church.

40-years-ago, I shared my story before the first Vineyard Church in Los Angeles. My wife and I have since been privileged to lead many like us to pools of mercy where sin and shame and struggle give way to wholeness. Such joy—to discover Merciful Jesus as the Source and Defender of our purity! We can’t help but worship Him—to give Him our whole lives. We live to bear witness of what He has done in us and to invite others to live holy, grateful lives.

Our transformation is no personal privilege—it has relevance for all persons. We want to give hope to everyone of Jesus’ mercy. His eyes free us continually from the glare of the Pharisee who wants to shame us into silence. He makes the way. Always. Merciful Jesus, may our worship rise for another 40 years, then onto eternity!

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