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Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 3

This is the third post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 3

Intimacy with Jesus made an ex-prostitute the bearer of the most important event in human history.

God entrusted a woman, not one of the 12, with Christ’s resurrection. That’s why the Roman Catholic Church names Mary Magdalene the ‘Apostle of Apostles.’

Mary’s surrender to Christ was marked by weeping and lingering, two earmarks of loving another with all one’s heart. Such sustained intimacy gave Mary authority. Such reliance on Jesus gives us authority.

Mary’s life also demonstrates how Jesus exchanges our false attachments for His faithful, unfailing love. False intimacy is no match for His Mercy. And false intimacy can be a degrading and cruel master. God wants to elevate our sexuality to the level for which He intends it—the authentically human in which our desires are subsumed by a passion for Himself and thus transformed.

No easy or tidy task. False intimacy dehumanizes us and the enemy of our souls fights hard to keep us bound. Satan rules a kingdom of unrealities that seems real enough to seduce us until it cripples our capacity to overcome evil with the good. The face of Mercy in Jesus Christ shines on us then picks a fight with that kingdom. Mercy takes hold of our hearts and asks each of us: who will you serve?

Weakened by devotion to the sensual gods, subject to the scorn of the Pharisee without and within, our change seems hopeless. But God’s Kingdom in Christ is true, and is thus far more powerful than the silky illusions of our enemy.

In the sexual arena, I have witnessed deliverance—the clash of one Kingdom overcoming the lesser one—occurring after relationship with Christ is established. Like Mary, we need to know Him first, to trust His advocacy amid the shame of our weakness and religious judgment. And He needs to know that we will serve Him alone. He does not want to purge a house that has no intention of staying true to its owner; Jesus knows that demons return 7-fold to the fickle home. (Lk 11: 23-26)

He is faithful. Relying on Him alone, we cooperate with the Master as He thoroughly cleans house from the ungodly residue left by our false intimacies.

Mary exemplifies this. After she lingered with tears at Christ’s feet next to the Pharisee and joined the disciple’s band, Jesus delivered her of seven demons. (Lk 8:2)

Intimacy invites deliverance. We recognize Him and we rely upon Him, going where He goes, and He in His powerful mercy, cleanses us. I love the ease and naturalness with which Mary’s deliverance must have occurred. The closer we get to Him, the nearer we come to freedom, even from dark and destructive things that are so familiar we do not even recognize them as evil.

We must never romanticize or trivialize false intimacy. It is costly. Sexual violations of all sorts invite unclean spirits to lodge themselves in our depths and to hide there. But when we realize as Mary did that Jesus is not going to reject us and that our cure lies only in nearness to Him, then we will be unafraid to come into His Presence. We will not be shocked at the cleansing He has yet to do!

Annette and I each experienced significant deliverances from unclean spirits long after our walk with Jesus began. Mine involved familiar spirits tied to longstanding exposure to pornography, hers involved a spirit of control that she relied upon after the devastation of rape from an adult relative when she was 4-years-old. Our ‘Kingdom clash’ occurred willfully and prayerfully with the help of trustworthy, discerning saints. After the tussle, we each had a new authority to choose Life and to resist mental and moral strongholds that we had tolerated.

We must not be afraid that our residual brokenness will contaminate Christ or His community. We just enter in as Mary did—looking for every opportunity to worship and serve Him. He knows our hearts. We can know that no matter how broken and yes, still unclean we may be, He will deliver us!

The key is not coming under the Pharisee—the accusing, critical gaze. Like Mary, we must exercise courage to come as we are, our ragged, divided hearts intact, and cast ourselves upon His merciful feet. Like Mary, we must learn to weep and linger there. Our deliverance will come, is coming, will come!

Leanne Payne says it like this: ‘In seeking only Him who is our righteousness we begin to see more clearly and purity of heart and life ensues…Jesus assures us and we know most certainly that He will remove the wheat from the chaff, that He will transform the desire where and when necessary, and that He will elevate it to higher places when our perception of His will for our lives is too low.’

Deliverance strengthens our reliance upon the Deliverer, and grants us a godly fear of sin and spiritual darkness. We should have a holy regard for the kingdoms of this world, especially those we have participated in. We remember Mercy, the grace He gave us to know Him and to follow Him alone. We become a people of One House, One Kingdom, united with Christ. Where else can we go, how else can we live? He alone has the keys to life.

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Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditations, 1

This is the first post of my Holy Week Meditations for 2012. Please click here for the archive list of posts as they become available.

Intimate Authority: Holy Week Meditation, 1

Why was Mary Magdalene the first disciple Jesus entrusted with the message of His resurrection? A brief meditation on her life points to intimacy with Jesus as the basis for her unique authority. His gift to her was Mercy, a free gift that nevertheless demands a response. She surrendered all to Him; her gift to Jesus was herself. His life became hers.

More than not, the Gospels describe her weeping and lingering in His Presence. That was her authority, this evidence of intimacy with Jesus. For what else better defines intimate reliance upon another but weeping and lingering? Love alone provokes tears for another; love alone compels us to wait, to abide, to linger. These simple expressions of intimacy—tears and lingering—are the basis for Mary’s authority.

Intimacy with Jesus made an ex-prostitute the bearer of the most important event in human history. No wonder the Roman Catholic Church names Mary Magdalene the ‘Apostle of the Apostles.’

Mary’s life demonstrates how Jesus exchanges false attachments for His faithful, unfailing love. False intimacy is no match for His Mercy.

Mary knew all about false intimacy. She had been a prostitute; she gave herself to others in exchange for money. The most exquisite and life-giving part of her became the site of her greatest degradation. One thing abides—the pervasive shame over treating one’s precious self as worthless.

No amount of familiarity or mental gymnastics can remove that shame. The law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). Conscience can be numbed but not killed. In the still of the night, after each fall, the soul longs for the imprint of strange flesh to be erased. Jesus heard Mary’s cry. He hears ours today.

Mercy alone frees us to recognize the falsehood which has entrapped us. Mercy alone liberates our repentance. Mary personifies this recognition of falsehood and repentance.

The Pharisees mirrored the truth of her falsehood; in her, they would have been the face of God: righteous, serious, scorning her degradation. One critical gaze from a religious man might have withered her, confirming her shame. The law can cause us to weep and to linger in our regret, but it cannot heal us.

Mary saw another face in the crowd, this Jesus who gathered the lost and the least in order to heal and deliver them. He looked at her too, with eyes that seemed to know all about her but did not scorn her; in truth, they seemed to be pleading for something more, something better for her…

When Mary saw Jesus eating with a Pharisee, she wanted to run over and surrender all to Him, to offer her devotion as best as she could. But she had to risk the rejection of the Pharisee—the old face of God—in order to surrender to Jesus.

And she did. She crashed the party and flung herself at Jesus’ feet. At His feet she wept tears of gratitude and repentance, repentance from her life of degradation, gratitude for the Mercy He embodied. She lingered there. Mercy washed her, its levels rose around her releasing more tears, regret and release combined. She in turn washed His feet with her offering.

She was oblivious to the heady discussion in which the Pharisee had engaged Jesus. ‘Deep calls to deep, in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have washed over me…’ (PS 42:7)

Immersed in Mercy, she barely recognized the disgust of the Pharisee toward this embarrassing display.

Her courageous devotion is our first glimpse of the intimacy that made her great. Weeping and lingering in His Presence; this was the beginning of her authority. Deeper than her sin and shame was an awareness Jesus alone could set her free. She risked everything to be where He was.

Jesus explained to the agitated, dry-eyed Pharisee why Mary wept and lingered. ‘(S)he who has been forgiven of much will love Me much; (s)he who is forgiven of little will love Me little.’ (Lk 7:47)

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Mercy Restores Our Inheritance

Day 13 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘My Heart overflows with Mercy for souls, especially for poor sinners. If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them, and that it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with Mercy.’ (367)

Jesus employed the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15) to convey the marvel of the Father’s Mercy. No matter how much we have squandered what is best and true about our lives, the Father restores in full our inheritance when we turn back to Him.

If you recall, the prodigal son had a good and generous father who gave his son an early inheritance. The son wanted a sexier life than the one down on the farm. So he left home and squandered everything, his dignity, his money—the good of his inheritance.

I did the same. Un-affirmed as a man, I left home to seek the confirmation of ‘false fathers’ in the sensual, unrestrained world of the west coast, circa the 1970’s. The trouble? Eroticizing other broken men did not resolve my identity crisis; in truth, it worsened it. Like the prodigal, my merriment turned to misery when I realized: ‘No-one actually gave me anything.’ (Lk. 15:16)

Whatever my father’s deficits were, he gave me an inheritance—my name, my manhood, a chance to represent his legacy well. And I squandered it by giving my masculinity to those with nothing to give in exchange. Mercy alone prompted the realization of such Misery; Mercy alone provoked a turning back towards home.

Repentance seemed so feeble at first. Still a long way off, more in shadow than light, we prodigals seem unlikely to reach home. That is where Mercy finds its richest expression. The Father runs to us! He sees our halting efforts to repent and closes the gap with His presence! His very being ensures our turning and restores to us our full inheritance.

In the first few months of my return home, I recall a hard night of sin and struggle followed by a haggard visit to a church the next morning. I felt raw and defiled. Still in shadow, I was approached by a rather strange prophetic woman who came up to me and asked: “Do you know what your name is? It is Andrew, which means ‘masculine one’. You are God’s masculine son.”

I choked down tears and entered in afresh to the worship service. I learned a key lesson that day. My Father does not merely forgive my sin. In exchange for it, He gives me back my full inheritance, which for me had everything to do with His full confirmation of my manhood.

‘While the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.’ (Lk. 15:20)

‘Father, grant us the clear understanding that Mercy grants us the full measure of our inheritance. Show us what we have squandered; grant us faith to believe You will restore what has been destroyed by sin. Grant us eyes to see that Mercy itself provokes our return home. We pray for those who are wandering far from their inheritance. Bring them home, O God, in the power of Mercy.’   

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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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Father of Mercy for an Adulterous Generation


Day 2 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘Apart from God, there is no contentment anywhere.’ (42)

A painful fact of life for my twenty-something children is the sexually immorality that defines their generation. If not subject to parents who failed to keep their commitment to each other, they are steeped in a culture that celebrates the relentless erosion of holy boundaries. These are a people so scorched by porn they no longer feel the burn; these are ‘friends with benefits’, open to the sexual possibility in any amicable union (with either gender). This is the first generation to disavow marriage while championing the rights of gays to do so.

These are a people in need of Mercy. They need a Father who keeps His commitment of love to them even as they discover their inability to stay true to Him. ‘Steadfast love’, or ‘hesed’, is the main word used for mercy in the Old Testament. It usually applies to the Father’s covenant with Israel. There, the Father exercises His mercy by upholding HIs love and commitment to the nation that betrayed Him. Continuously.

‘Hesed’ keeps giving, reaching, and believing in the object of one’s love. In divine mercy, God vows to make a way for unfaithful ones to become faithful through the gift of His love for us.

That does not mean that ‘hesed’ is easy for the Father. For Him to so love His world only to be betrayed by that world breaks His heart! The Scripture opens us to His jealous, passionate love for the wayward nation. When Israel would pursue other gods, the Father likened them to lovers, her own heart to an adulteress’.

She broke her vows to Him, over and over, often resulting in the sexual immorality that defined the fertility cults surrounding Israel. Through the prophets, God would speak with vengeful passion toward the holy nation: ‘Rebuke her, for she is not my wife…let her remove the adulterous look on her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts…I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. Their mother has been unfaithful…’ (Hosea 2:2, 4, 5)

Such anger would then evolve into ‘hesed’, the merciful promise that God would make a way for her to return to Him. ‘I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her…There I will make the Valley of Achor [judgment] a door of hope…in that day, you will call me ‘my husband’, not ‘my master’…I will betroth you in love and compassion (hesed); I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.’ (Hosea 2: 14, 15, 16, 19, 20)

Adultery of heart, both spiritually and sexually, breaks His heart. And from that heart flows ‘hesed’, the steadfast mercy that stands in the gap for us. It works. We have a faithful Father who makes a way for us to return to Him in spite of the adulterous flood around us and in us.

My 22-year-old son Sam, no stranger to false gods and goddesses, rejoices in being won over by ‘hesed’. ‘I don’t want to be anywhere else but in His Presence. Nothing else satisfies me like He does…’

‘They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them besides streams of water, on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim, my firstborn son.’ (Jer. 31:9)

‘Make Your steadfast love known to us, O God. Let Mercy flow from us to unfaithful ones. How can we refuse to give mercy away? Mercy liberated our faithful response to You in the first place. Your ‘hesed’ became ours.’

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