Tag Archives: Jesus

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Grief Relief

‘Let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.’  (LK 9:60)

Resurrection flies in the face of the sorrows we nurture and the Jesus we tend to conform to the image of our sorrows.

Jesus on the other hand broke the back of grief by assuming it at Calvary. If the Gospel accounts of His rising are true, He does not tolerate for long our weeping at His Cross and tomb. He simply has too much for us to do. He conquered death and wants us to join in the dance of new life, something strange and unsettling for us who are more acquainted with grief than glory. We who mope need the marvel of Easter.

Take Mary Magdalene. Her whole life was bound up in Jesus, in an intimate bond of love with the One who delivered her then died. Her grief over His departure kept her glued to the tomb; sadness slowed her down, and compelled her to wait there. Even then, she could not recognize Him when He, raised and radiant, appeared to her (JN 20: 10-18).

When she did recognize Him, her tendency may have been to grasp. We like Mary tend to make Jesus in our own image, according to the old vision and version of how things were. Mary wept for what used to be with Jesus; when He appeared to her post-crucifixion, everything had changed. That requires a deft hand and heart to all who welcome His resurrection. ‘Don’t hold onto Me, Mary!’ were Jesus’ comforting words (v.17).

We need to hear those words as well. Life is full of disappointments that can become big as tombs unless we fix our eyes on the One who lives and yet who is never quite within our grasp, always free to show us the Life waiting to emerge from our little deaths. That means letting go of the past, especially the past now made perfect in our deceptive memories as an antidote for today’s uncertainty. We need to let go of the past in order to hear Jesus now.

Our certainty is Christ Resurrected. He rents our veil of tears over and over until joy supersedes sorrow and enables us to face hardship with expectancy. Easter’s marvel? Jesus makes us more alive than before through every strange twist and turn. Death is not the end. The end is Life.

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Satisfying Jesus

‘After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied.’ (IS 53:11)

God surrenders to man’s sin and death in order to vanquish his sin and death. Forever. Today and for as long as we live on earth, Jesus desires that our lives declare that truth. He is reunited with the Father! He lives to intercede for us! He pours out His Spirit upon us continuously, and provokes us with the fruit of His suffering–the expansive, generous, inclusive union He now shares with His Father: Raised Son and Proud Papa! We are invited into His reunion—Jesus our brother, God our Father, the Spirit uniting us and making us fully alive. He did not suffer in vain. He is satisfied to the extent that our lives declare this union of Life!

My friend Jonathan Hunter gets this. Raised from the dead of homosexual sin, drug addiction, and the HIV virus (before effective treatment existed), Hunter discovered how Jesus gives us a new lease on life, regardless of one’s ‘prognosis.’ He grew up with a familiar mindset of darkness and impending dread. In Christ, Jonathan discovered that this ‘spirit of death’ need not master him anymore. The Risen Christ is the ultimate grave robber! Jesus has broken death’s grip on Jonathan and all who wrestle with despair. Forever. ‘By His death, Jesus destroyed him who holds the power of death—the devil—and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by fear of death’ (Heb. 2: 14, 15).

While we were in transit at the Geneva Airport, Jonathan received a vision of Jesus routing Satan by storming the gates of hell and bringing with Him a host of people who had been trapped by death in underground caverns. Liberated, these former captives lived to declare the power of what He won for them! Hunter understands better than anyone that Jesus stormed the gates of hell in order to get us out of there. Is this what Matthew meant when he wrote that at Jesus’ death ‘the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people were raised to life…after the resurrection, they appeared to many people’(Matt. 27:52, 53)?

Jesus appears today through an empowered, radiant people free from the spirit of death. My friend Daniel Delgado lived under death’s shadow through a mentally ill, suicidal mother; he escaped into homosexual and transgender fantasy. While identifying as a woman and participating in drag shows, he witnessed a culture of death as friends died young, tragically. That spirit of death hunted down Daniel but Jesus’ Spirit was stronger. Jesus met him through engaging Christians who helped rescue Daniel from an early eternal death.

Today Daniel lives to make Jesus known. He recently had the privilege of ministering to a teenager intent on becoming a woman and unraveling in every way. Daniel emboldened him with the truth of how Jesus saved him—granting him union with the Father and the gift of his own identity as a son. He asked the young man if he wanted that love and that freedom. In light of Love, the young man saw his deception and cried out for mercy. Jesus gave it. He did not suffer in vain. He lives, and is satisfied by us who live to declare eternal Life.

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(Not) Seeing, (Un)believing

Emptied and wearied by well-doing, I subjected myself to fools—fantasies that rushed into my void like sewage. I was as wanted and exciting as were those around me. I wanted my dream to come true.

Barely able to choose otherwise, I did. By grace alone (and a friend’s help), I made my way to Mass in a strange town and locked eyes with the Crucified over the altar. Bearing my little cross, I embraced Jesus and hid myself in His wounded side. When the priest read the Gospel—John the Baptist who upon seeing Jesus for the first time declared ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (JN 1:29)—this sinner heard those words for the first time. I saw the Savior.

Though disordered in heart, my gaze was clear upon the One who could order my affections and deliver me from demons. I was the worldly one whose sin needed to be taken away. I marveled at a truth I had never recognized: God became the lamb! Prior to Jesus, men used lambs to atone for sin but now Almighty God is the sacrifice. I passed through His purity into the bloody mess He became and emerged white as snow. Wow. For a few shining moments, heaven descended to this vessel, removing rot and imparting life.

I endured a silly homily about how we are all now like ‘little lambs’ and wolfed down the holy meal. I rejoiced: ‘Jesus just saved me! Again! He alone is the Lamb and I will follow Him wherever He goes. Where He is, I am free.’ Sobered and grateful, I became aware of the parish newsletter which featured a ‘gay’-identified couple extolling how welcoming this church was to them.

What? In the place of the great exchange—the very site where the Lamb removes sin and reorders hearts? Celebrating ‘gay’ love before the Crucified struck me as congruent as a cigarette girl hawking her wares in a lung cancer clinic.

The difference? Jesus gave up His breath to restore ours. The Lamb offers more than chemo—He gives us a whole new life, His very being transfused into ours with an offering of water, blood and Spirit (1 JN 5: 7, 8). How weak and short-sighted of the Church to place blinders on its members as to divert their gaze from the Lamb to sexually immoral bonds. Lord, have mercy. Jesus does have mercy, for all who have eyes to see. Behold the Lamb who takes away all our sin…

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Ponder, Proclaim

‘Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ (LK 2:19)

Many of us experience a tension between prayer and action. We may know well the value of pondering the mystery of God-with-us, this baby Jesus who wants to ‘tabernacle’ with us. Prayer is the main way we become that home where God dwells with us through His Spirit.

Yet we are surrounded by many homeless ones who are clueless that God became flesh and now wants to dwell with them. If you are like me, something ignites during prayer and flares up to break the silence: ‘God came; He’s here! He wants to be with you! You don’t have to work out your hard life alone!’

Perhaps this call to ponder and proclaim are two parts of the same message. Our faithfulness to both is how we create a whole message for the world to hear.

LK 2:15-20 gives us clues to this wholeness. A lot goes on here—a host of angels had just dazzled these shepherds with the proclamation that God the Savior was alive and well and living in a nearby stable. The shepherds found Jesus; we can assume they were more awestruck by God in His littleness than the power-and-light-show of the heavenly host. Jesus must have radiated glory from the manger.

The shepherds were the first non-family members to witness God-in-the-flesh. They were at the lower end of the world’s system; poor rovers, they often were suspect of petty crimes and artful dodging. Fitting that they would become the first new members of the holy family! St. Paul said that we were all slaves to the world’s system until God came; Jesus transforms us from worldly slaves to sons and daughters of the Father. In Him, the homeless secure a home (Gal. 4:3-7).

Mary treasured this encounter between shepherds and the Child-King. She pondered it (v. 19). For the first time, she witnessed the impact of her newborn upon others. It must have taken her breath away. Wow, she thought, this baby is the real deal. He will ditch the rich and lift up the lowly. Everything the angel said is coming to pass.

In Greek, ‘ponder’ means to bring together a few ideas and brood over them in order to create a richer deeper thought. The Latin word for ponder is ‘to conceive’; through her pondering, Mary is once again conceiving new life as she considers the life of her Son. She lights the way for our prayerful renewal as well.

Think of your growing awareness of the truth of Jesus. He probably did not overtake you right away. Rather, His gentle, hidden movement in your life became apparent in prayerful moments and you knew: He IS the Light of my world, just when the darkness seemed to have the upper hand.

That’s good news! Pondering the light of Jesus in our real conflicts is the substance of solid proclamation. Let’s go back to the shepherds. They find glorious Jesus and upon seeing God-in-flesh, they race out to tell others that in truth He is the Savior of all, much to the hearers’ amazement (v. 17, 18). This Jesus has power to make poor ones rich, homeless ones secure, sons, slaves!

As you ponder the impact of Jesus in your life, consider how He is helping you forsake worldly enslavements for your true status as a child of God. The deeper you ponder your transformation the truer will be your proclamation. People will hear the Gospel through the contours of your broken, glorious life!

And you will receive more authority in your own life as you courageously step through fears like ‘People don’t want to hear it; I don’t want to be a hypocrite’, etc. You overcome fear and other enslavements through your proclamation (Rev. 12:11), and make a way for others to overcome too.

Early on in my walk with Jesus, I tried to dull my identity conflict (between ‘gay’ or Christian) by moving back into the ‘gay ghetto’ with an atheistic French family. God would not let go peacefully. Sick from my vacillations, I pondered and prayed and at last decided to follow Jesus simply because He was real. Peace flooded my soul that night; I nearly bounced into a party given by my French family.

A woman there eyed me suspiciously, and asked about the cross around my neck: ‘What does this Jesus do for you?’ I calmly responded that He was setting me free from my ‘gay self’ and same-sex addictions. She started crying and asked if I would speak to her son who was ‘gay’ and suicidal. I did just that. She now knows God is both merciful and powerful. He makes slaves sons.

‘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)

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Home. For Good.

‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling with us’ (JN 1:14).

In youthful efforts to find ‘home’, a place of belonging where my part of the social equation fit and totaled something valuable, I failed. As ‘gay’ relationships faded, reliance on pills and powders grew. I wondered why I could not deliver on the good I possessed. That depressed me—I wasn’t being true to myself and others.

I had a pretty good home life but that did not make me a good child. I never swallowed the sixties’ rot that we were all God’s children, natively inclined to peace and harmony. I wanted to love but could not, not really. Good intentions capsized under the weight of selfishness. It made more sense to me that I was a child under the devil’s sway, estranged from the Good.

I knew Jesus was real but did not know how He could make me real; how could I align myself with His greater good and so become good? That’s why I love the Catholic Church’s reading this Christmas Day from John 1:1-18. God came into the mess we made of His world ‘and made His dwelling with us’; He draws near to us vagrant ones who become violent in our alienation when we do not recognize Him as our Father.

Maybe God knew that the ‘father’ bit was too much for our foolish hearts, how we project our fears of masculine power on Him. So God came as a child in order to free us to become children again, kids who know some good and long to become good. As we by grace see Him as He is—Almighty in a manger, Lord of all living yet lowly, we can get low and worship the child king. This Christmas, hold nothing back—let us offer Him the whole of our divided lives! Therein lays His power to make us His own, to make us good.

Get real. Become good. Forsake the lie that your good intentions suffice. Only God in Christ can give you a home—the Father’s embrace which transforms children of darkness into children of Light.

‘He came to His own but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God—children not born of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (JN 1: 11-13).

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