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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Messy, Joyful Easter

I woke from a fitful sleep, jet-lagged and already critical of the things that awaited me at morning Mass. I countered with a prayer for humility and tolerance of things I dislike like dour congregants and uninspiring music. After all, it is Easter! Jesus is walking through walls and telling folks to get their hands off Him then insisting that they lay hands on Him—all kinds of messy, unpredictable stuff.

I cringed slightly as I eyed the cantor for the morn; golden in her intentions, her voice hurts me. As she geared up for the processional hymn, she appeared shaken like a diver peering into the pool below and realizing it may not be deep enough. But she soldiered on and was soon joined by the booming off-key voice of a visiting pastor whose joy in serving us that morning overtook all else.

His sheer exuberance invited us all in to celebrate: Jesus is alive, and that changes everything. Like my critical spirit. Listening to cantor and pastor make a joyful noise at once delighted and convicted me. God is so much bigger than my snide critique. He wants to blow open our defenses, walk through our walls, and rouse us to cooperate with Him in dissolving others’ defenses against the Holy One.

The pastor grinned from ear-to-ear as he showered us with the waters of cleansing (a cool Catholic thing for the several Sundays of Easter); I obviously needed to renew my baptismal vows that Sunday! And I found that if I sang along with the cantor during the offertory I could not afford to be critical of her. The pastor sermonized powerfully on how community is essentially for grasping the hope of new life—we behold the glorified One together. I was proud to be there.

I left Church joyful, expectant. I wanted to give new life away. Later on I ran into a guy whom I had met a few years back. At that time he announced to me rather arrogantly that he was a ‘gay Christian’ with a new boyfriend. Things had gone badly for him: I could tell from his few words and demeanor that he was suffering. Though he did not recognize me at first, I did him and I told him specific things I had not ceased praying for him in the last five years. He was speechless and teary-eyed.

Messy, joyful Jesus is on the move. Walk through walls with Him. It is Easter and that changes everything.

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Behold the Lamb 5: Liberty and Loss

A young Catholic priest who participated in a recent Living Waters Training engaged a lot with our mostly evangelical crowd; he got kicked in the stomach a few times by persons who introduced themselves to him as ‘having become Christians after they left the Catholic Church.’ Ouch.

What they meant, I think, was that they found a ‘spirited’ personal bridge to Jesus in one of many gatherings where their young-adult-ache for Him was quenched by a more dynamic spirituality than what they experienced as Catholic kids.

Beautiful. But also costly. On this 500th year anniversary of the Reformation, in which we celebrate the freedom to change and change again our approach to how we gather as Christians and why, it may be wise, even healing, to consider the downside of ‘start your own’ church movements. (Will we ever forget Robert Duvall’s film ‘The Apostle’ in which he ordained himself through the laying on of his own hands?) Don’t get me wrong. I value many of the lifeboats launched from the leaky vessel that the Catholic Church had become by the 16th century. But I also witness the fissures of ‘reform’ that continue to fan out, fractures that fracture people who conclude in their confusion: ‘I need not gather at all.’

One example may be church leaders who insist on a particular facet of the Gospel based on their ‘leading’, often in response to what they did not like in their previous church/movement. That can result in two ills: the malformation of the saints due to a skewed Gospel and also an unwitting rejection of members who don’t/can’t line up with the particular emphasis of the visionary leader. A colleague of mine with some identity conflicts had no choice but to leave an effective evangelistic movement because her pastor assured her that the church would not invest in the healing of her or anyone else’s soul.

Related but worse are pastors who fall into serious error and, having created a system of impotent eldership in which they are virtually unchecked, perpetuate their errors. That includes (but is no way limited to) churches which bless sexual immoralities, including LGBT+ liberties; that may also relate to a strain of ‘hyper-grace’ churches that refuse to give formation to members as to avoid ‘legalism.’

More dangerous still are ‘Spirit-led’ leaders who add ‘thus saith the Lord’ to their disagreements with persons. Rather than sort out conflicts rationally and relationally, these shepherds resolve conflict by the sheep either putting up or shutting up. A tragic subset here is shepherds who cloak lust in ‘love’ and use spiritual power to seduce. These wolves make rabid the sheep and deserve the millstone Jesus reserves for them (LK 17: 1, 2).

Lastly, I notice some losses and limits to churches founded on young-adult vitality: that post high-school season in which persons are most inclined to establish an identity founded upon Jesus Christ. Many of these gatherings are glorious! Yet one does not stay a young adult forever, and when that season passes, these ones may grow out of ‘church’ altogether and determine nothing else will do, especially the relatively stodgy churches of their pre-revival youth. Older ones who invest here may find themselves beside the point. A quiet servant I know worked tirelessly at such a ‘young’ church for 20 years then began to realize that no-one there cared much about her. She left and no-one noticed. She struggles to engage with any church now.

That is the problem and the opportunity. We need the body. We need healing when our churches let us down. And we have choice. We can forgive her, we must forgive her, or a part of ourselves dies. We are the body, and to be at odds with any part of her is to be divided in ourselves.

This Lent, I implore you to forgive that part of the body that wounded you. Jesus took the hit at Calvary for nothing less. If you extend the mercy you have received to that part (it does not mean you agree with it!), you do your part to heal yourself and His beautiful, broken bride. I then urge you to exercise your freedom to discern where you are to take your place once more. We cannot say we love Him without standing with them. Again.

‘Jesus, in accord with Your Word, we confess that we have become like ‘those who have given up meeting together.’ Rather, we ask for mercy to extend to our church wounders and the power once more to ‘consider how we might provoke one another onto love and good deeds…and all the more as we see the Day approaching’ (Heb. 10: 24, 25), the Day of Your return for one glorious Church.’

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Behold the Lamb 3: Dirty Mother

‘In the Church, God has put Himself into hands that betray Him over and over.’ Pope Emeritus Benedict

I was outraged. A well-known actress whom I understood from good sources to be a Christian of integrity starred in a film that featured ‘gay’ sex; she justified the movie–and lesbianism in general–as a beautiful glimpse of human potential. I have since discovered that she as a young teen had been sexually abused extensively by her youth pastor. Huh. Hard to make a case for chastity when your shepherd makes you the meal (EZ. 34:2, 3).

22-years-ago, a staff person from our ministry developed an elaborate plan to sexually violate two teenagers seeking chastity in our midst. He succeeded. His wickedness divided their lives and their families, and brought serious disgrace upon the churches we served as an organization. These two men struggle to see Jesus clearly now. A ‘trusted’ representative shattered their vision at its source.

That was apparent when we gathered as a healing prayer group in my parish one Lent and were gifted by a man who had just re-entered the Church for the first time since his priest violated him as a teen. Jumpy and suspicious, his breath sour with alcohol, he muttered something of how hard it was to be inside the place where night fell (EZ. 34: 12) and the Son has yet to rise. He appreciated our kindness but couldn’t yet believe or receive it. How do you trust a dirty mother?

Wolves in shepherd’s garb are equally opportunity destroyers: neither catholic nor evangelical, they are just profoundly disintegrated persons hiding in the folds of Mother Church. And Jesus is on the move, shaking out her trains with fierce love and empowering the defiled to speak. Her pastors must become prophets on behalf of those finding their voices—listening and tending to the distressed, while refusing to tolerate demonized ones who sacrifice little ones on the altar of their perversions, and who will do it again unless they are halted.

So we take our places as members of this one Mother. We love her by apprehending her monsters and refusing their monstrous eating habits. We do this on behalf of the consumed; why should they come home if we don’t first clean house for them? We give them first place at the table, and dare to believe that Jesus in His divine mercy can transform shame into cleansing and healing.

Few Christian leaders abuse children. Yet when we fail to discipline those who do, we permit its stink to permeate the whole. Chastity is mocked; our common enemy is freed to roar about and take many captives. Like the drunk and dodgy man in my parish. Like the actress I mentioned who became an outspoken LGBTQ+ advocate. Or the two guys under my charge who were morally handicapped before becoming men. They weren’t born that way. They were abused. Lord have mercy on us. Clean Your Mother, Father God.

‘We cry out for those who were lost on that dark day, O God. Your house of healing became a house of horrors for them, O God. We are sorry for the violence done against them. We are sorry for sliming Your Name. Jesus, release Your flood of blood and water upon our corporal shame, beginning with the violated. Wash us and we shall be clean. No other way except through Your dying, and ours. Raise up trustworthy servants to help ensure the trustworthiness of Your house.’

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Irresistible

In these last couple weeks of our fast, I’ve had the privilege of making two trips to the Northeast where I witnessed the irresistible splendor of Jesus in His Church, both evangelical and Catholic. The Spirit is stirring up His saints, girding them in truth and welling up like living water to grant the gender broken a better Word. One can have any number of freedoms and still be a slave! Jesus alone frees the sin-shackled and makes us true sons and daughters of the one Father.

In Pennsylvania, I gathered with a group of priests who meet regularly to share their sexual vulnerabilities and the healing love that sets them free; in New York City and New Jersey I gathered with turned-on Korean-Americans who are as committed to becoming whole as they are becoming good news for their LGBT+ friends. I spent most of my time in the borough of Queens where I invested in a church renowned for its efforts at creating emotionally healthy community and fostering racial reconciliation. Stunningly so! Yet the pastors have the wisdom to know the difference between ethnicity and gender identity issues; they celebrate a diversity of tribes and tongues while refusing the ‘gender spectrum’ ideology that fractures God’s children. Mercy welled up as we testified of His unfailing love that reconciles us to our true humanity—male and female–in this one body.

Before setting off for these trips, I had the privilege of assisting at the Mass celebrating the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. It is my favorite feast of the church year, as it is the only one that celebrates the Church herself: the irresistible splendor of Jesus revealed in His body. As I read from Ezekiel 47 about the water levels rising in the temple until the saints are immersed and flowing out into the world in order to heal and feed the broken (‘their fruit shall serve for food and their leaves for medicine’, EZ 47: 12), I realized that this is our mission. It is being fulfilled as we gather and lift up Jesus as Healer!

In all of our Northeast gatherings, I fielded questions from countless saints who face increasingly complex hardships due to LGBT+ demands: the deacon working with a nominal Christian family whose 4-year-old daughter showed up in Sunday School as a boy, the assistant male youth leader who announced his ‘transition’ to womanhood, the influential minister now ‘gay married’ and adopting children while extolling the joys of ‘gay Christianity’, the worker whose ‘gay’ boss firmly encourages his employees to stick rainbow emblems on their office doors, and many who simply want to know how to care for loved ones who now live under the rainbow. As we prayed at every meeting for Jesus to come and show us His way–the mercy that is ours only as we enter through the gate of His body and blood shed for us in the one body–the water levels rose and immersed us in the divine love that breaks human enslavement. We bring a better Word endowed with power to save the gender broken. His love radiant in humbled, poured-out saints: Irresistible.

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Fresh Green from Scorched Earth

‘He will be like a refiner’s fire…then the Lord will have a people who bring offerings in righteousness.’ (Mal. 3:2, 3)

I had seen the vision months before: a blackened field, still smoking. A prophetic woman who knew nothing of the burning of many precious relationships due to my Catholic commitment in 2011 painted the picture. Before the vision, I felt alone in my suffering. When she gave it, I began to see God’s sovereign will in these losses. He was refining me for a new season. I thought of what John the Baptist said about Christ: ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire, and will burn up the waste with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:11, 12).

What emerges from the fire became apparent during our first Living Waters training in Poland last week. After several visits to this most Catholic country (perhaps the most devout in all of Europe), and in solidarity with beloved Living Waters Directors in Lithuania (Vilma Kaveline) and France (Werner Loerschter), Abbey Foard, Ann Armstrong and myself helped launch the most strategic advance I have ever witnessed in a nation intent on releasing Living Waters.

What set this training apart? Might it have been the 15-member worship team whose voices combined to break strongholds of unbelief and despair every time we gathered? Was it the humble, smart team of Polish small group leaders who served each member with compassion and spiritual acuity? Was it the 8 Polish Catholic priests who joined our leadership team and who modeled how to exercise spiritual authority through one’s vulnerable humanity? For the first time, I realized that a priest could inspire growth in chastity through personal disclosure (instead of doctrinal reminders). We know the truth; living the truth is where we all stumble, priests included.

Perhaps the leadership of Father Joseph had most to do with this advance. He is well-respected throughout the nation and constructed a wise strategy from the start by building groups in key cities and tending well to their leadership teams. He works cooperatively with bishops to ensure that every group is wanted and protected. A local priest sits on each team. Understandably, interest in our training was high. We convinced Father Joseph to limit attendees to 100 and registration was full and processed three months ago. For us, a minor miracle.

Actually, the power and cohesion of the Catholic Church in Poland is the miracle. Poland’s resilience throughout her turbulent history is anchored in the Church, who has been both fighting father and nurturing mother for Polish dignity. The nation ceased to exist for one hundred years as three empires divided and conquered her; the bloodbath of the first World War granted her national independence, which was shattered in World War 2 as both Russia and Germany leveled her then subjected her to communist rule. The Church unified and inspired her during those darks decades. Now Poland emerges as the jewel of Eastern Europe, for which most citizens give God the glory. Is Jesus, through Poland, the hope of Europe?

A scorched land, out of which hope grows green. The first night of the training, God reminded me of the blackened field I saw months back. Only this time I saw rows of saplings emerging from the ground. Well-tended by group and priest, each Living Waters member represents a young tree. What a privilege to partner with Father Joseph and friends in displaying Jesus’ splendor. May we increase the fruitfulness of His Church. May we become trustworthy witnesses of Jesus for a new generation of Europeans.

‘Open your eyes and look at the fields; they are ripe for harvest.’ (JN 4:35)

Please join us in San Diego on June 16th and 17th for the sixth annual RHN Hope 2017 Conference as hundreds gather to celebrate how Jesus has set them free from gender identity distortions. Preview with us the first full-length documentary film ever made–Tranzfomed–on how Jesus restores the transgendered. Register here today!

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