Tag Archives: Christmas

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Silent Word, Shining

‘Shine like lights in the universe, as you hold out the Word of life’ (Phil. 2: 15, 16).

A season of silence ends: now back to airports, bills, staff management, and decisions, big and small. 2020 marks our 40th year as a ministry. I shall covet quiet around the edges to reflect on where we’ve been, where next.

It helps to trust the Word has been sown deeply in our hearts and will bring forth fruit—His will deepening, growing, breaking forth as He sees fit. We position ourselves before Him as to reflect something glorious, His very Presence fanning into flame what pleases Him, be it at full volume or in quiet encounters.

I caught a glimpse of this last week as my son Nick preached an excellent sermon on the ‘holy family.’ (After much therapy, he wisely made no allusions to ours.) Afterwards, a young woman unknown to me but a big fan of Nick asked me who I was. When she discovered I was the preacher’s dad, she kind of fawned over me and I demurred: ‘Reflected glory.’

So it is with each of us. The Light has dawned in our darkness—the Word has found good ground in the broken soil of our lives and pleads to unfurl. God’s glory goads us, His silence begs to be broken by the Word declared!

Here we see the genius of this Church season. Advent begins with the promise of Light, with Christmas the Light dawns in Jesus, and now Epiphany—the showing of Christ through the witness of our lives. Epiphany calls us out of what can become an ingrown culture of missals, beads, postcard saints and swoony devotion. Yes, the chaos outside and within demands quiet. But the Word demands a hearing through the story of our messy radiant lives.

Show Christ! Use words! Break the silence between you and a host of delightful creatures in darkness who listen only to their own soundtracks and meandering, fractured narratives. I want everyone to know that Jesus can heal ‘LGBT+’ anything. He surpasses our tendency to settle on misbegotten ‘feeling’ states.

In saying nothing, we stoke deceived powerbrokers who criminalize our good news. Every new presidential candidate wants to outlaw ‘reparative therapy.’ Remember, this is not about a type of counseling. This is about silencing anyone with the courage to say: ‘I’m not sure LGBT+ identification is the best expression of your true self. Let’s walk together in Jesus; He will show you who you are…’

Our transformed lives say it best. Let us heed God’s word to Jeremiah: ‘If you utter worthy, not worthless words, you will be my spokesperson’ (Jer. 15:19). To be sure, silence helps us to separate the wheat from the chaff, what to say and what not. St. John Paul ll counsels us wisely: ‘We need to learn a silence that allows the Other to speak when and how He wishes.’

Sensitized by silence, the Word commands a hearing—treasures from darkness ready to flair into fireworks. This is our season to shine: God revealing Himself through our witness of His transforming love.

I won’t soon forget Jesus’ invitation last November to declare that love before the Kansas City Council. Sandwiched between the darkened minds of that Council and several rows of disgruntled LGBT+ers, I declared several truths that provoked satanic rage. A roar went up as the Spirit directed me to declare that persons like me deserve choice, that we who pursue chastity are now the endangered minority, and that the Council was in no way ready to vote on something they knew nothing about.

Surprised by my own words, I realized they were not entirely mine, in the Spirit of Lk. 11: 11 and 12: ‘When you are brought before rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’

As the Word received in silence burns in us, fan it into flames. Speak. Entrust the fire to heaven. Shine.

‘If I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His Name”, His Word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot’ (Jer. 20: 9).

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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trust advent

Trust

‘Advent means a heart that is awake and ready, which does not let itself become bitter and deadened by hard blows but stays awake and aware of the free coming of the Lord God. That is why this free God must be met by a free person…who may well suffer hard blows but without going under.’ (Fr. Alfred Delp)

Christmas invites us to welcome Jesus into the mangers of our lives. He alone can make a feast out of what frightens, even repulses us.

Gabriel, the scary angel of Annunciation in Luke 1:5-38, helps us here. How Zechariah and Mary respond to this intimidating creature (don’t be fooled by the androgynous darling of religious art who whispers gently) blazes a trail for me when life announces something dreadful. Rather than seize up with control, I now invite Jesus into the mess. I try and trust that new life is growing in what might otherwise kill me.

Christmas is rife with ugly announcements for lovely people: the cancer diagnosis, parents whose son returns home as a ‘daughter’, the spouse who splits, a church split by an unchaste pastor, death threats from offended LGBT+ers…

Zechariah helps me a lot. His response is much closer to what mine might be. He’s an old religious guy, guided and steadied by rules. Rigor mortis has set into any hint of womb-like elasticity. When Gabriel declares he will father the firebrand John the Baptist, he tries to mop himself off the floor by demanding a map, more knowledge, a strategy. ‘How can I be sure of this?’ he says. Thrown off, he tries to control the situation by insisting on a more logical prophecy. Like us, he demands of mystery what it cannot give.

Perhaps the wise old guy was a preacher who used words to control his world. Not for long. The angel gives him nine months to be still and listen to a voice other than his own. Gabriel mutes Zechariah as he awaits the Baptist–a humbling pregnancy for any priest! Yet rather than scorn Zechariah, I empathize with him. I too grasp for control when levelled by scary angels; noisy with intense, often indecent language, I lose my voice. But I don’t lose the invitation to new life! I’m just chastened a little until I simmer down and can trust God’s design in my distress.

Gabriel encounters Mary after Zechariah. Mind you, the angel’s annunciation to her is far more challenging. Not only has God willed Mary to become a mother, He Himself will father the child. Yet this overwhelming prospect doesn’t provoke a controlling response. Unlike Zechariah who grasps after facts, Mary counters a native fear with faith: ‘Tell me more,’ a response resonant with consent.

And trust. She leans into the mystery, content to grow in ‘the love that surpasses knowledge’ (Eph. 3:19) rather than flail for security in mere knowledge. Soon she will be filled with love’s fullness (v.20), our Savior, her Son, God’s only, expanding in her until she can contain Him no more!

I love her simple answer to angel Gabriel: ‘Be it to me as you said’ (Lk. 1:38). Henri Nouwen paraphrases this beautifully: ‘I don’t know what all this means but I trust that good will come from it.’

May Mary’s wisdom and humility become ours. A good goal for all the scary annunciations that await us in 2020? Spend less time grasping for security in vain things and lean longer into the mystery of divine mercy. I want to try and trust Jesus with every unsettling thing and so abide in peaceful love more than with alien passions like anxiety. Please join me.

‘What transformed Mary into royalty is that she recognized God as a God of challenge. She experienced what it means to be torn away from all normal destinies and, thereby, to be caught up in new possibilities. She stands as a healing and helping source of strength, right in the middle of what no-one can know beforehand.’ (Fr. Alfred Delp)

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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Gloriously Dependent

‘The incarnation has forever hallowed the flesh.’ Charles Williams (as quoted by Leanne Payne in The Healing Presence)

Today we rejoice in God assuming baby flesh—the Father and Son’s choice for the King of glory to become as small and dependent as we are. It’s weird: here I am on the crest of my 60th Christmas and I feel smaller than ever, reduced to utter dependence upon Jesus. Our spiritual life is not like our psychological journey in which we master one stage in order to proceed onto the next. In Jesus, we are continually reduced to His greater Life until we, aging fetuses all, launch into the Life for which we ache more today than yesterday.

It helps to revisit what happened on Christmas: ‘God really came down. He became an infant and placed Himself in a state of vulnerability and total dependence, which is the condition of a newborn human being. The Creator who holds the world in His hands, on whom we all depend, became a little child in need of human love’ (Dom Jean-Charles Nault). God depended on love.

That gives me hope. He gets the longing in our hearts for connection and communion, the ache for the full breast and strong chest, a yearning much deeper than survival or sexual needs: it is the ache to be enveloped and infused by the Creator. And here is the mystery of Christmas. The humble babe has never ceased to be Almighty God who declares to us today: ‘I am Jesus, and I will love you better than the best mother or father or friend or lover or spouse!’

God in humility entered into our dependency; in majesty, He offers Himself as the Source to whom we can cling. I don’t cling to people any more. But I linger longer in His Presence than before. The winds blow harder on my thinning skin. Over the last few weeks I have broken down on several occasions and just wept, His mercy priming my heart to feel the burden of those I love and to know somehow that Jesus is enough for them. Tears release my distress and draw me near the One who took on baby flesh in order to reduce me to utter dependence. Gloriously.

He upholds me for the sake of pure joy. Yesterday I dangled my grandson on one arm while throwing balls to our two labs. He loved it! His head bobbled as he tracked the dogs racing around the yard. What better than a laughing babe, rejoicing at creation for the first time? Jesus, Jacob, us. Merry Christmas.

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Home

The next few weeks beg the question: ‘What is home to me?’ Holidays highlight our origins and our goals surrounding home. In the countdown to Christmas, some forego reflection for a cyclone of activity; surrounded by love, we worry only that we will forget to give love to deserving ones.

Others dread the quiet of remembering what did not happen this year. Will our place at the table this year confirm our progress in forging family or remind of us of the gaps?

I write this on our last morning in a tiny rental house; we move on this freezing morning to a new house we bought three months ago. Now mostly refurbished, this new tent awaits as we pack poles and fold up canvas.

Home. Is it a place? A memory? A goal? I consider these questions in our yearend newsletter that I submit to you here. Might you take a few minutes and reflect upon it? Each member of the Desert Stream/Living Waters leadership team took time to consider their take on the subject of ‘home.’ I hope you are as pleased with the outcome as I am.

I pray for your clarity in defining your version and vision of ‘home.’

Click here to read the Desert Stream/Living Water Year End Newsletter.

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father-figure

Father-Figure?

‘All I wanted, something special, something sacred in your eyes; I will be your father-figure…’ George Michael

The pop singer died on Christmas, the day Christ was born afresh in the hearts of faithful ones. Michael’s broken heart gave out as Jesus offered us broken ones the Father’s heart. ‘When you were children, you were slaves under the world’s system. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son…so we could receive our full rights as sons and daughters. Because we are now His children, He sends us the Spirit of His Son, who cries out “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer slaves but sons…’ (Gal. 4:3-7)

Few represent enslavement to the world’s system better than George Michael. He gifted us with infectious pop hooks and videos, while slowly taking his own life in homosexual addiction and drug use. Some claim that homophobia drove him to cruising bathrooms and smoking crack but I say it is the nature of the world’s system itself; the holy longing for Father twisted into enslavement to eroticized ‘father-figures.’

Guilty, sure—sensitive people ‘get’ dehumanizing practices. But bad feelings do not break chains. Drugs dull the ache but cannot take it away. Neither do ‘gay-affirming’ laws (spoiler alert: male ‘gay marriages’ make few if any claims to monogamy) or the likes of Madonna and Elton John whose effusive eulogizing of George Michael suggest their own guilt.

In the glare of a man struck down by a world that enslaves estranged sons of God, we are all a little guilty. We choose to no longer even use the language of slavery to describe the divided life Michael lived. We fear that the ‘gay feds’ will brand us ‘haters’ or worse, ‘reparative therapists.’ Even churchmen qualify the truth that Jesus transforms the ‘gay-identified’ into sons and daughters of the Father.

So we mute the power of Christmas. We turn down the relevance of Jesus’ descent into the muck in order to reclaim children of dignity, who summons what is real and true from the rubble of our lives and who stokes His refinement of us by His Spirit. We are now artful dodgers; we so nuance St. Paul’s words that we reduce the Holy One to a ‘father-figure’ rather than the Lord of all.

George Michael postured himself as a ‘father-figure’ in a vain effort to secure the love he needed. But his world was a cruel, unforgiving one that tempts men only to torment them. His light burnt out. May his tragic end bring us to our knees and provoke us to manifest the One who makes sons and daughters out of slaves.

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