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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Cross Fit: Sorrow and Self-Giving

I am just winding up a month off in which I spent a lot of time with the one I love most—me! Ouch. Truth hurts. Gratefully my native selfishness was no match for the glorious time Annette and I shared. We stayed home, caught our breath, and renewed our vows. Time off and tuned to each other: nothing better.

A long time ago Jesus called Annette and me to our primary vocation, which is marriage. Anything good that springs out of ministry flows from this most important union.

No-one deserves my attention like her. Consider this: for the last 36 years of our lives together, Annette has said ‘yes’ over and over again to Jesus as I have gone throughout the world to impart His transforming power for sexually broken people. We love to minister together but kids and Annette’s homing instinct have resulted in a division of labor, which became even more accentuated over the last six months. A flurry of national and international trips rendered Annette nothing short of a ‘war bride’ so it was a huge gift to have a month off to reunite. Thank you to all who helped to sustain Desert Stream in our absence. You freed us from any financial concern; we are deeply grateful. You gave and we rested. Bravo.

As always, repose brought exposure. At the beginning of our time off, Annette brought up afresh an area in which we have disagreed. I disagreed again and could not see her perspective. That day’s Gospel reading—‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me’ (Matt. 10:38)—hit me hard and exposed a plank in my eye. A familiar stronghold of selfishness blinded me to Annette’s greater need.

I sought out my pastor and he counseled me well. A deep sorrow over my sin resulted, something only the Spirit and holy space could inspire. Aquinas wrote that such sorrow is sign that the Cross is being born in one’s heart. Let it be so. In areas where I do not see well, I need to slow down and feel the gravity of my sin. Only then will my repentance be genuine, not a superficial shaking off of shame.

That repentance has continued over these weeks and resulted in what I can only describe as a renewed passion in me to fulfill St. Paul’s words ‘to love our wives as Jesus loves the Church and gave Himself up for her’ (Eph. 5:25). No small task! When I take seriously Jesus’ self-giving on Calvary—the piercing that released the healing flood (Zech. 12:10-13:2)—I can re-enter His fruitful surrender and deny afresh my selfish, controlling ways in order to offer what I can to this amazing woman who deserves that and more.

I do not allow my evident faults to stop me from giving more. That is always Jesus’ direction to husbands, a self-giving that springs from the arresting sorrow of His Cross.

Please join Annette and me in Chicago July 27th-30th at the annual Courage Conference where we will share about our rich life together. As I said, we don’t speak together often so join us for this unusual opportunity. The Courage gathering offers an array of healing persons and gifts. Hope to see you there.

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healing ethnic shame

Healing Ethnic Shame

Roque Daniel Delgado’s stepfather was Mexican. Real Mexican. Santiago dressed to the nines, stuffed his Chicago home with colorful paintings and big furniture, insisting on speaking Spanish, and took pride in his Catholic family which extended throughout the Guadalajara area like a fast-growing bougainvillea vine.

Actually, Santiago started life in Mezquitic, an impoverished village 100 miles from the big city. He worked as hard as a man can. Strength and tenacity propelled him north and into the Rio Grande; he swam to America and did not look back till he reached Chicago.

At age four, Roque met Santiago. He was the father he knew. Besides teaching his kids gratitude for what they had, and a reverence for God, Santiago was also an alcoholic, a sexual addict, and fought explosively with Roque’s mother.

Mostly, Roque checked out. He was at best ambivalent toward his stepdad and relieved when Santiago abandoned the family after his mother’s mental health breakdown when he was 11. When Sanitago left, so did speaking Spanish and Mexican pride. For Roque, good riddance. His life digressed into homosexual then transgender chaos until Jesus reclaimed him through His faithful members (another story….)

One memory of Santiago remained with Roque. Just after their marriage, Santiago took his new wife and kids in a new, snazzy camper-van on a 2000 mile journey from Chicago to Guadalajara. Throughout the December of that year, Roque marveled at the breadth and depth of Santiago’s Mexican family. The small Chicago clan was subsumed by this greater one with whom they gathered constantly, usually around meals and Advent services in ornate churches and cathedrals. Roque also remembered the bleak poverty of Mezquitic and the shack Santiago grew up in. It frightened Roque in its filth; the kids relieved themselves with the pigs.

Beauty, poverty, ambivalence. When Roque returned to Mexico last year to help us out with our third Living Waters Training, the Holy Spirit whispered to him that He was going to reclaim what was precious from Roque’s Mexican roots. All roads led to Santiago, whom Roque had barely seen for twenty years. God began to stir up memories, mostly negative, which required that Roque open his ‘stepfather wound’ and wash it in the fountain of forgiveness. Beginning to speak Spanish again and engage with his fellow Mexicans demanded that Roque own who he was as son of Santiago, a man of Mexico.

Last week Roque and I (and a host of others) returned to Mexico for our fourth training there. This time we centered on Guadalajara; Roque recalled sites he had shared with Santiago 27 years prior, especially the cathedrals. In the light of love of Jesus and his new family, Roque beheld the past with renewed vision. He remembered a strong, proud man surrounded by his family who tried to give his son good things.

Our training was a couple hours north of Guadalajara. En route, we got lost as we (including Roque) drove slowly through the choked streets of a village; it was primitive, fiercely poor. When we asked for directions, a woman said: ’You are in the wrong place; this is Mezquitic.’ God on the move through a faulty GPS– Roque connected with memories from decades earlier, and inhaled the hardship that had forged Santiago.

Little had changed in this forgotten town. Roque could not forget his first exposure to the poverty of the only Dad he ever knew. Tempted by revulsion, he opted for compassion. And pride in Santiago for what he had achieved. In truth, Roque bears the good of Santiago—his strength and tenacity, the proud dignity of a Mexican man.

As we drove out of the town, we came upon a small plaza with a church. ‘My dad and the whole bunch of us went to a fiesta there after church one day.’ The sun shone on Roque that day: his heart is now able to reclaim what is good and true about his roots. As our training progressed, I welled up with pride as Roque humbly and deeply shared his ethnic wound and its redemption. In Spanish!

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Fountains from the Furnace

‘The burning sand will become a pool; the thirsty ground, a bubbling spring… And a highway will be there; it will be called the way of holiness.’ (IS 35:7, 8)

Jim waited for me after the workshop I taught at Moody’s Pastor’s Conference in Chicago. Apparently passionate about the health of his congregants, he bore a sweet and sober countenance, and asked incisive questions about the wounds beneath immorality. ‘I could pour out my heart to this guy,’ I thought.

Then he shared deeply with me of his own moral crisis with pornography, a habit sourced in an abusive home and a divided religious life where the Spirit never quite overcame the flesh. Until a couple years ago when his world melted down. That began a long process of enlisting the help of a whole healing team, including his wife and elders, and committing to living each day in the light of Love. He has emerged from the furnace and is becoming a fountain of mercy for all who love Jesus but still live divided lives. He wants to pastor them into wholeness.

Next stop, Palm Springs. My friend Brian left the Midwest and a conservative, abusive family not unlike Jim’s and ended up in the desert. He found plenty of men like him seeking confirmation through confusing sexual bonds. He left this ‘gay’ furnace only to return a couple years later, humbled by his excesses and earnestly seeking the God of his youth whose answers he needed for his adult conflicts. He found a church that was starting to run CrossCurrent; he became an avid participant then a leader.

He also began investing in his gifts as a painter, so much so that his church put him in charge of an art gallery right in the thick of Palm Springs where he showcased his inspired work (see image). He deepened in the ‘healing arts’ as well, experiencing numerous miracles as he testified and prayed with persons in the gallery and in healing groups.

Nicole worked for the church started coming to one of the groups just to learn how to better care for all the gay-identified folks around her. She and Brian became friends and over time grew in love with each other. They were married and now have two kids.

Brian and Nicole want nothing more than to dig a deep well in their desert home, and to prime churches throughout the Coachella Valley to become evident sources of living water. They have a passion for restoring persons who seek to heal their wounds through sexual unions that only keep them wounded.

Rescued from the furnace, Jim and Brian are now fountains of life. Let mercy roll like a river through all who discover Jesus in dry and weary lands.

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Raised to Run

‘See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth. The season of singing has come.’ (S of S 2: 10, 11)

Maybe only long distance runners understand: an unpredictable convergence of things that makes for a great race. Balmy weather, body aches becoming bursts of strength, the inspiration of a flowering tree, managing to keep pace with the guy just ahead of you…all good, all outside of one’s control.

Kind of like new life. Who likes to be out of control? Even if unexpected news is good, we may first find it disorienting. It took the disciples a few minutes to ‘get’ the resurrection. It shook them up before it freed them. Maybe that’s why I still train throughout the year to run half-marathons: I need to rely on the One who is faithful, even if I cannot control the variables that greet me race-day.

Not long ago, I ran a new race and was disappointed. Instead of inspiring, the 13.1 miles of cityscape droned on and drained me. I lost time and my body felt weakened by, in the words of Christina Rossetti, this ‘long-drawn straining effort across the waste.’ I wondered if my racing days were over.

Unsure of motives—staving off a midlife crisis?–I resolved to train harder and set my sight on an Easter-ish run 6 months ahead. The key to training is consistency and one long run a week, come what may.

I even set a higher goal for this Spring run. Race day came. Preparing to launch with my younger ‘time class,’ I felt outclassed and marveled at my presumption.

Yet I also marveled at the ground I had pounded in prep for it: running at dawn through the steaming parks of Shanghai as folks gathered to do Tai Chai or sing ‘P’Opera,’ taking a wrong turn in Manila and passing out momentarily due to unusually high pollutants, climbing a village road outside Mexico City then charging down in flight from canine ‘friends,’ sprinting alongside Chicago’s Lake Michigan in a freeze that had turned the sea into a glacier, chugging along a fogged-in Oregon coastline with only neon shoes to light the way, pierced by a cold rain that became an ice storm in PA. (Note to self: ice hurts…)

Greater than my stubborn vanity was the One who ‘keeps my steps firm’ (PS 37:23) and who draws me into His good will as I resolve to ‘run in the path of His commands, He who has set my heart free.’ (PS 119: 32) In truth, wherever I go, I run with Him, toward Him, from Him. And I trust Him with the variables.

The gun went off and I wondered how long I could keep pace. OK at first: the weather was crazy perfect, and the course (a new one) was tree-lined with blossoms so profuse that they rained upon us. I felt strong yet sure I would slow down toward the end. Never happened. I crossed the line under time with joy and unexpected strength. He is risen. He raises me up to run the race.

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