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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Good News?

Jesus is good news for the sexually broken. As a mere member of His, deeply flawed, I fall short. I guess that explains the title of our upcoming 40-days of prayer: ‘Becoming Good News’. We begin by admitting limited love for difficult beloved ones then seek to become more apt representatives of Jesus for them. Our prayer? ‘Jesus, make us more like Yourself toward _____’

Annette and I got hammered yesterday by a series of tough things. We both experienced a kind of wearisome dullness that deflected the light of Jesus rather than catching and beaming it all around. As I walked past the home of my ‘gay’-identified neighbor, I felt the Spirit’s prompting to knock once more, hear his travails (many), and give some Spirit-tuned encouragement. I resisted the prompt. Self-absorbed, I gave the enemy what he wanted by agreeing with the familiar: ‘I am a mess, say nothing, do nothing, the gap is too wide, the bridge too far, etc.’
Start the revival without me.

Thank God for holy conviction. I live by these words of St. Faustina: ‘The knowledge of my misery frees me to know the immensity of Your mercy.’ No value in denying the soul cast down or in musing upon one’s well-deserved melancholy. How much better to offer up the troubled soul to Jesus who always waits for the chance just to love us? We can surrender the misery in exchange for tender affection; He transforms a spirit of heaviness into something grateful, humbled, fragrant in its brokenness rather than self-consumed and piteous. Lord, consume us with Your mercies, well-aimed at our fears and frustrations!

In the rising, my heart is sensitized to that neighbor. If we the faithful can be slowed, even stopped, by our disordered world, how much more difficult is it for estranged ones who get tossed about by every torment? We can offer our little trials to Jesus on their behalf; He will mercifully expand the constrained domain of our hearts. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent!’ commands the prophet. Jesus’ mercy makes it so; we discover there is more room at the inn.

Let’s pray together to become good news, that hardships might produce a spirit of hospitality for rebel sons and daughters. Perhaps they secretly long for a homecoming. Let’s become better news for them, beginning on October 16th. Order the 40-day prayer guide ‘Becoming Good News’ from Amazon or DSM.

You can purchase “Becoming Good News” in book form directly from Desert Stream or get it from Amazon for your Kindle.

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India Living Waters

India: God Answers

‘The poor and needy search for water but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst, but I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them…’ (IS 41:17)

It was a good sign. As I greeted my Thai colleague Sue and team at the Kolkata Airport, I looked behind her in line and saw a dozen Missionaries of Charity (St. Teresa’s team) gleaming in white robes, their eyes bright with Jesus as they awaited baggage check and a fresh advance in another region. We walk the path of blessed pioneers.

As Abbey and I motored our way up a dusty mountain to our destination of Shillong in the upper north of India—a finger of land surrounded by Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Nepal, and Bangladesh—I noticed roadside dust and clamor growing green as we ascended a mile high up the hills. Teeming with life, the city beckoned to us; after 40 hours of travel, we felt that strange blend of exhaustion and exhilaration and decided to walk to our first meeting.

What a reunion! Our hostess/leader Bobby is a dynamic, faith-filled wife and mother who simply believes God for the needs of persons in her city: she has started citywide outreaches to the poor, an orphanage she still runs, and now wants to ensure that the deep and often shame-shrouded needs of fellow Christians are met in a safe, merciful and effective way. Living Waters! She travelled twice to Thailand and once to The Philippines in order to raise up a team, and there they sat in front of us now, waiting to pray for our advance: beautiful, humble men and women who were growing whole together, now primed to release healing to others.

India Living Waters

Bobby and Family

Bobby recalled: ‘I was unsure if India was ready for Living Waters. We are an honor, family-based culture: we don’t talk about sexual matters or family wounds—these might dishonor loved ones. But when I returned from Thailand and told friends what I heard, they all started sharing deep, hard things. I realized that whether we like it or not, we need Living Waters!’

Before our first gathering, two fun things happened. Bobby gathered a group of pastors with whom we dined and discussed these issues. Their leader, Pastor Hamlet, reminded me of John Wimber—both wise and merciful men whom God blessed as founder/leaders of thriving denominations yet who only wanted to build up the whole body of Christ with the healing power of Jesus. Like Wimber, Hamlet prefers the Kingdom over church government. I love him.

Soon after our lunch I went for a long run up and down the narrow streets of Shillong and noticed an array of Catholic and Protestant institutions. I then discovered that Catholics had invested huge amounts of energy over the last several hundred years to bring the Gospel to these people—the Khati—and have left an array of schools and educational offerings for them. Further, Welsh missionaries landed there in the early 20th century, burning with the flames of revival ignited in Wales a decade earlier. This city is ready for Living Waters. I was so excited that I started running with a group of Indian soldiers and raced them to their barracks, tying for first with a man one-third my age.

Our conference was full of Jesus, tender and powerful in mercy to meet people in profound areas of need. We preached the truth of our own being-healed lives through the power of the Cross; signs and wonders followed. Like Ezekiel in the temple, the water levels kept rising. Because family is so crucial here, sons and daughters who were already receiving healing from Bobby and team brought parents who began to confess their wounds and failures. Families were being healed before our eyes.

I called up all persons who wanted to help release Living Waters in India; nearly everyone arose. Immediately I thought of Isaiah 41 where the prophet voices God’s commitment to answer the stifled cries of His people: ‘I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs’ (IS. 41: 18). As I shouted out these verses, I wept for I realized in a small way we were fulfilling God’s promise to the poor and needy. I saw waters cascading down the green heights of Shillong, throughout the thirsty byways of India.

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esperanza

Esperanza

‘You are no longer aliens but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:19, 20).

Mexicans do it better. Living Waters anyway. Attribute it to truer body/spirit integration. Or greater openness to the Spirit. Or deeper awareness of poverty, submitted to God. All I can say is that I left Guadalajara full of hope (‘esperanza’ in Spanish) for a Church with whole Fathers who welcome the broken and raise up a host of healing sons and daughters.

Maybe it was the Church building itself. Perched atop the ground level where we prepped and prayed as a team, I did not see the sanctuary until the conference. White stone floors with windows, streaming sun and ascending onto a high unfinished ceiling where birds nested and sang throughout the day–‘Even the sparrow finds a home, a place near your altar, O God’ (PS 84:3)! And the altar: simple and sturdy, hewn from yellow onyx marbled in black, a rugged wooden crucifix loomed above, complemented by ‘Bienvenidos.’

The Guadalajara Team

The Guadalajara Team

Jesus welcomed us there; we found a place near Your altar, O God. This was partially due to Father Ricardo, a young priest who spoke movingly and hopefully of God bringing him to the end of himself, then ‘living water’: God’s merciful touch through the healing community. He invited us into that community, one he developed by pioneering Living Waters groups in his parish and beyond. I marveled during the first call for healing from the evils of adultery and childhood sexual abuse—both rampant in Latin culture and hidden behind the appearance of ‘honor’—as literally all 100 participants came forward for ministry! This never happens in the USA. It does in Mexico. Glory to our merciful King.

And the witnesses of healing: Samuel whom God transformed from ‘gay-identified’ to family-defined as he now faithfully leads a wife and son (and Living Waters group in nearby Leon), Francisco and Meric who became a godly, chaste married couple with the help of Fr. Ricardo and Living Waters, Lalo for whom Jesus broke the grip of depression and released him to fruitfully serve others, and many more. Hope rose like the river in Ezekiel’s temple (EZ 47), so much so that a man locked up in shame due to years of sexual abuse and addiction wept for the first time in 10 years and declared: ‘I know God has more for me than abstinence.’

Amen. We are all works in progress, much like the sanctuary herself which awaits His finishing touch. But we aspire in hope, fed by the healing Presence which flows from the altar. Guadalajara granted me a fresh glimpse of the readiness of God to heal. All it takes is a humble clean pastor who gathers his lambs and teaches them to yield to the Father through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

‘In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit’ (Eph. 21, 22).

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with jesus anything

With Jesus, Anything

Reflecting on my 60th year, I was beautifully interrupted by a snow storm that knocked the power right out of us; we were babysitting grandson Jacob while his parents cheered the Kansas City Chiefs onto victory in their division at the local stadium. (Congratulations to The Chiefs for nearly making the Super Bowl.) Annette and I shivered, laughed, and bathed Jacob in the kitchen sink by candlelight.

We love our new digs but it seems we moved into the Bermuda triangle of power sources. Breezes snap electric lines and blow up transformers. O well…My decisive word this year: If ‘without Jesus we can do nothing’ (JN 15:5b), then with Him, we can do anything.

That first and mostly applies to married life. I love Annette more than ever but am less sure of my capacity to actually love her as St. Paul implores husbands, you know, like Jesus offered Himself to the Church. OK, not there yet. It helps to know that marriage itself roots and grounds me in my manhood through her authentic, distinctly feminine self.

Listen to what St. John Paul ll says about marriage in Theology of the Body: ‘Marriage penetrates into the dignity ascribed to humanity as image-bearers by virtue of creation, and at the same time the dignity ascribed to sinful humanity by virtue of redemption.’ Good news for original sinners like me. In marriage’s unflattering mirror, I am humbled by Jesus who always invites me into mercy. From that artesian well I draw constantly and am empowered to give myself more and better to her. In the end, I will be judged by love, the love I gave to that woman. With Him, I can do anything.

That applies pointedly to my love for the Church. This messy witness of Jesus’ unfailing love takes more love than I have. I’ve only to sink a little deeper into the mercy pool to rediscover my gratitude and ardor for her. Strength rises as I wait on Him, His heart for her, that I might love her more, and better. By that I mean the many people I serve every day who are her—broken, beautiful, members, yet often half-blind. It helps to recall what I did not see until I did. Pair that with the realization that I still don’t see that well and you can understand why I cannot love her without Him. But with Him, I can do anything for her, His Bride.

Recognizing the value of trouble in loving the Church helps a lot. I use to shy away from trouble. But now I kind of like it. No sadist, me, but a realist who recognizes blessing and building up the Church provokes the rage of Satan himself who wants to keep her divided and weak, barren in her capacity to bring forth a vast harvest of spiritual children. I have a big enemy who hates what I do. So I am learning to bear his vengefulness patiently, assessing trouble as a sure sign of heading in the right direction–all the while laughing at my self-seriousness and the (comparatively) weak efforts of the enemy to thwart mine. With Jesus, I can do anything for generations yet-to-come.

I love getting older because life gets simpler. It becomes more about Him. In that way I grow young, as eager as a well-loved child to see Him face-to-face.

‘Love is a sweet tyranny, and one who loves has no other language but one… which always has a never-fading youthfulness on the lips of one who loves.’
Archbishop Luis Maria Martinez

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Holy Family?

I prepared myself for the worst last Sunday, the Feast of the Holy Family. I prophesied a dismal homily on the too-radiant-to-be-believed triad: you know, ‘be holy as Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are holy’, piercing neither the surface of family nor holiness.

Wrong on all counts. My pastor pointed out the disparity between our generosity to family members and to strangers. We write big checks to orphans then all but get restraining orders on family members who ‘trigger’ us. Overly sensitive to those we love so much we hate, many of us are anything but holy in how emotionally stingy we are toward family members.

It’s our nature to defend ourselves when loved ones frustrate us. Or take some disturbing turn that frightens us. Jesus stressed Mary out by ditching the clan for some temple time. It was the first sign of Him distancing Himself from her for reasons not yet clear. To be sure, the analogy breaks down with our families: confusing members are messianic only in their own darkened minds. Yet it can help to remember everyone has a subtext that only God ‘gets’ as well as a noble destiny we may have forgotten.

This holy week I had the privilege of responding to an emergency call from colleagues in marital crisis. That holy family nearly blew up as they walked onto a landmine of familiar suspicions and judgments. But they surrendered together to the Father who calmed the storm; holy peace helped them to hear each other so they could glimpse his or her goodness once more. Another couple met with us to seek wisdom on how to best love a son in the throes of an identity crisis. (It’s hard to love a 36-year-old acting 16.) But these parents are digging deep into the Father’s love for their child and his best. However painful, the only way is down– on one’s knees–where love and wisdom are distilled. Generous, tempered care for the other’s good can result from such prayer.

Mary shows us the way here. After her anxiety over Jesus’ disappearance, she does something we all can do—she ‘treasured these things in her heart’ (LK 2:51). That word for ‘treasure’ means to reflect, to conceive something new out of the brooding. It provides sacred space for entrusting the beloved to the Father who sees all (LK 2:51); it may also grant one inspired sight. You could say that Mary’s prayer transformed her fear into marvel. May such prayer make our families holy this year too; may we love our members wisely, generously, in 2019.

Please take time to watch our new video and become ‘Chaste Together.’

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