Tag Archives: His Spirit

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Ascending Fear: Jesus’ Absence and Our Authority

Ascension of Christ. Woodcut after a drawing by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (German painter, 1794 - 1872), published in 1877.

‘Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.’ (Jn 16:6)

Jesus had to leave us in order to liberate us. He had to depart in order to give us power. But for the disciples, Jesus’ ascension back to the Father may have felt more like abandonment than the assurance of authority.

Think about it. Jesus’ followers just got in the groove with the Resurrected Christ. (It took a while–remember? They failed to recognize him for days!) Just when they were in step with Him, the Lamb is swallowed up by a cloud. (Acts 1:9)

Jesus, now absent, gives disciples like us His Spirit—powerful and pervasive, but unseen. The Spirit demands our faith and action based on His leading. Yet His instructions are more whispers than proclamations. And we are imperfect ‘receptors’ at best, as inclined to our own darkness as we are to the light. How we long for Jesus-in-the-flesh declaring: ‘This is the way; walk in it!’

That means that we His disciples have to face our fears of ourselves: Can we do this? Was that a prophetic dream or a delusion? What if we obey that still small voice and turn out to be wrong?

What a risky God—entrusting us with continuing His reign of heaven on earth.

Scary stuff! I remember what I felt to be the Spirit’s leading to attend a university discussion on ‘Homosexuality, the Bible and Faith.’ In spite of all the major denominations represented, the course had little to do with any genuine respect for the Bible or faith; it was intent only on asserting ‘gay rights.’

I had only been a Christian for 6 months but I already knew that no-one there knew anything about genuine conversion. So I said so: ‘If Jesus really died for us, then we must die to our right to assert anything other than His rule and reign in our lives.’ I wasn’t voted most popular student that year.

But I did grow in faith because I learned to follow His lead. And He trusted me to step out, however awkwardly, and proclaim His rule and reign. He does so with any willing vessel.

This is the principle of Ascension: He must depart in order for His Spirit to empower us to extend His Kingdom on earth.

That principle applies to our letting people go in order to help them grow. Our releasing them releases the Spirit who will lead them beyond where we can take them.

I see this all the time in ministry. In order for men and women to become leaders, I must release them to step out and take risks. They won’t rely upon the Spirit as much if I am around. My presence may well be quenching the very Spirit that is straining to do great things through them.

‘Anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.’ (Jn 14:12)

I also see this in parenting. Annette and I and most of our friends worked hard to be the best parents possible. And then, guess what? It isn’t enough! Our kids may still make bad, Spirit-free choices that grieve us terribly. That’s where Ascension comes in. Our kids’ departure from the Light doesn’t stop the Spirit from brooding, imploring, and ordering all things for the good in their lives.

But parents get in the way of Holy Spirit when we try to be that Spirit. Like Jesus Himself, we must entrust our kids to the One who knows and loves best. We do our part yes—but it is the wise parent who knows when (s)he can do no more but pray. Confessing our fears and controlling schemes only to God, we entrust the son or daughter to the Ultimate Parent. His Spirit will have His Way.

Ascension reduces us to prayer. We grieve and let go and make room for God. Jesus left in order to free us to become people of the Spirit. Might we do the same for those we love most?

‘You may ask for anything in My Name, and I will do it.’ (Jn 14:14)

‘When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you [and your loved ones!] into all truth.’ (Jn 16:13)

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The Advent of Repentance

This Advent I had the privilege of preaching several times at ‘Water of Life’, a large church in Southern California. After each service, many people came up to me seeking counsel on what to do with ‘gay’ friends and family members. Most poignant were the pleas of parents and siblings: ‘How do we love them while we disagree with their moral choices?’

These family members are now subject to deceived, politicized loved ones whose ‘gay selves’ have turned hard and cold toward the ones they left behind. Times have changed, people. No longer are we dealing with same-sex strugglers in search of alternatives to ‘the gay self’; this generation seeks only its confirmation. Those family members who cannot in good conscience bless him as ‘gay’ or her as ‘lesbian’ are deemed unloving at best, and probably abusive.

Repentance unto Mercy is the key. The Advent reading for that Sunday was from Is 40:1-11: ‘Comfort my people with great tenderness; the war is over–I shall give you a double portion for all your sins! I will lift up the low and dry valleys and level the mountains; I will make the crooked roads straight! Declare the good news boldly, do not hold back! I will shepherd you well, especially mothers with kids…’

I thought of the Gospel reading from that day, John the Baptist reiterating the essence of this call to repent unto the coming of Jesus, the One full of Mercy who fills us with His Spirit as the basis for a whole new way of living! (Matt. 3:1-12)

William Stringfellow says it best: ‘John the Baptist identifies repentance as the message and sentiment of Advent’–turning unto the tender Mercy of the God who grants us double in exchange for the mess we’ve made!

Amid the many questions and concerns about ‘gay’ loved ones, a river of Mercy ran through our exchanges. We repented of judgmental, critical attitudes, entrusting the loved one wholly to the One who knows all and works all for the good. Our prayer: help us to be insightful, patient agents of that good, that the deceived would have a loving witness of saving Love when they are ready for it.

We discovered that we can love deceived ones without compromise as we eagerly await their return to Mercy.

For every 3 or 4 tales of family angst that I heard, a man or woman would come up to me and quietly admit that like me they too had come out of homosexuality and were living hopeful, humble lives in that community  of faith. And one lovely Mexican-American couple confided in me that after three years of loving and interceding for a sister who had ‘married’ a woman, their beloved just left the relationship and is once again seeking the Mercy of God for her sin and conflict.

They are there for her. We the faithful are there for any who turn from worldly solutions to the Merciful One who gives us everything—Jesus Christ.

‘Water will gush forth in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.

The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground, a bubbling spring…

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.

The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way…

But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.

Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.’

Is. 35:6-10

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Kingdom of Saints

I had never led a healing service for a group of Catholics before. And although I have been translated many times in Spanish, the language difference this time unnerved me.

Before I could say a word, the worship team played John Wimber’s ‘Spirit Song’. I could not believe it: a song from the seventies written by the healing apostle that made a way for Living Waters to go to the nations, a song that still conveys the essence of Kingdom Mercy: ‘O let the Son of God enfold you, with His Spirit and His Love, let Him fill your heart and satisfy your soul. O give Him all your tears of sadness, give Him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into Life in Jesus’ Name…’

I looked throughout the packed auditorium in Guadalajara, Mexico and saw young men and women seeking healing from same-sex attraction and their parents, all wondering: ‘Is the love of Jesus really enough to redeem such a deep tendency?’

Wimber’s legacy flooded back to me. Kingdom Mercy was flowing like a mighty current from the cross, breaking fear and shame. He moves mountains in the soul, and grants willing souls the dignity to make new decisions in light of His holy purposes for them.

The Kingdom came through Communion with St. John. His song summoned his essence, and empowered me to extend the rule of Love, the reign of God’s Kingdom.

We operate in Christ due to the great cloud of witnesses, some alive on earth, some alive in Heaven, who have made a way for us to advance Kingdom purposes.

The Church is not just the man or woman next to you on the pew. The Church consists of all the saints who have followed Jesus and who continue to cry out for Mercy to reign on the earth through the obedience of you and me.

My pastor recently taught on how Spanish St. Teresa of Avila in the 16th century ‘discipled’ French St. Therese de Lisieux in the 19th century who in turn became the patron saint of Albanian Mother Theresa of Calcutta in our day.

Heaven helps us. All my days I shall minister in the shadow of faithful ones like John Wimber whose legacy and spirit continues to empower and inform my efforts.

Following the closing mass in Guadalajara, we prayed for three hours for all seeking more healing (everyone in the room!) As men and women fell under the power of the Spirit, received prophecies, had demons cast out, and received ‘gracelets’ of restoration, I knew that Jesus and His witnesses hovered over us. It is easy to do His will. We are neither lean nor alone; we labor with the host of Heaven, rich and dense with anointing from on high.

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Merciful Intimacy

Around this time I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean. Amid a winter storm, my pastor dunked me into the waters, and counted the old man dead. I arose with Christ into new life.

It was timely. I needed to know that something really had changed beyond my subjective experience—how what Jesus did in entering those waters Himself and emerging out of them as the Beloved Son had relevance to me.

Jesus’ baptism was unto death; His dunking foreshadowed Crucifixion. Similarly, His emergence into the fullness of the Father’s blessing—the confirmation of His Sonship through the infilling of the Holy Spirit—foresaw His Resurrection.

He invites us to follow His lead. Our own baptism liberates us to surrender the old self unto death and to live out of the Father’s favor. It is the objective basis for our freedom to declare: I am no longer mastered by sin but by the Father’s blessing upon the good son He sees in me.

Through baptism, I began to realize that the power of righteousness had become greater in me than the power of sin! His Spirit reminded me of that constantly. Out of the true self, I could decisively say ‘no’ to sin. Sin ceased to be my center; the Father’s favor upon me was.

You know what that meant? I was good! Mercy had broken the grip of living out of the grasping, readily deceived old self. United with Christ, following His example, I thus had authority to refuse the enemy’s temptations in the desert.

More than that, I had water to give others. I had a gift to give out of my goodness as a man. Around this time, I discovered more of what this goodness was.

While still a student, I started working at a Christian bookstore that emphasized theological study. I discovered the great Dr. Karl Barth there, and his emphasis on what it means to be made in God’s image: male and female. It gave form and depth to my understanding that I was in truth a part of God’s heterosexual creation (with some peculiar flaws, of course!).

More than that, I was under the Father’s favor and mandate to work out my salvation in relation to women—not as mere ‘buddies’ but in the tension and attraction of our differences from each other.

I had to learn to offer myself emotionally to His daughters, and maybe, if it be His will, to one in the form of an exclusive union. That’s what it meant to be true to the Father. And that was possible because sin was no longer my center. I had heterosexual goodness to give. And out of that goodness, I could face my weaknesses without being mastered by them.

His favor on my life freed me to believe for more. I was a good gift. I began to desire to offer that very imperfect gift to a woman.

This seemed to be a dangerous mercy—full of threats and uncertainties. Was I deceiving myself? The woman who trained me for the bookstore job wanted to know. We became good friends on the job, and I really liked her. She was smart, fun, and began to become more and more attractive to me.

We talked about our broken pasts and the false selves we had invested in. We gave a lot of mercy to each other. We saw something in one another that was greater than our shameful confessions. We fell in love with one another’s true self, gracefully revealed. That woman is now my wife of 29 years, Annette.

We continue daily to extend mercy to one another. The Father showed us His favor and still delights in the love we extend to one another. For both of us, marital love is the first-fruit of His mercy toward us. We endure the desert portions of our lives together. What a gift.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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The Pool at Piccadilly Circus

Soon after the French party, I moved home and determined to grow with the Christian friends I had. Fun or not, they were my people.

My parents asked me if I wanted to save my shekels and go with them on a short trip to Europe the next summer. I did and I went.

London was a blast. I loved the roar of it. I would find a busy street and get lost for hours in the waves of people pouring like currents from every square, park, and avenue.

I met a smart young coupled from Manchester who like me were walking quickly through the City of London Museum. We spent the afternoon together, and shared with some depth about our lives, after which they kind of prophesied over me. They predicted that I would write and speak about social matters related to my Christian spirituality. Their words rang true.

Later that night, my search for companionship took an ugly turn as I walked through garish Piccadilly Circus (London’s version of Time Square). I found a disco there (I used to be, well, fun…) and started dancing in a big group of people. It was ugly—yes, the hair and fashions of course—but mostly the spirit of the place. These people were not my people.

After such a life-giving day, I found myself in a self-absorbed, seductive world that was choking the life out of me. I knew if I did not leave right away, I would bow down to the evil one and his sexy idols.

Surfacing from the underground, smoky club, I gasped for air then called upon Jesus. He met me faster than the oxygen. He filled me with His Spirit and freed me from the ‘desert’ disco. I remembered mercy; I wanted Him, and He wanted me.

I turned a corner to exit the Circus where a young man was waiting for a sexual pick-up. He motioned to me; I walked on but as I did I thought, “He needs ‘living water’ as much as I do…” The Spirit came upon me and gave me unusual boldness.

I turned back and met up with the guy, telling him that I did not want sex but would love to talk with him over coffee. He agreed, and I shared my whole story, even the escape from ‘disco inferno.’

He related, he was amused, and he needed Jesus. We prayed together and committed to keeping in touch with each other. We wrote back and forth for over a year until he left London for University. I do not know what happened to him next. But I know that he encountered Jesus in the desert of his homosexuality. He discovered the God who turns the burning sand into a pool of mercy.

‘As You have shown us mercy, O God, in the desert places of our lives, would You show mercy to the beleaguered state of marriage in the USA? As the Perry vs. Schw. case wends its way to the National Supreme Court, prepare for Yourself a victory. We shall render to Caesar what is Caesar’s but we shall prayerfully fight for what is Yours, O God. Prepare the hearts of each justice, especially Justice Anthony Kennedy, to uphold marriage according to Your merciful design. Remember mercy, O God.’

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