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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Provoking Life, Part 1

‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed are those who take no offense in Me.’ (Luke 7:23)

sun and manA scene from Charlie Chaplin’s classic film ‘Limelight’ highlights the power of Christ’s Resurrection to heal the wound at the core of our brokenness. A young dancer claims to have a chronic physical condition that has crippled her. As she recounts a string of sorrows, her older mentor is seized with insight from on high; he realizes that her condition isn’t physical at all but deeply emotional.

Lodged in her legs, unhealed pain has rendered the dancer passive and captive to trauma. Her mentor (Chaplin) invokes the creative power of Life itself as the antidote to her condition. Unbeknownst to himself, Chaplin summons the healing power of Christ Resurrected, and offers to help her dance once more.

Immediately, I recalled my first experience of reading Leanne Payne’s classic book ‘The Broken Image.’ (Baker, 1981: READ THIS BOOK!) She eloquently reveals the wounds and deprivations at the core of the homosexual condition; she then exemplifies how we can learn to pray in accord with the Spirit of Resurrection and help men and women receive the healing they really need. Her humble intelligence, combined with an awe of unseen holy Reality, awakened my soul 32 years ago when I first read ‘The Broken Image.’

Her words rouse me with each fresh read. As I stand with persons facing same-sex attraction who know before God that their true selves are not ‘homosexual,’ I am reminded: ‘Go deeper than what is obvious! Invoke the power of Jesus who lives to raise these ones from the dead. Listen for the healing Word; hear their suffering and discover its source as you wait on Me. Unite these ones with My healing heart. I who hold all things together (Col. 1: 17) will reconcile what is fractured, comfort what aches, excise what is false, and raise up the real substantial self that is splendid and holy, not homosexual in the least.’

Leanne Payne applies the power of the Resurrection at the level we need it: real Life to encounter our real wounding and struggle, and real Truth to interpret correctly what is going on in our troubled souls. We live in a superficial, idolatrous age that prides itself on being ‘gay-affirming.’ How cruel and small-minded to limit the soul to the wound and its misinterpretation. How magnificent of Jesus and His servants to restore the wounded so we like Chaplin’s protégé can resume the dance.

‘What stupid people Christians often are! Most Christians have nothing worse saying because they have nothing to show. The new life that Christ came to bring never quite reaches into earthly things, never overcomes the world.

We must make a completely new beginning. We need to begin completely anew again, more deeply, more thoroughly, more fully. For if we really reach a point where we are united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. Then we will enter into a completely new life. What a tremendous thing it is to meet the Resurrection!’

Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

 

 

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Reduced to Resurrection

easter-resurrectionDuring Holy Week a few years back, Sam (my youngest son) came home late. In simple desperation, he said to me: ‘I need Jesus. I need help.’ His drug problem was consuming him. In severe mercy, Jesus reduced him to new life. Sam had been baptized years before. Now he needed to be raised from the dead.

This Holy Week a pastor recounted to me the return of Kim, a congregant who had left her husband and kids years before for another woman. Her lover became physically violent and she returned to the Lord. Her family has moved on. Her help is Jesus, and a small band of Christians. Kim has no idea what His new life will mean for her now. She is reduced to Resurrection.

In this Easter season we can hold an overly facile view of the Living God. He can too easily become a familiar ‘life-source’, as natural as the flowers and birds of spring. We forget the shock: the challenge commanded by the Resurrection.

‘Resurrection proclaims true freedom’, says Barth, ‘and lets us painfully discover our prison chains. It tells us that the one and only refuge is God. It tells us that only because it shows us that all our positions on life’s battlefield are lost and we must vacate them.’

Kim and Sam know the lure and illusion of false defenses—drugs or sex or the faux justice demanded by the ‘gay self.’ These are strongholds that are only overcome by the Risen Christ. He waits patiently as we cling to our flimsy walls. Finally defenseless, we infidels hear again the song of the Beloved. The drone of despair and other demons cannot stifle that song. He won our hearts a long time ago and has never stopped singing. We are reduced to Love again.

I will never forget that season at University when the battle raged between the empowered ‘gay self’ and the dopey (it seemed to me) Christian one. One side had to give. The former seemed more powerful—fun and sexy and hip. Hanging out with the poor who clung to Jesus? Not so cool. But real, an authentic response to the God who I honestly believed was alive and calling me into a new life. He won because He is, and He graced me with the freedom to see ‘the gay self’ as a sophisticated defense against His call to follow Him nakedly.

No doubt, once we are reduced to Him, we need help from His Body to live out our repentance. It will take many turnings, many reductions until we are steadily on track. Kim, Sam and I know the detours. But more than those, we are learning to yield to the faithful Love that surpasses all other loves. We have become wise to our defenses and humble before the One who is the ‘anchor of our souls, sure and steadfast’ (Heb. 6: 19).

‘We must receive assistance from the ground up. Then the steep walls of our securities are broken to bits, and we are forced to become humble, poor, pleading. Thus we are driven more and more to surrender and give up those things which we formerly used to protect and defend and to hold to ourselves against the voice of the resurrection’s truth.’ Barth

‘Father, through the merciful wooing of Your Son, we entrust to You all those we love who are far from home. Forgive our striving. We trust in Your mercy alone. As You overcame our misery through Mercy alone, so we entrust our miserable ones to You. By Your grace, open their ears to hear Your song of love; sing them home. We know it will not be through our cajoling or a ferocious sermon that they will return. It will be the miracle of Mercy, the witness of Water in a dry and weary land. Make the burning sand a pool (Is. 35: 7), we pray.’

 

 

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Seventh of 7 Prayers for Marriage: Under the Rainbow

‘The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night.’ – St. Edith Stein

march marriageI marched last Tuesday in DC for marriage. America was not with me. Christians may still believe that marriage is about male and female but they hold their views quietly, passively. In the meantime, aggressive gay activists have captivated marriage and made it their own. They screamed their insistence on the steps of the Supreme Court while those who knew better slept. In our drowsiness we have become the minority. We are now the oppressed.

Maybe it was my expectation. I have fought hard for marriage, especially in the last five years. I have endured church after church politely refusing to take a stand for marriage on the basis of ‘love’. On a cold spring morning, I was looking for an adrenal blast of solidarity with thousands of like-minded ones.

As we rode the subway to the Capitol, I thought the swell of passengers were fellow warriors. Wrong. I counted two others getting off with us as we exited for the rally. Some came, a few thousand at best. Yet we seemed ragged and disjointed, an underwhelming army that barely enveloped the huge podium.

Then we marched, bravely holding our signs (‘Kids need a Mom and Dad’) and our tongues from lashing back at the screamers. I took a shortcut to get a better view of things. Away from the march, I encountered a handful of white, well-heeled professionals en route to work who looked with disgust at my sign and me. One of them scowled: ‘You’re stupid…you’re gay!!!’ Thoughtful political commentary…

As we turned the corner in front of the Supreme Court steps, our numbers seemed to swell as the path narrowed. I turned around and saw currents of ethnicities: streams of Africans, Hispanics and Asians who marched with dignity and humility in unison with their churches. White marchers like me were few; we were bland dots in a rich sea of America’s real diversity.

The empowered white folk were gay activists on the sidewalks flanking us and shouting: ‘Gay straight, black white, marriage is a civil right…’ The preppy good looks of the activists belied any authentic history with civil rights battles. I looked upon my fellow soldiers with new admiration: devout Christians of many tribes and tongues honoring God’s image and a nation for which they are grateful.

My fine friends at Regeneration with whom I marched–Bob Ragan and Josh Glazer—concurred. We, not the ever-morphing GLBT, are the real rainbow, a river of multi-colored currents flowing from the same Source and heading home to that Source.

As surely as the Bride longs for the Bridegroom, so we His people march for His image–one man committed to one woman—to be honored in the land. We must band together as wickedness grows.

The powerbrokers have abandoned us for other gods. Anyone who takes a stand for marriage loses power. When did an aspiring writer, artist, politician or popular churchman, for that matter, last take a bold stand for real marriage? We have taken up the traditions of men and have forsaken God’s (Mk 7:8).

God is mocked but not discouraged. He lives generously with those whose power is only Him. For His sake, I shall march for marriage all my days. I shall do so with a limp. And with the humble who have always been the minority. We are never mightier than when we stand together and He alone is our strength.

‘I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and not denied My Name.’ (Rev. 3: 8)

‘Our weaknesses were turned to strength, and we became powerful in battle, routing foreign armies.’ (Heb. 11:34)

‘Father, Your Son is risen and we rise with Him in this season of new life. May His Life infuse us afresh as we march forward in a new season of battle. Thank You for endowing our little efforts with the power that catapulted You from the tomb. Keep our eyes fixed on Your absolute sufficiency. May we refuse every demonic scheme to divide and conquer the faithful. Empower our efforts to maintain the unity of Your Spirit in the bond of peace.’

 

 

 

 

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Lent Devotion 7: Foot-Washing for the Filthy Rich

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and don’t need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev. 3:17)

feet-wash3There’s a fallen part of each of us that wants to keep a safe distance from the Mercy of God. Immersion requires poverty, a desperate cry for ‘holy water’ that the best wine cannot dull. Jesus becomes our life only when we recognize how wretched life is without Him.

St. Peter reveals our prideful detachment. When Jesus knelt down to wash the apostle’s dirty feet, his response is ours: “Get up! Get away from my stench! Remember the fragrant things I do!’ Jesus responds to Peter and to us: ‘Unless you let Me wash you there [feet—the lowest, dirtiest parts of us], you can have no part with Me.’ (Jn 13:8)

Offensive Jesus wants the most offensive parts of us. He who at Calvary appalled us–‘His appearance disfigured, His form marred beyond human likeness’ (Is. 52: 14)—insists that we recognize in His suffering our sin. His battering unto death on the Cross is our bath. All humanity—better sooner than later—will bow before the Source of blood and water that makes all things new. ‘So shall He sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him.’ (v. 15)

Why then do we hide ourselves from His washing? Maybe we delude ourselves into wanting just a little religion, a taste of spirituality; we assent to Jesus without radical submission to Him. Kierkegaard calls this delusion the difference between admiring and following Jesus:

“To want to admire Christ instead of following Him is not an invention of bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, at a safe distance from Christ…

They refuse to accept that Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended by Him. His radical, bizarre behavior so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who He is, they can no longer experience the tranquility they so much seek after…

Christ’s life makes it terrifyingly manifest what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When everything is favorable to our Christianity, then it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. Give heed therefore to the call to discipleship!’

The church at Laodicea (Rev. 3: 14-22) admired Christ but did not want to follow Him. They wanted to toast Him from a distance, standing proud in beautiful leather shoes; they did not want to submit their stench to a foot-washing.

Wealth and ease of life are the most powerful enemies of the Gospel; riches had lulled the Laodiceans into spiritual sleep. They wanted a fragrant spray of spirituality, not the flood that kills in order to revive.  Jesus refused to be just another additive to their ‘quality of life.’ In fact, He hated their compromise so much that He vowed to vomit them out of His mouth until they determined whether or not they were actually going to follow Him. (Rev. 3: 15, 16)

He gave them a chance to submit their stench to Him, starting with the right perception of their desperate state. ‘Your riches cannot hide nor atone for your spiritual poverty, nakedness, and blindness’ (v.17). He implores them to submit to the suffering that could make them rich (‘gold refined in the fire’ v.18), to the cleansing unto chastity and good works (‘white clothes to cover shameful nakedness’ v.18), and for healing ‘salve’ to open blind eyes (v. 18). He called them to attention: to see only Himself and the narrow way of surrender.

Jesus alerted them to their true condition in order to save them. He exposed in order to restore. In loving discipline, Jesus gave them a choice: ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock’ (v. 20). He was knocking but the door had to be opened from the inside. Repentance always involves our response. Once we open the door we must follow His lead, wherever He goes and regardless of the cost.

Are we followers of Jesus, or mere admirers? A look inside the church at Laodicea is a glimpse of our own tendency to want Jesus on our terms, not His.

The fact that we as a culture are torn by ‘gay marriage’ shows how far we have fallen and yet how proud we are of our self-sufficiency. Remember that the sin of Sodom was not first aggressive gay sex; it was arrogance born of wealth that resulted in a lack of concern for the poor and indifference to God (Ez. 16: 49).

The rebellious refuse Mercy. Though God has only compassion for persons with same-sex attraction, those who insist that such a tendency become the basis for an identity and a ‘marriage’ repel that Mercy with the worst kind of arrogance. It is born out of a consumer-driven ‘I will be and have what I want!’ attitude. Surely this is the greed, which is idolatry (Romans 1: 16-32; Eph. 5:5).

The only answer for us is to face our filthy riches. Will we be first the broken, stinking Bride in order to become His virginal one? Will we submit our feet and our wills afresh to the Crucified?

‘Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the Cross I cling;

Naked come to You for dress, helpless look to You for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior, or I die.’

Rock of Ages

 

 

 

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Lent Devotion 2: Good Suffering

‘The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night.’  – St. Edith Stein

forgiveJesus makes suffering holy. He alone ‘makes the burning sand a pool.’ (Is. 35:7) His 40 days in the desert prophesied the Cross, on which Jesus once and for all reclaimed suffering as the way to Life.

Suffering alone does not give us life or make us good. Jesus does. He simply uses suffering to reduce us to Himself. Serious trouble invites us into the desert to prepare for the resurrection He has in store for us.

Of all the kinds of suffering that exist, the best kind involves suffering for being a Christian. The Church at Smyrna knew that suffering well. (Rev.2: 8-11) Their serious trouble involved tremors of persecution (a large community of Jews who Jesus called ‘non-Jews’ due to their hatred of Christians v. 9) that Jesus prophesied would become an earthquake. Threatened by imprisonment and death, the Smyrnans also were impoverished. They had no-one or nothing to fall back on but Jesus.

That’s why Jesus called them ‘rich.’ (v.3) In the desert of slander, affliction and poverty, Jesus became everything for them. They had no laws or lawyers to defend them. The Smyrnans were reduced to the advocacy of Jesus and became powerful because of it.

Jesus hallowed their suffering. Out of the seven churches, only 2, included Smyrna, were not called to repent. The Smyrnans learned how to suffer well. In their pain they did not turn to sin but to Jesus.

I can assume the Smyrnans dreaded the threat persecution posed to peace and reputation and freedom. Self-preservation would have been tempted them to tone down the message, to build bridges with their enemies. Jesus urges them to ‘to not fear’ and ‘to be faithful’ unto death. (v.10)

In the last year, some Living Waters leaders have been threatened by legal action and death due to upholding the truth of marriage and of healing homosexuality.  Such threats frighten and weary us but make us love Jesus more. In pondering these tremors at the onset of 2013, I wrote in my prayer journal: ‘I don’t want a life of ease, I want Jesus.’ So be it. May none of us dumb down the truth He has entrusted to us for the sake of saving ourselves. He alone saves.

He alone makes suffering good. May the hammering on all sides temper us and make us golden. Thank you, Jesus, for the courageous witness at Smyrna. Like them, may we shine brighter as the days grow darker.

‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you.’ (LK 6:26)

‘Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.’ – (Rev. 2:10)

 

 

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