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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Courage and Contending Part 5: What We Need

‘I urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints’…for ‘godless ones have changed the grace of God into a license for immorality.’ (Jude 3, 4)

diverse group young adultsA common charge against Desert Stream and other ministries that encourage same-sex strugglers to a life beyond the gay kingdom is that we are driving ‘at-risk’ youth to suicide. Implicit in that view is that some kids are ‘gay’ by nature; the only ‘cure’ they need is freedom from those (like us) who believe otherwise.

Any challenge to the ‘gay self’ is seen as dangerous. Now educators, therapists, and social workers, even pastors, go to great lengths to confirm that ‘self’ by supporting alternative communities that support early expressions of ‘gender-bending.’ I recently read of a camp in upstate New York that hosts ‘at risk’ kids and features fashion shows where the kids strut around in drag while their parents and siblings look on confusedly (according to the article).

Now a gay camp is superior to bullying and death threats and other abominations. But I think it misses the point. What every kid needs is to feel accepted in his or her skin by same-gender peers. No matter what their inner conflicts/tendencies may be, kids need normal: a chance to be and act like an important part of the whole. A drag show may be fun for a few but at the end of the day it’s a misbegotten attempt at meeting the kid’s need for gender solidarity.

As one such ‘at risk’ kid, I recall two very important experiences that gave me hope for my confused masculine self. Caught between pursuing feminine ‘play’ but not wanting to be bullied by tough guys, I pulled back from engaging much at all. Passivity and bad shame clouded my gender self.

My older brother had been a bit of a bully himself but had softened due to Christian conversion. He asked me to come out one day and play ball with him. While we threw the ball he encouraged me to keep at it, to not pull back just because I would not make the varsity team. He encouraged me that just being familiar with the game was fun and a good way of engaging with guys.

Simple. Helpful. And mediated by a guy I loved who came down to my size and mediated a kind of gender ‘grace’ to me.

Another key memory involved a solid and kind camp counselor who took pity on me. Our small group of guys came in last in some wilderness feat and I was assigned the task of cleaning the cafeteria floor in front of everyone as a kind of penance. I was heckled the whole time. This older guy came alongside and helped me, mop in hand, encouraging me throughout the ordeal. I stifled tears, not because of being teased but in gratitude for his kindness.

When I was ready to move beyond homosexuality, I recalled these memories as flashes of genuine male goodness. I realized what I needed was that kind of solidarity, and in truth, that’s what I wanted to give other guys, especially those confused like me. We may have wanted gay sex or a drag show but that’s not what we needed.

I wonder: do the higher rates of suicide promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression in avowed homosexuals stem mostly from supposed ‘homophobes’ like me? Or have we failed to assess the core needs of those prone to ‘gender-bending’? If so, may God give us the courage to offer alternatives to the ‘gay self’ and community. What we need may not be what we want. Let’s make every effort to satisfy the deep needs of the deeply wounded.

‘Do not let foul talk come out of your mouths but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs…Be kind and compassionate to one another.’ (Eph. 4: 29, 32)    

 

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Courage and Community

‘At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.’ (Lk 1:41)

In order for God’s new life in us to come to ‘term’, we need community. Healthy parents and babies require those who champion the emerging miracle. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the friendship between Mary and Elizabeth.

At the same time that angel Gabriel announced Mary’s unusual pregnancy, he invited her into solidarity with her barren elder cousin Elizabeth. ‘Even Elizabeth is having a child’ (Lk 1: 36) he said as Mary pondered her own fate. God knew the ‘conflicts on the outside, and the fears within’ (2 Cor 7:5) that awaited the two. He provided a partner for each. For those of us called to bear the impossible, community is required.

Last month in France, the pace and peculiarity of what God required of me caused me to hit a wall. I surrendered quietly, and waited for release. My beloved colleague Werner spoke up and said: “Last night [after our meeting] I felt weary and doubtful and asked God: ‘What am I doing here?’” His words echoed my thoughts and took the sting out of them.

For years now, Werner and I have shared a passion for restoring the sexually broken. So his expressed struggle has authority. I know his battle; he gets mine. It is ours. We walked through the impasse together.

Last week, the Desert Stream staff had a series of devotional prayer times for Advent. Lori Butler shared poignantly of her season of waiting for God in some prolonged battles. Reduced to God, she was also reduced to a new level of reliance upon us. Her evident emotion touched all of us deeply and actually exposed an area of battle in which I was stuck.

God prompted me to confess that area before the staff. They prayed for me, and God did nothing short of a miracle. He birthed a solution. Immediately, I experienced an expectancy and courage that had eluded me for months.

Community delivers the goods for those called to bear the impossible.

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Courage and Conflict

New life is always under threat. The devourer prowls around cracked doors, hungry. Mary’s ‘yes’ to bear Christ may evoke consoling images of Mother and Child but also invites profound struggle. Mary’s ‘yes’ was a battle cry.

Simeon prophesied to Mary as she cradled the Babe: ‘a sword shall pierce your heart too.’ (Lk 2: 35) He referred to the suffering that Mary and all who lined up with Christ would face. Simeon planted a Cross right in the middle of the crib. From the onset of God’s entry on earth, the battle between good and evil manifested itself.

Last week, Annette and I faced spiritual warfare of unprecedented proportions. As I prepared for a ministry trip, everything that could go wrong did. The convergence of minor hardships inflamed our weaknesses and fears. When I arrived at the airport, I was exhausted beyond rest. Only then could I apprehend what was happening. The enemy sought to wear me out before I had even advanced.

At that I laughed. I am at my best when face down, relying only on the Word that comes in quiet surrender with my comrades.

In France, my beloved colleague Werner mirrored to me the weariness he and his friends have faced since gay advocates have targeted Living Waters there. Several healers have dropped out, and those that remain are shaken. That is precisely the enemy’s point: wear them out with relentless opposition.

God has a whole different plan for the battle we face. He wants us to disengage from the irrational buzz and press into Life. Our simple ‘yes’ combined with prayerful encouragement and solidarity among our fellows is all it takes. Amid the unraveling of God’s image in our land, God speaks through the Word of our pretty good lives, we once barren and impotent, now rendered virgin and fruitful.

So we decide. Does resistance dull or sharpen us? Do we face the bullets head-down or dodge them by opting for false peace with friends, families, governments?

Annette and I have come too far to dodge. Jesus did not convert us into pious liars. He called us into a new life together forged by fire. That is precisely how we become like Him—not by creating alternate worlds that distance us from the flames, but by looking to Him through the battle, trusting that He is forging something precious for Himself.

We just discovered that the Supreme Court will decide once and for all next year on Prop. 8, the victory He gave us four years ago when the people of CA voted down ‘gay marriage’. It has been tied up by Appeals Courts ever since. We fight on, confident that the truth housed in faithful ones will endure and bear fruit.

Admittedly, the true way is the hard one and at times we feel the burn. Lately we have been asking Him for more grace to endure what He asks of us. His strength married to our ‘yes’ makes that possible. We pray the same for you.

‘Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution, He will come to save you” ‘(Is 35: 3, 4).

 

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Home for the Holidays: Life in the Body

‘When I talk about her, I cannot stop!’ St. Augustine

‘How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young—a place near Your altar,
O Lord God Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in Your house;
they are ever praising You.’ (PS 84: 1-4)

I have a confession to make: I love the church of Jesus Christ! Through all my wanderings, in a variety of gatherings, I have discovered the antidote to alienation, provocation to my passivity, the quieting of a restless heart. I have found Jesus in His Body. There is nowhere else I would rather be than among the faithful, focused on the Lover of our souls.

Let’s start at the church’s beginning: Christmas. Here we are, yet again. Inevitably, the holidays stir up questions of home and family. As one ages, both change: families-of-origin scatter then ones own members leave and cleave. Today, Annette and I face the fun challenge my parents did decades ago: who is where and when? Often the stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a series of little gatherings designed to accommodate the changing face and place of family.

Families change; the nature of ‘home’ evolves as we do. Christmas provokes a range of emotion, from the ache of a deceased loved one to anger and regret at estranged ones to delight in new members; holidays unfurl a backdrop of memories against which we assess this year’s leanness and riches.

Head and Body
How blessed we are as believers to belong to a family that may well include but that always transcends our ‘house church’: we belong to a holy communion of saints who draw their life from Jesus Himself! Through birth and death, the taking up and letting go of family members, we are united in an actual yet deeply mystical Body of which Christ Jesus is our head.

How blessed are we who know our home away from home! Those who claim the church as ‘home’ forsake the false notion that personal devotion to Jesus is enough. How can the Head, which is Christ, exist without His Body? We know Him through them, ‘the saints who are in the land, the glorious ones in whom is all [our] delight.’ (PS 16: 3)

The Body and Wholeness
I discovered my need for the Body early on. My life was disintegrated. I had come out of a community founded on the deception that same-gender members could create whole units. The truth: if two members share the same set of ‘gifts’, then trying to exchange those gifts is going to frustrate the gift-giving. Nature and good theology concur.  A community of one gender cannot create new life; that requires ‘otherness’.

The foundation for my wholeness lay not in dating women but rather in the dethroning of self that occurred in the ‘otherness’ of Christ’s Body. By His grace, I submitted to a God I could not see with a group of people which a proud man like me would not have chosen to gather with. Yippee!

Pope Benedict describes far better than I the healing power of subordination to Christ through His Body. ‘The Church of Jesus Christ is never my Church but always His Church. Indeed the essence of conversion lies precisely in the fact that I cease to pursue a party of my own that safeguards my interests and conforms to my tastes but that I put myself in His hands, a member of His Body, the Church.’ (Called to Communion)

Merciful Body
The Vineyard Christian Fellowship was the ground on which Annette and I fell in love. Within that holy family, we as a couple started our own. What a great foundation. The Vineyard possessed the special grace of Mercy: the mercy Jesus gave us for our sins that resulted in worship—simple love songs—that we sang to Jesus in gratitude for His kindness to us.

Jesus’ mercy also expressed itself in healing. We as His Body believed that our Head wanted to heal people if we would pray. He was merciful. We trusted Him and prayed for people. Mercy healed us. Such healing was always accompanied by musical worship. Both flowed from Mercy, the foundation of the Vineyard and our own spirituality.

Praying the Truth
We moved east to Kansas City to join with IHOP (International House of Prayer). We came to give our gift of healing to the sexually broken there but what we received was much greater. IHOP is founded on intercessory prayer and biblical prophecy: God’s word spoken in season to rouse His people to do His will. IHOP prepared us for the battle ahead; it granted us the discipline of corporate intercession and the Word that awakens sleepy Christians, a combination through which we combat the deadly blend of perversion and unbelief in today’s culture.

IHOP and the Vineyard: two powerful expressions of Christ’s Body that ‘married’ in us Mercy and Truth. In our transition out of IHOP, we served at a local church, New Day, which afforded us a loving pastor and a solid context for Living Waters.

Body Aches
Yet an ache for home remained in us. Our hearts were fixed on Christ our Head, we worked hard in His Body, yet we grew weary of the ever changing dimensions of local church life. Perhaps that is the gift of Protestant churches (we can change!), as well as its liability (the ever fracturing Body). Regardless, our hearts longed for a home in the Body where we could lay our heads on His.

Annette and I diverged here; she made her home in a turned-on Anglican Church where our son Nick became a pastor. It is a privilege to accompany my family to worship there and to witness the knitting in of both Nick and Annette.

I proceeded to explore the Roman Catholic Church and eventually became a confirmed Catholic. That has been hard for Annette and me, and at times we struggle against the divide. He who holds all things together holds us together too. (Col. 1: 17)

My new parish home has deepened my understanding of the Body as ‘home.’ I could write for days on the marvel of her mysteries, particularly the Eucharist. Through daily Mass, I partake heartily of the Word and of the wounded God whose brokenness is always my healing.

Yet such mystical union could become self-serving, an essentially vertical act. My hunger for God is only satisfied if we the Body are broken for one another, known in our weaknesses, submitting to each other out of reverence for Him (Eph. 5: 21) and thus being healed. (James 5:16)

Home is where we heal; I need honest exchange of weakness for holy strength where I worship. How grateful I am for truthful priests who facilitate confession. Yet we need more than that. To overcome life-dominating sins and wounds, we need each other. It is not optimal (though understandable) to separate one’s spiritual home from the healing we can access from one another in this one Body.

The healing authority of the laity is a truth that is alien to most Catholics. And my becoming Catholic has alienated me from many of my evangelical comrades. So I take heart that this year Pope Benedict initiated a Year of Faith. Its purpose is to raise up afresh the foundations of our faith for all to see; I trust this shall include a renewed mobilization of lay persons like me to manifest Jesus, one to another, in the one Body.

My prayer of faith: ‘Jesus, make each church a healing home for the sexually broken!’ Toward that end, I draw strength and courage from the Christmas mysteries.

Mary: A Type of Church
Who better exemplifies faithful surrender than Mary, Jesus’ mother? All she could offer to God was herself. She had no other pedigree: only faith. We are called to be like her.  After all, the church itself is an essentially feminine vessel composed of men and women yielded to God for the purpose of bearing fruit through Him.

When I was Protestant, I always loved Mary and instinctively knew that we neglected her honor. She is an exemplary disciple for two reasons: her radical obedience in saying yes to bearing Christ, and her unparalleled communion with Jesus from conception to His tomb. There lies her greatness: intimate communion combined with humble deference towards her Son.

Just like the church itself. The beauty of the Body is in vain if we do not lift up Jesus so He can draw all to Himself. Mary leads the way here, and thus becomes a type of the church, ‘its exemplary realization’ (CCC 967) and ‘the mirror in which the whole church is reflected.’ (deLubac)

To be clear, Christ is her Head too. How silly ones are who confuse her greatness with deity. The Catholic Church shoots straight here: ‘Mary’s function in no way obscures or diminishes the authority of Christ but rather shows its power.’ (CCC 970) Under His headship, Mary bears witness to the whole church as to what we can be as yielded vessels to the Father: bearers of Christ, who like her commit to manifesting Him always.

Blessed is she among women, and blessed are we who concur. Through her witness, I take heart in my efforts to become a home for others in this One body.

‘Salient’ Joseph
Mary’s greatness was realized by the faithful love of husband Joseph. You could also say that Jesus’ birth depended upon Joseph’s faithfulness. I define him as salient, which means equal parts authority and nurture, strength and benevolence. How else can you describe this man who employed his power to shield his bride and holy child from destruction?

Consider the forces against the young family. Joseph had not fathered Mary’s child, leaving both him and Mary in the darkness of a social shame inconceivable in our day. Joseph did all within his power to protect her from such cruelties. He denied his own shame (not yet knowing the child’s parentage) for her honor.

On the strength of a mere dream, some prophesies, and a star, he mobilized all he had to guide mother into granting Christ secure entry into this world. Then quietly, carpenter Joseph mentored Jesus in the work of his hands.

We know of Joseph’s salience mainly by inference: how his son wept over the lost and purged corrupt temples, lingered with children yet forged resolutely toward Jerusalem. We witness Joseph’s salience most clearly in the beauty of his wife and the virtue of his son.

Tender and powerful, nearly hidden from view yet leaving a legacy that saved the world: not a bad role model for any Christian seeking to build up the Body. I look to Joseph with renewed intention this Christmas. How well do I use my power to empower the weak and grant them place in this one Body?

Manifesting Christ in this One Body
God entrusted Mary and Joseph to manifest Christ. Through His mercy, we have now become His Body. My challenge and yours is how our presence in that Body best manifests His headship. Are we making the Body a better place—purer, truer, more merciful through our membership? Are we helping make Christ’s house a home for others?

We each must answer that question with concrete, Spirit-led decisions. I offered my gift–the way I manifest Jesus—to my parish. At first, the pastor resisted a group for the sexually broken. Then I suggested a teaching/prayer group focused on the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. He agreed. Over the course of our weeks together, God knit together a small band committed to a healing Body.

We continue to meet and now include prayer for other sexual issues. Outside the group, I delight in meeting members of that ‘band’ as we await the Eucharist. We the broken are being built together to become something beautiful for God.

Similarly, Annette and I are running a pilot group in order to revise Living Waters. We have been working through the new material with a group composed of Protestant and Catholic members. Jesus unites us with our common desire to be good gifts to one another as men and women. Several members are church leaders who want to see Living Waters flow into their churches. God is healing us so that we might bring more healing to His house.

Home. Christmas reminds us that family should include Christ’s Body. May we gather to adore Him and bless the new life growing among us. We are His very Body: living, growing, healing to become a refuge for the broken and a resting place for His glory.

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Fighting on our Knees

Dear Friends,

We at Desert Stream Ministries would like to invite you to join us for forty days of prayer. Each day, from September 28th through November 6th (Election Day), we will pray through one aspect of repentance related to the sexual immorality of our nation. This prayer vigil, entitled ‘Clothe Us, O God!’ is based on an extended meditation on Psalm 4; together, we are asking God for mercy for desecrating His name and image through sexual sin.

For the last 4 years, we have done 40 days of prayer in the fall, usually asking God to help us uphold the integrity of marriage and its proper definition. This fall, citizens of Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota will vote on how to define marriage, and we of course will intercede for them. However, ‘gay marriage’ is but a symptom of the moral ground we as a nation gave up long ago.

We have all contributed to the shameful nakedness of our country; we can all contribute to her covering as we cry out to God for mercy. Would you join us?  I will write a brief 40-day prayer guide available by early September. The guide will be available as a PDF or a paper copy; email aarmstrong@desertstream.org. If you would like a paper copy, please leave your mailing address.

We urge churches, ministries and Living Waters groups to consider praying through this together. Thus far, we at DSM are proud to partner with Outpost, First Stone, Regeneration, and Reconciliation Ministries in these 40 days, as well as several churches, including a prayer meeting I lead at mine–St. Thomas More.

Starting September 28th, I will post daily a longer version of each entry which you can follow at www.andrewcomiskey.com. Following this post, I continue to prepare ground for the prayer via weekly posts leading up to September 28th.

Bless you, prayerful friends. We at DSM look forward to partnering with you.

Andrew Comiskey

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