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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
The New Pharasees

New Pharisee

‘I desire trust from My creatures. Encourage souls to place their trust in My fathomless mercy. Let the weak, sinful soul have no fear to approach Me, for even if it had more sins than all the grains of sand in the world, all would be drowned in the immeasurable depths of My mercy.’ Jesus to St. Faustina

The New PharaseesI could not believe it. A quiet acquaintance began to bring along a remarkably younger same-gender ‘partner’ to the gym; their evident attraction disgusted me. I felt angry at them for messing up my morning ritual with their mutual adoration and also superior for being ‘healed’ enough to disdain rather than to envy them.

Jesus addressed my perverted heart in The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke starts out strong: ‘To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.’ (18: 9) Busted. Jesus got my attention.

The Pharisee thanks God for raising him above the stink of others’ sin—the evils of robbery and adultery, in particular. He does not thank God from saving him from those sins but implies he’s glad for his natural virtue that sets him apart.

Unlike the Pharisee, I know deeply this adultery of heart—bypassing God in order to idealize some creature and worship him/her. I remembered sin’s robbery in my own life, and those I had robbed by reducing them to my compulsive needs. And I recalled the long, slow climb out of the pit, one confession at a time, a practice I sustain daily in order to stay out of that pit.

I sometimes consider the deep imprint of sexual compulsion and can only conclude that God permits struggle in order to dig a deeper well of mercy in those of us graced by the awareness of sin’s misery. Mercy for sin’s misery: no wonder that the Latin word of mercy—‘misericordia’—literally means ‘miserable one.’

The miserable heart is the heart inclined to mercy. What a grace to surrender one’s ache to the only Source that can restore it. Like water, mercy seeks the lowest driest place and saturates it.

For release from sin’s misery and release for holy partnerships, I can only thank the God of mercy. Any righteousness I possess is a byproduct of that mercy.

Adultery is one thing; confidence in one’s own virtue is another. Arrogance remained the sin of this new Pharisee. Religious pride like mine prevents one from looking on sinners with eyes of mercy. Instead we see them as blights and bothers, below the mercy line. Jesus Himself spoke of this when He defined the human heart as the source, not only of adultery and sexual immorality, but of ‘slander and arrogance.’ (Mk 7: 21, 22)

Such arrogance is dangerous to souls. If cut off from mercy, my ‘righteousness’ has power to distance others from the mercy that could be theirs! That is reason alone to do what the tax collector did, to the disdain of the Pharisee. This suspect and much despised civil servant beat his chest and cried out to God (v. 13). The tax collector knew his misery and so he wailed for mercy.

I did the same. I realized that my righteousness could entomb me and others. I shattered that tomb with the cry for mercy; I renounced my arrogance and thanked God for the mercy that is my daily bread.

I began to fight prayerfully for the dignity of my gym friends. I finally got a chance to talk with the older one. His friend had left him and he was alone, wondering if God had a name. I hope he discovers the God of mercy, Jesus Christ.

We are growing in friendship and trust; we share more openly each time we meet. What a privilege to help him grow in his understanding of who Jesus really is. Mercy wins.

‘The tax collector, rather than the Pharisee, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Lk 18:14)

Kingdom of Shanghai

‘Neither (s)he who plants nor (s)he who waters is anything but only God, who makes things grow.’  (1 Cor. 3: 7)

Andy and Jeanie with Priest at Zhujiajiao Catholic Church

with my sister and the priest

This Chinese city looms large in the popular imagination: a colorful, lawless seaport alternately stripped and seasoned by colonial forces. The term ‘red-light district’ originated from the red lanterns festooning brothels here a century ago. Who can forget Marlene Dietrich luring customers in the thirties classic film ‘Shanghai Express’? Who can remember Madonna playing a missionary opposite Sean Penn in the eighties nightmare ‘Shanghai Surprise”? (Apparently I do.)

Russian, English, American, Japanese and French opportunists vied for Shanghai until Mao clamped down in the mid-20th century, chased out foreigners, and began his rule and reign. The lawless kingdom of Shanghai came under the godless, cruelly efficient kingdom of men.

Another Kingdom is quietly emerging here. In a sovereign and merciful way, God is assembling a team of servants who owe their lives to Him and whose only aim is to make Jesus known to the people of Shanghai. I have yet to see such an inspired cooperative effort, with each member doing his/her part.

A glimpse into the work of Living Waters here may indicate this a bit. My beloved sister Jean and husband Ken assumed a job assignment here. Devout Christians, they determined to serve Jesus in the city and thus moved near a dynamic church as a base for such service. Upon moving there, they informed me that Living Waters was beginning in their new church.

I then recalled Sue, a woman from Shanghai whom I had met at our training last year in Kansas City. Released to lead Living Waters and well-connected with the woman who coordinates Living Waters in Asia, Sue feels as if her life (healing from SSA, marriage, recent adoption of 3 Chinese children) has been a preparation for this season of healing others. She was assembling a team to run Living Waters in the church and asked me to come and inaugurate the first meeting.

I just happened to be in the Philippines, wanted to see Jean and Ken anyway, and so decided to come. Just before leaving for Asia, I learned that Jim, a Chinese-speaker from Living Waters in Los Angeles, was moving to Shanghai to assist Sue.

If our first meeting was any indication, the Kingdom is advancing exquisitely in Shanghai. Under Sue’s able leadership, each one did his/her part. Jim led worship and wept as we sang to beautiful Jesus for His beauty among us, the broken, who are seeking only His mercy as our righteousness. Many faces of Asia (and those of a few ex-pats) reflected that beauty.

Andrew in Zhujiajiao Catholic Church

Divine Mercy Image in China

Afterwards, we visited one of the few historic churches in Shanghai. Perched on the edge of a canal, this Roman Catholic Church appeared closed. (The RCC has been especially hard hit in China, its bishop jailed for disavowing communism and refusing to disavow the Pope.)

We cried out half-kidding: ‘God, open the doors of Your Church in China!” We rapped on the imposing metal door again and a woman answered. She led us into the courtyard where a priest met us and led us into the sanctuary. Most obvious was the prominent display of the Divine Mercy image Jesus gave St. Faustina: rays of blood and water emanating out of Jesus’ heart for the lost and broken. The priest knelt alongside of us as we silently thanked God for His wonderful gift.

A flood of Mercy for Shanghai, for China: God is releasing His Kingdom there as each one does his/her part.

‘What God opens, no-one can shut, and what He shuts no-one can open. I know your deeds. I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut.’ (Rev. 3: 7, 8)

 

Mercy, Manilla

‘The knowledge of my own misery allows me to know the immensity of Your mercy.’ St. Faustina Kowalska

Mercy, Manilla Photo by GoyaI slumped on the plane to the Philippines, wearied by a buzz of pesky conflicts. Some involved others’ sin; most mine. Life reduced me to mercy. I took heart at Jesus’ words to those ‘confident in their own righteousness’ (Lk 18: 9-14): the despised tax collector cried out for mercy and got heaven, leaving the virtuous, self-reliant Pharisee in hell.

Storms accompany my advances. I have learned to find merciful Jesus there. He uses His enemy to chase me into the mercy pool. I wanted to release buckets to the beautiful Philippinos who were celebrating 12 years of Living Waters.

I met leader-to-be Benjie Cruz in 2001 during our first conference in Manila. He led out with his weakness. Assigned to care for the team, he welcomed our invitation to confess our sins together. Benjie cried for mercy over concrete homosexual sins, a confession that reached God’s heart and mine.

The Philippines is an honor-based culture; the most dishonorable thing you can do is to lose ‘face’ by admitting shameful things. How extraordinary for an aspiring leader to risk the favor of men for mercy!

It did not entirely surprise me that last weekend Benjie and wife Hasel hosted a conference of over 800 Christians in Manila. People were turned away. Honest. I can barely crack 50 when I show up in US venues. How disorienting (and delightful) to welcome a diverse group of sinners into the mercy pool. Benjie dove in first and God gave the increase.

Catholics and Protestants came in droves to immerse themselves in the solution for the scandal of sexual disintegration among them. They know their disgrace. Recently a group of 400 Catholic 4th graders admitted unanimous exposure to Intent porn. Every other city motel is designed for short-term sexual trysts. Innumerable young men strut about as grotesque female prostitutes.

Poverty drives perversion here; the enemy takes advantage of the weakest. Still he dresses himself up in seductive ‘western-wear.’ The nation is riveted by the number one nightly soap opera–‘My Husbands’ Lover—all about a sexy upscale homosexual affair.

Faithful Philippinos watch with dread as the USA gives way to ‘gay marriage’ and gay everything. A firewall has given way. They know Jesus is their only hope. God hears their cry for mercy.

I have not seen such a concerted effort among the whole church to fight for the dignity of the nation, sexually-speaking. A Catholic high school is piloting Living Waters; Baptist professors are leading sexual addiction groups for students. The largest Catholic conference this year (20,000 strong) will feature those set free from the domination of homosexuality. In the battle for a pure Bride, believers are laying aside prejudices toward one another. We are crying out for mercy together.

‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may go through the gates…The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.’ (Rev. 22: 14, 17)

Provoked

Provoked One Way Image by Matt Peoples‘You need an ideal, something that will draw you out of yourself and raise you to greater heights. But you see, there is only One; it is He, the Only Truth! …Under His gaze the horizon becomes so beautiful, so vast, and so luminous!’

Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Announcing my ‘gay self’ to my mother provoked her. It drew tears, and a halting invitation for me to consider whether or not there might be more for me beyond homosexuality.

After that, my declaration provoked my mother to prayer. She knew that only God could bring me home to Himself. She talked more to Him than to me. Her tears and the sacred space she created in prayer gave me pause: ‘If I am free to be gay, then why do I feel so empty?’

Every human being is inviolable, meaning that each possesses an inner sanctum that should be treated with dignity. My mother could never know the depths of my motives and thoughts; only God could. Knowing these limits, she submitted her agenda and her anxieties to Him. She fought for my freedom on her knees, imploring the only One who could set me free.

Years later, I did the same for my son. His addictions had rendered him destitute and my eyes could see his homelessness—spiritually, emotionally, a vehicle with neither a goal nor a guide. I knew that I could not rescue him but I possessed a burning desire for God to do so. I raced to a local church where I began to bang on God’s door for Him, provoking Him and all the resources of Heaven to shine the light of Jesus’ face upon him. The Spirit provoked me and ignited my prayers.

Two passages in Luke helped me here: Luke 11: 5-13 and 18: 1-6. In the first, a man seeking bread for guests bangs on the door of an ornery miser at midnight and implores him boldly to share his wealth. The old crank relents, if only to get some sleep. The second passage describes a persistent widow seeking justice from an uncaring judge who resists her then finally helps her just to get rid of her. Scripture is clear: if even wicked men relent to the bold persistence of seekers, how much more will the perfect Father pour out His Spirit on those who ask Him?

Bold persistence in prayer reaches God’s heart. Yet keep this in mind: God will not force anyone to love Him! If He did, then our response to Him would not be a genuinely loving one. We are right to ask the Father to make His face shine on beloved ones; we are wrong to think our prayers can coerce another to come ‘home.’ Home is the freely given gift of God in Christ, manifest through His Church. He can only be freely received.

May the destitution of those we love provoke us to pray. May we who cry out be converted while we clear the way for loved ones to behold ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ (2Cor 4: 5)

‘Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of His little ones should be lost.’ (Matt. 18:14)    

 

Friends Who Fear

‘It is a dreadful thing to fall in the hands of the living God.’ (Heb. 10: 31)

Lion Photo by ucumariBecause of Jesus, I am a friend of God. And because of Jesus, I fear God. By that I mean I revere Him and tremble at His Word. He is a friend I don’t want to mess with.

That the Creator and Redeemer of all would stoop down to raise us up baffles me; that He also calls us friends blows my mind. What I do know is that such friendship is ours only because of the radical initiative of the Father and equally radical obedience of the Son. Only through their willingness to endure the Divine Wound—the Cross–in which both suffered the loss of each other, are we free to be His friends.

Our friendship with God cost Him everything. I do not minimize the vast and profound victory of His blood and broken body. I savor its sweetness daily. But as I ingest that Holy Meal I realize that He has also laid claim to me: I am no longer my own. He purchased me at an inestimable price. The Eucharist frees us to know this on a bodily level in a way that corresponds with St. Paul’s exhortation that believers flee all forms of sexual immorality because our bodies are no longer ours to do what we will. They are His, members of Christ. (I Cor. 6: 12-20)

I tremble when I consider what I could do with my body or another’s. This friend of God fears defiling the houses where He dwells. I fear the God who created all human temples and who will hold me accountable for whether I dignified fellow image-bearers or reduced them to my lusts. That is not a phobic, ‘shame-based’ response to socially unacceptable desires. That is holy fear based on allegiance to a holy God. Such fear inspires holy love and awe for our fellow humanity precisely because they belong to Him.

Perhaps part of the slide of the American church into a kind of apostasy, sexually-speaking, is due to the fact that we have emphasized friendship with God to the neglect of fearing Him. We may well use the language of the Cross as the way into such friendship. But then we conveniently remove the Cross as the sign and seal of our new humanity and the reverence with which we are to treat others.

I fear for those who claim to be Jesus’ friends but show no fear in regards to what they do to their, or others’, bodies. Pray urgently for friends who have no fear.

‘If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, who has insulted the Spirit of grace?’ (Heb. 10: 26-29)

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