Category: Prayer

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Crowns Down

‘Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved’ (St. Peter, Acts 4:12).

Three kings bowed down before the Infant King, subjecting their royalty to the Lord of Life. No power on earth gave them certainty except the ground of Jesus. Before Him they bowed low, crowns down. They realized what St. Louis Anjou articulated 1300 years later. Born of a queen with a brother who became a king, Louis discovered ‘Jesus is my Kingdom. If I do not have Him, I lose everything.’

Americans eschewed authentic royalty from the start; instead, we crafted the cult of celebrity and made idols out of fragile creative people amplified on concert stages and big screens. Last year, we lost Prince, the androgynous pop innovator, and Star Wars’ Princess Leia. The frenzy that followed suggested Queen Elizabeth had been killed. Yet today’s frenzy will morph fast into tomorrow’s fresh flesh. In the glow of new images clamoring for our devotion, we forget old idols.

In truth, we have been seduced by media manipulations of persons who live risky lifestyles and who may well have drunk the Cool-Aid themselves, believing their own press rather than casting their crowns at the feet of Jesus. We drive the mess. As the protagonist of ‘La La Land’ says about the Hollywood machine, ‘We worship everything and value nothing.’

Especially poignant to me in these celebrity deaths was the exclusion of any reference to Jesus. Had the Prince and Princess made peace with Him? Does anyone care? Carrie Fisher’s (Princess Leia) mother, Debbie Reynolds, grew up a devout Christian and in her early career was outspoken about King Jesus. Yet in the face of her daughter’s untimely end, the 84-year-old said that she wanted only to be with her daughter in the afterlife, and gave up the ghost. Understandable, but shaky ground. Our loved ones aren’t the gate-keepers. Jesus is. Jesus alone. The only sure way to prepare for death is by calling on His name and repenting of every star we have worshiped or sought to become ourselves.

Death awaits all of us. And Jesus is the ground of heaven, our sole path to a happy eternity. Jesus commissions us, His faithful ones, to do everything in our power to love our friends and family into faith in His Name. Like the Magi, let us lay down our crowns and worship the One. Let us then arise and make Him known.

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father-figure

Father-Figure?

‘All I wanted, something special, something sacred in your eyes; I will be your father-figure…’ George Michael

The pop singer died on Christmas, the day Christ was born afresh in the hearts of faithful ones. Michael’s broken heart gave out as Jesus offered us broken ones the Father’s heart. ‘When you were children, you were slaves under the world’s system. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son…so we could receive our full rights as sons and daughters. Because we are now His children, He sends us the Spirit of His Son, who cries out “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer slaves but sons…’ (Gal. 4:3-7)

Few represent enslavement to the world’s system better than George Michael. He gifted us with infectious pop hooks and videos, while slowly taking his own life in homosexual addiction and drug use. Some claim that homophobia drove him to cruising bathrooms and smoking crack but I say it is the nature of the world’s system itself; the holy longing for Father twisted into enslavement to eroticized ‘father-figures.’

Guilty, sure—sensitive people ‘get’ dehumanizing practices. But bad feelings do not break chains. Drugs dull the ache but cannot take it away. Neither do ‘gay-affirming’ laws (spoiler alert: male ‘gay marriages’ make few if any claims to monogamy) or the likes of Madonna and Elton John whose effusive eulogizing of George Michael suggest their own guilt.

In the glare of a man struck down by a world that enslaves estranged sons of God, we are all a little guilty. We choose to no longer even use the language of slavery to describe the divided life Michael lived. We fear that the ‘gay feds’ will brand us ‘haters’ or worse, ‘reparative therapists.’ Even churchmen qualify the truth that Jesus transforms the ‘gay-identified’ into sons and daughters of the Father.

So we mute the power of Christmas. We turn down the relevance of Jesus’ descent into the muck in order to reclaim children of dignity, who summons what is real and true from the rubble of our lives and who stokes His refinement of us by His Spirit. We are now artful dodgers; we so nuance St. Paul’s words that we reduce the Holy One to a ‘father-figure’ rather than the Lord of all.

George Michael postured himself as a ‘father-figure’ in a vain effort to secure the love he needed. But his world was a cruel, unforgiving one that tempts men only to torment them. His light burnt out. May his tragic end bring us to our knees and provoke us to manifest the One who makes sons and daughters out of slaves.

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Burn. Again.

“Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I [John the Baptist] am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the One coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…He will gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:10-12).

Weary and controlling after Thanksgiving (why do joyful occasions make me a jerk?), I extended my misery to Annette and hurt her. Badly. To an outsider, my sin may not have been a felony, but it was one of those flashpoint sins that bound up a host of smaller historic ones; together, they effectively bludgeoned Annette.

At Mass that morning, I brought my sin into the light and heard the invitation that Leanne Payne gave us continuously (out of the mouth of a C.S. Lewis character): ‘Die before you die; there is no chance after that.’ In choosing to lay down my sin and destroy it at the foot of His Cross (‘please God, may it be so this time…’), I perceived with the eyes of my heart a fire raging around me, licking up the mess. God in Christ came with fiery love to destroy the sin that destroys through me.

Advent, like Lent, holds up a mirror to the spiritual monsters we can be—on one hand, earnest and devout; on the other, blackening eyes with limbs we thought were amputated long ago. All this requires is that we look intently and beyond our own selfish rationales in order to behold the hurting eyes of another and finally, the blazing love of God in Christ who awaits our fleshly offering.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls the religious to repentance, rather than the more obviously disordered. Ouch. Annette and I now attend polite religious gatherings defined by worship that is choreographed, carefully. Our prayers tend more toward ‘us’ the privileged interceding for ‘them’, the unfortunates. That gets ‘us’ safely off the hook and frees us to retain our reserve; it frees us from the flames.

In truth, most of us are deeply divided souls and our religious devotion may well tempt us to hide those divides for both the sake of convenience and appearance. In muted tones, mid-week, we hear of crippled marriages, the beloved son’s suicide, the ex-married and ex-middle class Mom who works weekends to eat.

This Advent I pray for the Cross to expose our Pharisaic mixtures and to provoke us into the flames, together, in this one body. I pray that simple songs might set our hearts aflame with His blazing love, that powerful preaching might convict us with signs and wonders following, that the Holy Meal endowed with the Spirit’s power might deliver us from demons, sear our flesh, and unite what’s left with God’s best for our broken lives.

Maybe John is asking us to lay down our linen blazers and tiny crosses around our fine necks; maybe he’s asking us to put our entire selves on the chopping block and to sob over the lies we told and the divided lives we lived. Maybe he’s asking us to forego social graces, to run boldly to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:14-16) and get messy, stripped and naked, so that at last we might say we only want Jesus and that only He can clothe us (Rom. 13:14) with what we need to live undivided, grateful lives.

Maybe then we the Church would not have to worry so much about ‘how to reach the lost.’ They would hear the sobs and see the beeline straight to the altar and would fall face down with us. Together with all the saints, we might cry out for mercy amid the roaring blaze of Love from which none will escape.

‘On that day, the Gentiles will seek out the root of Jesse, for His dwelling shall be glorious’ (IS. 11:10).

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Contending for the Bride

‘Zeal for His House has Consumed Me.’ (JN 2:17)

In order ‘to contend for the faith entrusted to all the saints’ (Jude 3), we must follow Jesus into the House of His Father and purge ourselves of what divides us. Yes, we must come into the light of fellowship and enlist the help of others, and yes, no-one can cast out our personal temple robbers but us. Our decision to refuse every altar but Christ Crucified is nothing short of a miracle of God’s mercy—His fiery kindness (mirrored in His members) persuading us that holy Presence beats the unstable presence of other lovers any day.

Then we are ready to give all for the saving of many lives—contending for the Gospel and its power to transform broken lives through the Church. We fight against every stronghold of thought that dulls and blurs the goal of purity and wholeness (aka chastity). We contend against the sick mercy of ‘gay Christianity’ and against the sick truth of pounding vulnerable ones with scripture and church teaching without lending a hand to help them overcome real conflicts. (Spoiler alert: this takes time, sometimes a lifetime…) Troubling too are evangelical churches so intent on reaching the LGBTQ+ community that they naively adopt non-biblical language and ethics and become converted by good ‘gay’ people.

We roll up our sleeves and fight for:

1. The lifting up of the One Cross in order to redeem the two natures—male and female. Under Christ, no LGBTQ+ community can stand. We unite under one gracious hope—Christ Crucified—and one goal, the encounter between the blood and water, and our gendered selves. Only Almighty Mercy can dissolve the catastrophic impact of sin upon what it means to be male and female, created in His image. We must keep the message simple and clear—the Cross invites every person to enter that healing flood, and we in the Church must be constant in extending that invitation.
2. We preach the full range of sins against chastity, beginning with common ‘heterosexual’ ones we often wink at—misogyny, misandry, porn and romantic addictions, divorce, abuse, weird sexual legalism (everything but intercourse), etc. After that, it’s water off a duck’s back to preach repentance to the more obviously confused—‘Come into the water with us; we won’t throw stones but we will take your sins seriously, even as we have taken ours seriously and are doing the hard work to get free.’
3. We provide real outlets where people can get free. I am troubled by communities which preach the truth beautifully but provide little if any in-depth pastoral care for sinners who need it. We must recognize the healing army that is there (and refer!) while adding to its ranks by getting free ourselves. Then, as our gift to the Church, we accompany real sinners who desire freedom: real repentance unto the real Jesus who shows us the Father and His all-surpassing power to restore what is broken.
4. Under the one Cross, we fight for the truth of every person’s gendered dignity, regardless of their confusing starting points. We summon it, we contend for it as part of what it means to be an ambassador of the Gospel. In the same way that we lovingly silence the Pharisee, so we refuse the false ethnos of the LGBTQ+ community. Under the one Cross, we recognize two natures–male and female–, and one goal, that estranged children of God encounter the Father and become beloved sons and daughters, empowered to resume the journey to wholeness.

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Election Day

‘To God’s elect, strangers in the world’ (1P1:1), ‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened to know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power to us who believe’ (Eph. 1:18).

Saints Peter and Paul remind us ground saints of the hope we share in Jesus, His glory and our inheritance, which need not be dulled or distracted by a shameful election. (I’m still not sure who troubles me more—she who champions mothers and children while insisting that the former be free to dispose of the latter, or he who demonizes aliens while pandering to angry white Ameri-men.) In truth, Jesus’ choice to elect us and make us strangers to the world’s systems may be just the reminder we need to sharpen our focus on what counts—hope for a harassed nation whose people will be saved by no other candidate than Jesus Christ.

During the last presidential Election Day in 2012, I wound up a 40-day fast with the fine folks at Outpost Ministries in the Twin Cities—we prayed ‘Thy will be done’ throughout the day at the Justice Prayer Room, then sponsored by a church on the campus of the University of Minneapolis. During a break, I wandered (hungrily) around the campus and beheld hundreds of gender confused students; there, through the eyes of my heart, I saw a torrent of ‘living water’ rushing from the church and inviting them to partake of the transformational flood.

I heard Jesus whisper: ‘I am their hope—not a law or elected official—this river of blood and water and Spirit. Build up My house, let the waters rise there and overflow into the public square; welcome My estranged children home!’ From that point on, four years ago, I vowed to do just that, build up Jesus’ house so that empowered faithful ones might blaze a path for those lost to the world.

The Church! Might she be faithful in this hour to Jesus’ blazing truth and mercy for the saving of many lives! Of this fire, and the threat of our falling asleep in its light, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia writes: ‘We do not need to renounce our baptism to be apostates. We simply need to be silent when our faith demands we speak out. Our assimilation into popular culture has bleached out strong religious conviction in the name of liberal tolerance and has dulled our longing for the supernatural…’

Election Day Friends

Pete, Ken and Andy.

And the power of that supernatural love! My splendid colleague Peter Kockelman and I had the privilege this week to impart some wisdom (and receive much renewal) at Bethel Church in Redding CA. We met future ministry partners like Ken Williams and were simply blown away by the hope and life and love that surged like a flood from the community of 8000 saints, mostly young adult, who gather in order to give Him away with joy-filled generosity.

(That is what blessed me most about the Bethel community: in light of incredible pressures to accommodate the volume of seekers, key staff persons face the burdens with child-like joy. No stressed-face saints these—they smile and shrug heaven-ward and entrust the glorious impossibilities to Jesus. He makes a way.)

Yet they are also realists. At the urging of Pastor Chris Vallaton, the Bethel community is seeking to offer a clear witness of God’s will for men and women, while equipping the saints to accompany persons caught in disorder with grace and truth. The river is rising in Redding and now flows throughout the world to draw estranged sons and daughters back to the Father, and His confirmation of each one as beloved sons and daughters, made in His image.

These Bethel saints will not bow the knee to another image of humanity, a ‘cooler’ version for the sake of appeasing confused hipsters. They will mobilize the saints to become that river poured out to the broken. They will do their part to make our election sure, the Bride who has been washed by the Word, free of spot and wrinkle, radiant. Nowhere else I want to be: joyfully in the river with all the saints, doing our parts to keep the waters pure and rising for a people who will perish without it.

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