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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Behold the Lamb 1: Golden Scars

Another Lent. We don ashes as a sign of repentance. We let go of vain things in order to take up what matters. May I suggest you walk this next 47 days with the staff of Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries? We repent on behalf of the Church for her failure to represent Jesus well to fellow members and to the world.

No bitter or dour penitents we. We are her. We love the Church and are subject to her errors. We take our places as victims and perpetrators of the Bride who aspires and falls flat on her face. So do we, face down at her altar, signed by dust, sorry.

We tasted this together at our Living Waters Training in Malibu Canyon. After we allowed Jesus to reveal our deepest wounds, we gathered in silence before the Cross and sought mercy to extend to our most prominent wound-ers. Remarkable that the majority of persons who testified named Christians as their perpetrators: struck down (but nor destroyed), these included the ex-wife of a distinguished doctor who left her for a newer model, the son of a devout father who abandoned faith and family for the swinging culture of the 70’s, the minister thrown under the bus by colleagues who could do without him. The impact: a temptation to close our hearts to the very community that could be our healing.

But God who is rich in mercy invited us to activate His ace-in-the-hole: forgiving our captors and so breaking the chains that bind us to them. Forgiveness turns the enemy’s schemes on their ear and provokes a greater good through us; it reclaims our wounds, especially ‘Christian’ wounds, as a source of healing. Divine Mercy alone has power to transform the original offense into a fountain of life, first to broken members of the Bride then out to the world.

A good way to conceptualize divine mercy was offered by a dear friend of Desert Stream. At our training, she noticed the heightened beauty of the broken ones who testified of mercy to remake them; she offered the metaphor of the Japanese art of ‘kintsugi’, whereby gold is mixed with reparative lacquer in reconstructing shattered ceramics. The purpose is to honor the history, however broken, of the object and exquisitely to incorporate the repair into the piece instead of disguising it. As the photo reveals, the object is beautified by its golden scar, becoming lovelier in its repair than in its original wholeness.

So this Lent we proceed to honor our histories of wounding, especially church wounding. In the power of repentance and forgiveness, we shall allow Jesus to gild the gashes so He can shine upon our prayers and make her more beautiful. We want beauty for ashes, beginning with ourselves and extending to the whole Bride. Might you join us this Lent as we identify our corporate sins, repent, and ask for mercy to make wounds wondrous for our fellow members and the world?

‘On this Ash Wednesday, Jesus, we repent of any hardening of our hearts due to wounds incurred by Christians. We are not that clever: the gashes from one fan out from us to many in this one body. We turn to You—the Head of the Body, the Lamb who was slain—and ask for patience to wait before You this Lent. Grant us Your heart for Your bride, beginning with mercy for us. May we extend mercy liberally this Lent to our captors. Free us to free others! Forgive us for resisting who You love. Gild our gashes in the power of Almighty Mercy, we pray.’

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Greed: To Grasp or Give Away

For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.’

(Phil. 2:21)

The focal point of our faith and of most sanctuaries is the Cross. That emblem of God’s self-giving reminds us that freedom hinges on offering ourselves to others, to purposes that defy self-preservation. The servant is not greater than his Master. Jesus said it like this: the hard seed either opens or remains alone (JN 12:24). Fruitfulness requires surrender to the Sovereign will; the greedy self insists on gathering and defending its own securities. Greed gilds the husk of our humanity and renders us sterile.

We are naturally greedy. By that I mean we gravitate to securities that we can get our hands on. Fear drives our greed, as does envy: we look and long for what might give us the most power and so assuage the threat of extinction or at least insignificance.

I live in a Christian ghetto of sorts where few have much money and most are fairly generous with it. No Scrooges among us–wealthy misers who share only their misery. No, our greed is more subtle; it can appear justified, humane, and refined. But it’s the same old idolatry, the creature grasping after created things to give him the security only God can give. Take heed: ‘No greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God.’

(Eph. 5:5)

Maybe we grasp after middle-class protections: retirement plans and insurance, the house on the lake for grandparents and kids, savings that soothe us to sleep. One friend confessed to me his obsessing over IRAs (I feared his association with political terrorists). We can squander much time and energy stockpiling on earth and lose the Kingdom—what it means freely to say ‘yes’ to God until we go or He comes. We must discern when we are padding our own kingdoms or availing ourselves to His.

Maybe it’s ‘quality-of-life’ stuff, good ol’ American consumerism that masks as wisdom or justice. For example, I know many seasoned Christians who have been exposed to so many church models they no longer settle with one. So they remain alone, high-minded and unchecked, disgruntled consumers that hurt the Church rather than help her. Or the spouse that after a decade or so claims to deserve more than the limited, frustrating person (s)he married. I recently sat with a couple who tearfully conveyed their mutual frustration and yet who are beginning to see Jesus’ purposes in the gaps. Do gaps in your church life and marriage inspire self-giving or greed? Jesus grants us the Cross amid idolatrous, consumer-driven options.

We have all been thunderstruck by the effective greed of gay activists. Their ploy? Take a common disorder and claim to resolve it by making it a boast, a right, even the basis for a marriage. But reframing a problem does not solve it. From every angle, homosexual practice is still delusional; it frustrates the very desire it claims to satisfy. Sex is for life, not to fuse misbegotten friendships. The ‘gay’ emperor is still naked and impotent. The greedy seed remains alone.

We overcome greed by giving our lives away to Jesus. Generous self-giving is the sole antidote to greed. That’s why we tithe; that’s why we thank God for hardship and unmet needs and frustrating people; that’s why we keep trying to love our fellow humanity. Ragged yet inspired, we offer our lives to Him and ask Him to multiply our gifts to others. Overtime He becomes our sight and our security. We find ourselves by looking straight at Him. He is God and He is enough.

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merciful judge

Judge Not? (Part 1) Merciful Judge

Pope Francis launched a thousand speculations when he quipped ‘who am I to judge?’ in response to a journalist’s questions about persons with same-sex attraction, including Catholic clergy men. I cannot interpret Francis’ exact meaning here. But I know that in our increasingly gay-friendly climate, his words have become only too familiar. In many Christian circles, the believer who challenges the moral goodness of gay identity, practice, and marriage is usually shrugged off with a ‘who I am to judge?’, as if that statement itself marked its proclaimer as profoundly loving.

The paradox: many who refuse ‘to judge’ homosexuality can be shrill and dismissive toward persons who disagree with them–quick to pronounce grave judgments on those who have a problem with gay behavior. For example, a devout friend of mine has been trounced by her Catholic family for her refusal to bless a family member’s lesbian relationship. In truth she has sought the much harder road of loving both parties actively while not shifting the boundary lines of what she knows is God’s best for human relating.

To be sure, Jesus makes a big deal about not judging others wrongfully. Yet He insists we make proper moral judgments by relying upon His mercy and discernment. The Apostle Paul is our patron saint here; he urges us in the Spirit of Jesus to ‘judge those inside the church’ (1Cor 5:12).

So how do we make proper moral judgments without being judgmental? One key: keep first things first–the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That God became flesh in order to break the grip of our moral disorder and to transform us into His own image—that is good news, so stunning in fact that all other considerations must bow before the One who makes all things new.

Becoming ‘judgmental’ in the truly negative sense results from losing this Gospel-centeredness. Losing sight of Him, we become self-reliant and prone to self-justifications. We must defend ourselves—we’re all we’ve got! Self-justified ones tend to judge wrongfully, defensively. That applies as much to liberals as to conservatives. For example, as a ‘lefty’ young man, all I could defend do was defend my ‘gay’ way. I knew no other road, as Jesus was not yet mine.

Mercy alone breaks the bonds of self-justification. Mercy opens up for us a whole new world; it frees us to live out the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict, quoted by Pope Frances in the ‘Joyful Gospel’(EG): ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.’

Jesus opens up for us a whole new horizon. He cuts a decisive path for us. He made a way for Divine Love to surpass all other loves that compete for our hearts. United with Him—Jesus our horizon, Jesus our path, Jesus our goal, we begin to become more like Him. Part of the fruit of Christ-likeness is the call and the capacity to make wise moral judgments. Such discernment invites new life for us and for others.

The primary word in the NT for ‘judging’ others is rooted in the noun for judge, or GR krites. The verb ‘to judge’ (GR krino) means to separate one thing from another, to select, choose, examine, or investigate. Judgment in the NT is anchored in the understanding of God as the One who judges absolutely. That has a strong OT precedent as well, and refers to the all-seeing, all-knowing Creator who determines the eternal fate of His creatures based on His complete knowledge of them. God the Judge is the ultimate examiner of human hearts; He is thus the only One qualified to separate the wheat from tares, sheep from goats, saved from unsaved.

‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to what his deeds deserve…’ (Jer. 17:10)

‘Since you call upon a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here with reverent fear.’ (1P 1:17)

Jesus defines Himself as one with the Father in judgment: ‘My Father…has entrusted all judgment to the Son. He has given the Son authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.’ (JN 5: 22, 27)

These verses and many others make clear that only the Creator–Father and Son–have power to determine the eternal fate of His creatures. Glory Alleluia! That frees us by forbidding us from judging others’ ultimate fates. Clearly a divine call…

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Savoring Truth in Superficial Times

Last week, the New York Times featured an article on the uproar provoked by the firing of a Catholic High School VP in Seattle because he married a man. The decision blew apart the school board and fanned student protests. Yet their youthful dissent had more emotion than reason behind it. Said one protester: ‘I have gay friends whom I care for.’ Read more »

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Mercy 19: Merciful Morality

“In that day, declares the Lord, you will call me my husband; you will no longer call me my master…I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.” (Hosea 2: 16, 19, 20) Read more »

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