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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

True Justice

‘The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.’ (PS 103:6)

‘Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.’ Pope Benedict

My wife Annette observed an 8-year-old boy in a waiting room trying to make sense of a photo in People magazine of two men in tuxes, probably a feature on some celeb ‘gay wedding.’ Wide-eyed, and too truthful to have anything but a visceral response to the madness, he said: ‘Are those guys… you know, together? That’s real scary.’

No scarier than the wedding photo in front of me of two men, 20-years apart yet mirror images of each other, with their adopted 4-year-old daughter between them. Her smile is stained, theirs soft and wide as they beam through her at each other. A glimpse of unrealized manhood, a girl in trouble, and the hemorrhaging of justice in the form of ‘gay marriage.’

Children become parents, purveyors of truth, when we celebrate and seal the disintegration of gender identity in ‘gay weddings.’

Consider a young man—Ben—whom I just met at a healing conference. Having come to terms with his own same-sex attraction, he possesses a firm resolve to reach for all that Christ has for him. He also just discovered that his father is now ‘out’ as an active ‘gay man’ and is urging his son to do likewise. Ben’s first task was to set a firm boundary with his deluded father and make decisions for his own integration as a man, including coming to this conference. (Check it out: Ministry of Pastoral Care, founded by Leanne Payne. Excellent)

Over the course of our week together, I observed the Holy Spirit moving upon Ben. He received grace in such abundance that confessing his sin, and grieving over his damaged father and the arc of damage in his life thus far occurred readily, gently. Through a host of Christian loved ones who accompany him on this journey, he will continue to take hold of all for which Christ took hold of him.

In truth, Jesus’ justice for those with same-sex attraction lies in recognizing how oppressed we are and repenting unto the only One who can help us.

On the other hand, justice is thwarted when we redefine marriage. ‘Gay marriage’ validates the disintegration of gender identity for parents and children alike.

‘Marriage is not something abstract or neutral that the law may legitimately define and re-define to please those who are powerful and influential.

No-one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize for the sake of justice and for the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.

First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as ‘marriages’ sexual partnerships that many believe are non-marital and immoral. Third, the common good of society is damaged when the law itself becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends.

And is it is out of love (and not hate) and prudent concern for the common good (not prejudice), that we pledge to labor unceasingly to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman and to rebuild the marriage culture.

How could we as Christians do otherwise? The Bible teaches us that marriage is a central part of God’s creation covenant. Indeed the union of husband and wife mirrors the bond between Christ and His church.

Just as Christ was willing out of love, to give Himself up for the Church as a complete sacrifice, we are willing in love to make whatever sacrifices are required of us for the sake of the inestimable treasure that is marriage.’

( If you are interesting in reading The Manhattan Declaration concerning marriage please click here.)

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Merciful Discipline 3: Broken, We Endure Shame

This is the third post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 3: Broken, We Endure Shame

In the Church, God has put Himself into hands that betray Him again and again. – Pope Benedict

Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers;
may Your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate need.
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your Name;
deliver us, and forgive us our sins for Your Name’s sake.
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
(PS 79:8-10a)

We repent on behalf of the abuse-broken church. We do not raise a defense for churchmen who did the right thing; we confess the sins of those who did wrong—bishops who failed to adequately discipline priests, negligent care of victims and their greater communities, the failure of the powers-that-be to steward existing policies of protection for minors.

We the Church are brought low. Our failures have leveled us. Just as the abuse of one is the abuse of us all, so is her discipline the discipline of the whole. Jesus prophesied on the eve of His crucifixion that ‘the shepherd would be struck, and the sheep would be scattered.’ (Matt. 26:31) As various Church leaders have been struck down by their mishandling of abuse, we too are cast down.

Will we scatter or fall forward unto the Crucified? We can repent on behalf of the abuse-broken Church. We can wait and pray. With Him, through Him, on His behalf, we can endure shame in the hope of new life.

I faced such a choice many years ago. Under my charge, a close colleague had abused two minors. That instigated a 10-year-process of discipline which included: purging the staff, tending to the victims, searching out other potential victims, and establishing new policies of prevention. In the eyes of the law and (arguably) God, I was the one ultimately responsible for the abuse. I became the subject of countless interrogations and the agent of raising huge sums of money to repair the damage done.

We as a ministry surrendered to God. He was disciplining us. Though we had much to do, my posture was face down. Had we not discovered the Crucified we would have followed the counsel of most who urged us to dissolve the ministry in light of our new financial burden.

‘When You disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer.’ (Is 26: 16) We had no strength to run from His refinement. We stayed down and discovered that only His wounds could heal the shame of the wounds we had inflicted on others. Our hope lay in faith: ‘He only disciplines those He loves.’ (Heb. 12:6)

Similarly, the Church today must learn to get low and stay low in this season of discipline. We err in raising fists at greedy lawyers, godless journalists, or an outraged public. We look to the Lord of our discipline, who uses many agents to refine those He loves. Through the Crucified, we can endure the shame and accept His discipline as a severe mercy. In the words of Benedict: ‘I wish to exhort all of you…to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them.’

Enduring the shame means accepting a loss of credibility, especially in regards to the Church’s advocacy of the dignity and integrity and inviolability of every life. Sexual abuse mocks her beautiful sexual ethic, and weakens her authority to uphold it. Referring to decades of unrestrained minor abuse in Ireland, Benedict exhorted the bishops there: ‘All of this seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.’ We glimpse this in the Old Testament. After Eli failed to restrain his sons, Israel suffered a terrible defeat. She fled the Philistines who then captured the ark of the covenant. (1Sam 4:17)

We can endure the shame because of Christ. He endured the final shaming at Calvary to grant us grace to endure ours. Take heart! We become more like Him as we submit to discipline. Maybe that’s why Lent is so long: 40 days along a thorny ascent path that ends before the broken body, crowned with thorns.

Lent is for slow learners like us. Change takes time. Discovering how to bear the shame of our corporate abuses is a lesson in endurance. In time, He will assume it wholly and transform us into transparent witnesses of our own failures and defenders of the weak.

Our discipline need not be morbidly introspection. He actively refines our hearts—their values and practices—employing real shame generated by the real damage done. As we turn toward Him, He burns off ‘the worldly sorrow that brings forth death’ (2Cor 7:10).

We ‘fix our eyes on Himself, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ (Heb. 12: 2, 3)
The hope of resurrection sustains us in this season of crucifixion, His merciful discipline. We are reduced to the bloody God. Like Him, we endure shame for the joy set before us.

It is likely that the rest of Pope Benedict’s pontificate will be consumed by this scandal. Sexual abuse in the Church will most likely define it. – Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Burnson Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

 

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Reduced to Mercy

Kenn Gulliksen, my original pastor and founder of the Vineyard, once said: ‘When you’ve lost mercy, you’ve lost your calling as a Christian.’ He’s right. I tend to assess ‘mercy’ levels in my heart as a gauge of how I am doing as a Christian.

And God is always faithful to reduce me to mercy when I have majored on other things. He does this through suffering, through the slow boil of real life that tends to burn off extraneous things and distill what matters.

In cooking terms, a ‘reduction’ involves the intensifying or thickening of a liquid mixture through boiling it. Some things evaporate, thus concentrating the flavor.

I won’t bore you with details on my ‘boiling points’; we all have them, and they either reduce us to the flavor of Jesus or burn up what is good until all that remains is a bitter, proud survivor. Hurtling oneself through hell into a self-generated resurrection does not interest me!

Survival of the fittest offers no hope for the weak. The survivalist can only advise: ‘Unless you get tough like me, you will perish.’ That’s a gospel of a different sort. I reject self-reliance on the basis of Mercy.

Mercy is God’s heart.

Why else would He pour out His very essence into a young Jewish girl and manifest Himself as a baby? Helpless and naked, God became the most dependent of mammals, subject to despots and debasement of all sorts. He reduced Himself for us in order to show us the little way of Mercy.

He invites us to celebrate our smallness. Humbled by our own helplessness, we worship the Child-King and entrust ourselves to the power reduced into His tiny frame.

Madeline L’Engle says it like this: ‘Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be…to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.’

He invites us to marvel at His Mercy. God reduced to an infant is the essence of Divine Mercy. One Hebrew word for mercy is ‘hesed’, or ‘unfailing love’; it conveys an objective, rather masculine mercy from the God who keeps His covenant with us, even when we disobey Him. Another Hebrew word for mercy is ‘rachamin’, and is feminine, rooted in ‘a mother’s womb’. ‘Rachamin’ is the mercy God feels for His afflicted ones the way a mother aches for her wayward child.

Baby Jesus is the fruit of God’s strong and objective yet deeply caring mercy for us. Jesus is a reduction, a distillation of His all-consuming passion to manifest His love for us.

Similarly, our good and wise God will employ hard things in our lives to reduce us to Himself. He is intent on our becoming like Himself, through the gift of Himself. He may just use suffering to get us there.

Alluding to Simeon’s prophecy about the Virgin Mary (‘and a sword shall pierce your heart’), Christoph Schonburg writes: ‘Mary triumphs through the sword in her heart, not in her hand.’ Similarly, as Christ-bearers, in the spirit of Mary, we are not exempt from the sword that reduces us to Mercy.

Over the last year, I have been pierced in ways that have caused me to cast myself on Him as never before. My prayer: ‘Let Mercy triumph over my judgments!’

Annette and I were sharing with our dear friends, Mike and Diane Nobrega, about our boiling points. Diane wisely responded: ‘God’s Mercy is being distilled in you and Desert Stream. What seems like loss is Him intensifying the anointing.’

“Remember that old praise song, with a chorus that goes: Jesus, reduce me to love?’’ she said, warbling her version of the song ‘Charity’.

You bet we do! ‘Charity’ was the one big fat hit that our pastor Kenn Gulliksen wrote and recorded in the seventies. Stumbling through the lyrics, we four called Kenn via speaker phone and requested some help. He gave us a brave solo version of his one claim to pop fame.

He sang ‘Jesus, reduce me to love’ in a voice trembling from years of piercings and unexpected mercies. Having lived the lyrics, he made it easy to receive them.

May Jesus reduce you to love this Christmas. He reduced Himself to Mercy that we too might be reduced to little else—flavorful, intense, generous Mercy.

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Mercy for Beloved Enemies

Day 28 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Mercy for Beloved Enemies

‘Be always merciful, as I am merciful. Love everyone out of love for Me, even your greatest enemies, so that My Mercy may be fully reflected in Your heart.’ (1695)

St. Faustina recorded those words as she listened to God. She was distressed, as a fellow sister in her religious order was spreading lies about her. Housemates’ cool and suspicious response to Faustina alerted her to such gossip. She listened to God, sought His Mercy in order to forgive the liar then actively blessed her.

St. Faustina gives us a sound example of how to handle beloved enemies. These are the wounds that cut deepest, because the ‘wound-ers’ are friends. The ‘hit and run’ abuse from an unknown adversary cannot compare to the betrayal of those we had every reason to trust.

That’s why Church and family wounds take so long to heal. We relied on these ‘good ones’, so the ‘hit’ sends our soul into loss (lifeless: a ‘life-line’, broken!) and disorientation (clueless: what is it about humanity and myself that I don’t understand?).

Beloved Christian enemies are especially difficult. David wrote:

‘If a foe were insulting me, I could endure it. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship…My companion now attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.’ (Ps. 55:12-14; 20, 21)

Yet we have hope amid such betrayal. Why? We live under the shadow of Christ Crucified. In light of beloved enemies, Jesus invites us to share in His suffering. We kneel before His Agony in our little one, welcoming the Water that cleanses our wound from sources of infection (hatred, bitterness, vengeance), as well as the Blood that gives us Life, the living Mercy.

Consoled by Mercy, God asks us to extend Mercy. We forgive our offenders so we can be forgiven (Matt. 6:14, 15). In St. Faustina’s paraphrase: ‘If a soul does not exercise Mercy, it will not obtain Mercy at the day of judgment.’ (1317)

Harder still is bearing with the forgiven offender. St. Faustina grants us a picture of the transforming power of forgiveness. She lived with many of her beloved enemies! She sought no restraining order; she sought instead to imitate Christ by loving them boldly, impartially, genuinely.

Jesus gave her this instruction amid the growing envy and disdain toward her as the ‘divine mercy’ call began to gain momentum:

‘Never claim your rights. Bear with great patience and calm what befalls you. Do not defend yourself when you are put to shame…Let others triumph. Do not stop being good when your goodness is abused. I Myself will speak up for you when it is necessary.’ (1701)

Through the Cross, beloved enemies make us more like Jesus. He uses them to kill our self-justifying ways; He raises us up in turn through His advocacy. And He deepens His well of Mercy in us through such surrender. After one long Church battle, He said to me: ‘If she only gave you good things, your love for her would never mature.’

Merciful surrender to Jesus in the face of beloved enemies accomplishes holy ends. ‘The greater the suffering, the purer the love.’ (57)

‘At my first defense, no-one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that though me the message might be fully proclaimed…’ (2 Tim. 4:16, 17)

‘When they hurled insults at Jesus, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.’ (1P. 2:23)

‘Jesus, show us our wounds, that we might discover Yours afresh. Do not spare us the truth of betrayal. We surrender to You in it. United with You and Your divine purposes, let Mercy prevail. Console us as we ache and forgive, over and over. Strengthen us to rise and to bear with beloved enemies. We do so for Your name’s sake, and for the unity and integrity of Your body, the Church.’

‘O Blood and Water, that gushes forth from the Heart of the Savior as a Fount of Mercy for us, we trust in You!’

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote or simply a page number in parenthesis. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com.

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Prisoners of Hope

Day 5 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘In spite of everything, Jesus, I trust You in the face of every sentiment which sets itself against hope.’ (14)

Imprisoned by hope: Zechariah expressed well the exile of the Israelites (Zech. 9: 11-12). Far from their land, subject to the cruelty of other masters and their gods, the holy nation hoped against hope for mercy. The prophet reminded them of the covenant of blood God had made with them—unchanging, Almighty Mercy.

‘Because of my blood covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit. Return to your fortresses, O prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.’ (Zech. 9: 11-12).

Waterless pits…a form of punishment for restless Jews in Babylon, and an apt metaphor for all of us who know the Merciful Father and yet are entrapped by a merciless adversary. That enemy mocks the hope in our hearts; he lures us into the exile of sin then derides us for forfeiting the Mercy that could be ours.

At the onset of my journey in Christ, I fell into one such pit. I fled from a small group of believers and immersed myself in the gay community. Perched on the edge of the Pacific Ocean in a tiny room, I created a waterless pit where I sought to satisfy my thirst with others.

My thirst intensified. Because I had tasted the real thing—His blood, His body—the bodies I sought never sated me. Still I persisted in my delusion. One night, I chose to stop fighting; I asked God to leave, to release me to live as an exile, as a gay man, all my days. I felt despair draw near. The Merciful Father drew nearer still.

For some reason, one little praise song kept running through my head. I began to sing it out and as I did peace filled the tiny room. His Presence accentuated the sting of death in my unclean body; I felt sick and dirty. Then something like ‘living water’ began to fall gently from the sky, like morning dew, raining then rising and falling again until I felt clean.

I marveled at His goodness to me. He poured out a kind of liquid mercy that flooded my waterless pit and lifted me right out of it! He elevated me to the fortress that Zechariah prophesied for all ‘prisoners of hope’. Raised up by Mercy, I partook of the blessing that was twice as good as the sin was bad.

What a Father. He finds us in our waterless pits and offers us the richest of fare.

When we receive that Mercy, hope rises and releases us from exile.

‘In the time of my favor, I will answer you; on the day of salvation, I will help you…I will say to the captives, ‘Come out!’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’ (Is. 49: 8, 9)

‘Who is like You, Father of Mercy? Even our sin is not stronger than Your Mercy. You woo us with a Love sweeter and stronger than any the world offers. In that Love, we cry out for all those who have fallen into waterless pits. We rebuke the enemy of their souls, and ask for Mercy to come quickly to meet them. Release those imprisoned by hope with Your Divine Mercy.’

 

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