Tag Archives: Fruit

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

No More Angels?

As I begin my 54th year (my birthday was January 13th), I am aware of a tendency to lock into familiar ways and to resist what is peculiar, untested by my experience.

Wisdom? Nah…More likely the hardening of the arteries, the closing of the womb, that menopausal tendency in both men and women to rebuff angels and resist the new life they announce.

I pray for the simple, elastic faith of Mary, Jesus’ mother; I marvel at her response to angel Gabriel. His announcement that she will become the mother of God troubles her, but she believes it. All she wants to know is: ‘How will this come about?’ She trusts God, even though it means yielding to Him at the most personal and vulnerable manner conceivable (pun intended).

I relate more to Zechariah who was also visited by Gabriel. The old man’s response to becoming a father so late in life? Prove it to me! ‘How can I know this?’ Time had clogged his heart valves, gave him a spiritual vasectomy. We know from scripture that religious disciplines and duties had kept Zechariah righteous. Such rituals may have also made him rigid, controlling, suspect of dreams and angels and heavenly babies leaping in wombs and saving the earth.

Religion did not necessarily incline him to new life; you could say that its rules gagged him, rendered him mute, unable to grant God a humble ‘yes’, let alone a song of praise for His sovereign control!

I take note, and consider who will define me more as I age—Mary or Zechariah? Both were afraid of an unfathomable future, but while the old man wanted proof, Mary surrendered, in fear and trembling, trusting that God was good, His will fruitful regardless of its cost.

God is patient and merciful to those like me whose hearts and wombs bear the normal scars of age—unhealed wounds, losses yet to grieve, disappointments that tempt one to unbelief.

It is a new year. Let us pray together on my 54th in the spirit of Isaiah 54, that our youth would be renewed, a marvel of elastic, expectant faith.

“‘Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of she who has a husband,’ says the Lord. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen the stakes’…For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is His Name–the Holy One is Israel is your Redeemer; He is called the God of all the earth. ” (Is 54:1,2,5)

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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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Boldness and Mercy

Day 30 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Boldness and Mercy

‘If the Lord demands something of a soul, He gives it the means to carry it out; through grace, He makes it capable. At the Lord’s command, the soul can undertake things beyond its expectation if God’s power and strength, which makes the soul courageous and valiant, are manifest within it.’ (1090)

‘Your assignment on earth is to beg Mercy for the whole world.’ (570)

Jesus gave St. Faustina a bold calling: to immerse souls in the flood of God’s Mercy at Calvary. Prayerfully, she brought the miserable, the deserted, those deadened by sin and suffering into the Wound that heals—Jesus abandonment on the Cross, His Mercy pool of Blood and Water.

Jesus implored her to share His yearning for the lost. He thirsted for souls to partake of the fruit of His suffering. He wanted none to perish, for all to be saved. He gave her a share in that thirst and in that suffering. She boldly cried out for souls to turn to that Mercy. She persisted day and night in her intercession for souls. He goaded her:

‘Urge all souls to trust in the unfathomable abyss of My Mercy, because I want to save them all.’ (1182)

A bold call, and a bold claim on St. Faustina’s part: Jesus Himself chose her (among others) as His merciful ‘life-line’ for the lost. She believed Him resolutely and proceeded to pray boldly.

For her obedience, she endured constant attacks from ‘holy’ colleagues, which she quietly understood as nothing short of demonic resistance. She knew that the devil hated prayerful confidence in the God of Mercy; if he could discourage or distract the prayerful, souls would be lost to Mercy. So she fell to her knees and cried out for Mercy, enduring the scorn for the joy set before her–Mercy being released to the miserable, hers, mine, ours.

Consider the joy of her child-like warrior heart: she knew that the Father honors bold faith and answers those who persist in agreement with His heart. And what could be more in accord with that Heart than for souls to be liberated by the Mercy that cost Him everything?

Jesus asks for our bold prayers too. And like St. Faustina, we will be subject to terrific warfare. We are rescuing lives from the clutches of evil! We do well as prayer warriors to follow Jesus’ command ‘to go boldly to the throne of grace to receive Mercy, and grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Heb. 4: 16)

Embattled prayer warriors need Mercy! Tending toward the mystical, we vertical ones can lose sight of our own humanity and the impact of the battle upon us. We need normalizing relationships that are arms of this Mercy. These truth-tellers help us acknowledge our humanity and keep us grounded in our need for love.

God takes no delight in mystics who ‘spiritualize’ human need, those yearnings of the heart and body which must be worked out on earth. We do well to seek merciful others for our wounded humanity. They free us to stay pure and true to our bold call to implore sinners to discover Mercy themselves.

Such ‘grounding’ takes a shrill, otherworldly edge off our prayers. They begin to resonate with merciful tones for the suffering of others, imploring Jesus to prepare us His bride to become rich and practical in Mercy. How else will the sin-sick find a place in the Mercy pool if the Church doesn’t exhibit such Mercy?

‘O Father, make Your Church glorious, rich in Mercy and purity, winsome to all who seek an answer to our hope. Show them the Mercy You have shown us; make us evident, shining bearers of Mercy. Enfold the lost through us, O God. In agreement with You, we want none to perish. You delight in the death of no-one. (Ez. 18:32) Through merciful repentance, may many find life in Your house.’

‘For Zion’s sake, I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake, I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch…

I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till He establishes Jerusalem, and makes her the praise of all the earth.’ (Is 62:1,6,7)

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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Patience and Mercy

Day 29 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Patience and Mercy

‘The greatest power is hidden in patience. I see that patience always leads to victory, although not immediately; but that victory will become manifest after many years.’ (1514)

During this fast, we are crying out for many ‘fruitless’ ones who have wandered far from their home in Christ. We beg God to manifest His Mercy to them. At the same time, we know that God is priming us to be merciful, an answer to our own prayers. He intends to fertilize and break up the fallow ground of all involved!

Yet we struggle. Loved ones possess the dignity of their will. Especially with family members, we understand that our best intentions can be motivated by our impatience and desire to control them. My will be done, O God, now…

So we die daily to our divinity; we entrust the beloved to God. We surrender our native control and anxiety. Safe in Jesus’ care and timing, the beloved then becomes one whom we can pray for in the specifics of his/her need. That is where listening for the healing word can help.

(S)he is unlike any other. The Father knows him/her even better than you do. Parents, remember you are only the co-creators of your child. The Father is the Parent, capital P, both his/her Creator and Redeemer. So listen for the Father’s voice on behalf of your beloved. And pray accordingly. You may begin praying according to his/her need, not your own, a great preparation for the face-to-face time you may have at some point.

St. Faustina writes:

‘We should pray and ask for light in order to know how to deal with each one, for each soul is a world of its own.’ (568)

So God employs the vast expanses of time between our will and His for the beloved to change us. We learn how to surrender the other and to pray; we learn how to pray with a more attentive ear for the other, and a more merciful heart.

We discover something essential about Christianity–patience. Edith Stein writes: ‘Waiting in patient expectation is the essence of the spiritual life.’

How terrible is that! I hate to wait for anything, especially when a loved one’s future and well-being is in peril. So we pray harder; God always hears the cry for Mercy as we surrender a loved one (yet again) to His care.

That frees you from an intolerable burden. And it frees you for an inspired expectancy. God will act! Through prayerful surrender, we can wait patiently with undiminished expectation.

We are becoming like Abraham, who ‘did not waver through unbelief concerning the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.’ (Rom. 4:20, 21)

Patient prayer changes us, and makes a merciful way for loved ones. My entire family prayed for decades for our dear, unbelieving father, without any sign of a crack in his armor. In the last 48 hours of life, he was quietly asked by my brother (for the 549th time, I reckon) if he wanted to receive Jesus. Dad clearly agreed and was welcomed by Jesus face-to-face a few hours later. Our grief at his passing was superseded by gratitude. Our God saves!

‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word, I put my hope.’ (Ps. 130:5)

‘I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the Lord.’ (Ps. 27:13, 14)

‘Patience, hard thing! Father, grant us Mercy, that we would be changed by the time gap between our will and Yours. Show us how You are changing us. Please teach us to pray in ways that please you. Incline our ear to Your stirrings on behalf of the beloved. Teach us to wait with expectation, not despair. You are God, You are good, and You want all to know Your Mercy.’

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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Misery and Mercy

Day 25 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Misery and Mercy

‘The more miserable my soul, the more I feel the ocean of God’s mercy engulfing me and giving me greater strength and power.’ (255)

St. Faustina was a weak woman with a mighty calling. She learned early on to entrust her afflictions to the God of Mercy. This is our key as well. Any being-healed one who seeks to restore others must acknowledge profound weakness in order to access the Mercy that is deeper still.

We live first from the fount of Life: Christ Jesus at the point of His greatest weakness, abandoned, pierced and pouring out Blood and Water. We weak ones live from that Source. His weakness is the purest, strongest expression of Mercy.

Similarly, our weakness can be the threshold for powerful Mercy. The servant is not greater than his/her Master. Real life grants us many little crosses that invite us to slow down and kneel before His Cross. Its fruit floods in; the Crucified is our Strength in weakness.

One ‘cross’ applies to temptations of many kinds—the ways we weak ones want to bypass the hard work of loving others well, be it in seduction, addiction, lying, isolating, etc. The challenge here is not in the temptation itself but rather in not facing it squarely with the help of God and others.

St. Faustina writes: ‘I must struggle with many faults, knowing well that is not the struggle that debases me but cowardice and failure.’ (1340) Bold confessions grant us freedom from fear and cleansing from our failures! Then Mercy can flood us and strengthen us where we are most in need.

Another weakness lies in our woundings—the truth that others disappoint, even betray us. We must learn to suffer well before the Crucified. ‘All my tears flowed silently toward the One who alone understands what pain and suffering is.’ (1454)

If we do not abide with Him who bears our sufferings, we become conformed to those wounds—bitter, unbelieving, unmerciful. Only through communing with Mercy Himself can we find the Mercy we need to extend to our betrayers.

As He arose from suffering unto glorious Life, so His wounds grant us patience to bear ours, certain that release will come.

We wait with Him, bearing our wound or temptation in fellowship with Him and trusted ones. When we do this, we can be confident that God is growing something merciful inside us. He is digging a deep well of Mercy in us.

Apart from Jesus, weakness does nothing for us. It makes us a target of cruel adversaries. We must choose the Merciful Cross. Surrendering weakness there transforms misery into life-giving power.

So we must first acknowledge affliction, then we kneel. Water cleanses, Blood give life. We arise to do His will, our weakness overcome with Mercy.

‘Nothing disturbs the depth of my peace. With one eye I gaze on the abyss of misery, with the other, the abyss of Mercy.’ (1345)

‘For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Cor 12:10)

‘Jesus, we trust Your Mercy in our weakness. Lead us to the Cross once again. Grant us courage to behold our sin or injury. Help us to abide there with You, that we would not forfeit the grace that could be ours. Our world is merciless and cruel. Show us Your Mercy, that we in our weakness would not be conformed to this world but rather transformed, overflowing with Mercy.’

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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