Easter invites us to rise with Christ and to offer our lives to those who have lost hope in His mercy. We arise in hope and become messengers of hope. Our clarity is founded on the hard fact that every other security has failed us. Resurrection demands that we admit ‘all our positions on life’s battlefield are lost and we must vacate them’ (Karl Barth). We stand in Christ alone. He shines gloriously upon us who are reduced to one thought and one prayer: ‘Jesus.’
My joy lies in partnering with persons who, aware of their brokenness, allow Jesus to become their wholeness and who live that truth in love for all who seek Him. One such person is Miguel Ramos from Puerto Rico with whom we partner in Living Waters. I just returned from his island in order to immerse myself in the healing community Miguel has established there through God’s mercy. Wow. Let me tell you about Miguel’s rising out of surrender to Jesus.
I met Miguel 4 years ago at our first Living Waters Training in Mexico. He was a well-known actor—handsome and confident– on his island of 4 million yet also reduced to Jesus in his homosexual struggle. He cried most of the training. Unable to fix himself, He entrusted himself to the One who could bring good out of his suffering. He wanted to serve others but knew he had to be reduced from the larger-than-life persona he had cultivated. He needed to get saved from himself, to come down to size in order to manifest Jesus.
God is good at that. Miguel returned annually to the training in Mexico with fresh need for healing and encouragement. He confessed church trouble and woman trouble and how God seemed to honor his efforts only to frustrate them. Miguel persevered. He knocked on new church doors and poured out ‘living water’ on any who were thirsty. Relational tensions rose and fell away until he landed in a church family that asked of him only that he become small and serve. He began to run our groups there and found deep common ground with the pastors and a vision of integrity: the express goal of that church is to impart wholeness to the inner man in order to reach the world with Jesus’ transforming power. Miguel found ‘home’ where he is helping others to come home.
We visited Miguel last weekend in his church where we taught and healed. His people testified mightily of the hope they have found in Jesus’ mercy. And Miguel found there a beautiful woman—Ruth– with whom he is partnering in love and service. The high point of our time together? In the unexpected absence of a worship leader, Ruth picked up the microphone and began to lead us in a beautiful worship set; she was soon joined by Miguel who joined her in the most sumptuous of harmonies. Together, the two took us to heaven. Hail the fruit of surrender. Jesus opposes the proud but raises the humble (James 3:6). Gloriously.
‘I will send you the prophet…who will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers’ (Mal. 4:5, 6).
The late Dr. Joseph Nicolosi popularized the ideal of a ‘salient’ father who embodies both tenderness and strength. His point? Children who grow up respecting such a dad while welcoming his kindness proceed successfully into adulthood and are less likely than detached children to spin out into sexual and relational brokenness.
I had the privilege of honoring Joe at his memorial service last week in California and recalled him as a prophet who never lost focus on repairing the wound–the gap in connection between fathers and children that render us vulnerable to seeking sexualized mothers and fathers. In sunny immoralist Southern California, Joe stood as a prophet who insisted that restoring breaches in father/child relating could redirect the wandering of pleasure-seeking orphans.
He was and still is demonized by the professional community he represents for coining the term ‘reparative therapy’, which simply means that same-sex attraction is a symptom of an early attachment wound and sound psychotherapy can begin to heal it. Joe made a way for us to name the wound and access real mercy—‘my feelings are not my fault’—and at the same time to challenge us to resume the journey to gender wholeness. Joe was salient: equal parts tenderness and strength. The host of spiritual sons and daughters who honored him last week—mostly psychotherapists who trained under him at The Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic he founded in 1980—bore witness of his fruitfulness as a spiritual and clinical father.
The most moving part of the memorial was Joseph Jr.’s tribute to his dad. I witnessed a grateful son grieving for a father he loved and respected who was taken away too soon, without warning. Salient Joe imparted the whole of his life to his only child who proceeded on to become a devout Christian and psychologist and who now heads the Aquinas Center. Joseph Jr. spoke eloquently and honestly—equal parts tears and joy—of the adventures he shared with his father. The elder passed on to the younger a vocation of fathering vulnerable ones into wholeness. All the while, salient Joe loved his son well. His final witness lies in the fact that the ideals he taught he also lived. Bravo, salient Joe.
‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’ (LK 9:60)
Resurrection flies in the face of the sorrows we nurture and the Jesus we tend to conform to the image of our sorrows.
Jesus on the other hand broke the back of grief by assuming it at Calvary. If the Gospel accounts of His rising are true, He does not tolerate for long our weeping at His Cross and tomb. He simply has too much for us to do. He conquered death and wants us to join in the dance of new life, something strange and unsettling for us who are more acquainted with grief than glory. We who mope need the marvel of Easter.
Take Mary Magdalene. Her whole life was bound up in Jesus, in an intimate bond of love with the One who delivered her then died. Her grief over His departure kept her glued to the tomb; sadness slowed her down, and compelled her to wait there. Even then, she could not recognize Him when He, raised and radiant, appeared to her (JN 20: 10-18).
When she did recognize Him, her tendency may have been to grasp. We like Mary tend to make Jesus in our own image, according to the old vision and version of how things were. Mary wept for what used to be with Jesus; when He appeared to her post-crucifixion, everything had changed. That requires a deft hand and heart to all who welcome His resurrection. ‘Don’t hold onto Me, Mary!’ were Jesus’ comforting words (v.17).
We need to hear those words as well. Life is full of disappointments that can become big as tombs unless we fix our eyes on the One who lives and yet who is never quite within our grasp, always free to show us the Life waiting to emerge from our little deaths. That means letting go of the past, especially the past now made perfect in our deceptive memories as an antidote for today’s uncertainty. We need to let go of the past in order to hear Jesus now.
Our certainty is Christ Resurrected. He rents our veil of tears over and over until joy supersedes sorrow and enables us to face hardship with expectancy. Easter’s marvel? Jesus makes us more alive than before through every strange twist and turn. Death is not the end. The end is Life.
‘After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied.’ (IS 53:11)
God surrenders to man’s sin and death in order to vanquish his sin and death. Forever. Today and for as long as we live on earth, Jesus desires that our lives declare that truth. He is reunited with the Father! He lives to intercede for us! He pours out His Spirit upon us continuously, and provokes us with the fruit of His suffering–the expansive, generous, inclusive union He now shares with His Father: Raised Son and Proud Papa! We are invited into His reunion—Jesus our brother, God our Father, the Spirit uniting us and making us fully alive. He did not suffer in vain. He is satisfied to the extent that our lives declare this union of Life!
My friend Jonathan Hunter gets this. Raised from the dead of homosexual sin, drug addiction, and the HIV virus (before effective treatment existed), Hunter discovered how Jesus gives us a new lease on life, regardless of one’s ‘prognosis.’ He grew up with a familiar mindset of darkness and impending dread. In Christ, Jonathan discovered that this ‘spirit of death’ need not master him anymore. The Risen Christ is the ultimate grave robber! Jesus has broken death’s grip on Jonathan and all who wrestle with despair. Forever. ‘By His death, Jesus destroyed him who holds the power of death—the devil—and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by fear of death’ (Heb. 2: 14, 15).
While we were in transit at the Geneva Airport, Jonathan received a vision of Jesus routing Satan by storming the gates of hell and bringing with Him a host of people who had been trapped by death in underground caverns. Liberated, these former captives lived to declare the power of what He won for them! Hunter understands better than anyone that Jesus stormed the gates of hell in order to get us out of there. Is this what Matthew meant when he wrote that at Jesus’ death ‘the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life…after the resurrection, they appeared to many people’(Matt. 27:52, 53)?
Jesus appears today through an empowered, radiant people free from the spirit of death. My friend Daniel Delgado lived under death’s shadow through a mentally ill, suicidal mother; he escaped into homosexual and transgender fantasy. While identifying as a woman and participating in drag shows, he witnessed a culture of death as friends died young, tragically. That spirit of death hunted down Daniel but Jesus’ Spirit was stronger. Jesus met him through engaging Christians who helped rescue Daniel from an early eternal death.
Today Daniel lives to make Jesus known. He recently had the privilege of ministering to a teenager intent on becoming a woman and unraveling in every way. Daniel emboldened him with the truth of how Jesus saved him—granting him union with the Father and the gift of his own identity as a son. He asked the young man if he wanted that love and that freedom. In light of Love, the young man saw his deception and cried out for mercy. Jesus gave it. He did not suffer in vain. He lives, and is satisfied by us who live to declare eternal Life.
‘They will look on Me, the One that they have pierced…and grieve bitterly. On that day a fountain will open to cleanse them from sin and impurity’ (Zech. 12:10; 13:1).
Jesus mirrored hard truth. Outraged man shattered the mirror. God retaliated by releasing a flood of divine mercy from His broken frame, the only source that restores us to the truth.
Barbara Taylor Brown says it best: ‘I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. One woman stood up and said: “I kept thinking: who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?” Jesus died because He told the truth to everyone He met. He was the truth, a perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God’s own light.’
The Desert Stream staff now habitually gathers to tell each other the truth about one another’s strengths and weaknesses. As the sugary, soft fruit of the therapeutic age, we delight in blessing each other’s good points but brace ourselves for the bad. We flinch to even use language like ‘bad’, preferring words like ‘unchallenged strengths.’
What I recall from those meetings is the ‘bad.’ I couldn’t recount the ‘blessings’ but have wrestled in the wee hours with the difference between how I see reality and how others see mine. I have not wanted to kill certain staff members but I’ve rehearsed ‘setting them straight’ monologues before sleep. How much bigger the gap between God’s truth and ours? The difference: in exposing our self-deceptions, He submits to our smashing, and offers Himself as the antidote.
He gives all—His body pierced for our washing and broken for our bread, the meal that makes us whole. For us who are troubled and touchy and too readily defended—pour out Your ‘vengeance’ upon us this Good Friday, Good God.
Barbara Taylor Brown again: ‘In the presence of His integrity, our pretense is exposed. In the presence of His constancy, our cowardice comes to light. In the presence of His fierce love for God and us, our hardness of heart is revealed. I am not worse than you nor you I, but leave Him in the room and there is no room to hide. He is the light of the world. In His presence, we either fall down to worship Him or do everything we can to extinguish His light.
Today, while He dies, do not turn away. Make yourself look in the mirror. Today no-one gets away from being shamed by His beauty. Today no-one flees without being laid bare by His light.’