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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Mercy 9: Merciful Memory

‘Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance, and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you to repentance?’ (Romans 2:4)

merciful memory 9 berlewWe live in a day of contempt for God’s plan for human sexuality. In a California restaurant recently, I endured a group of women at table next to mine groping each other while leering at the evidently gay wait staff. Having struck down Prop. 8 and all restraint, the ‘golden state’ now leads the nation in gender-bending chaos. ‘The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honored among men’ (PS 12:8).

Sinners’ contempt for holiness can tempt us to disdain. We can close up the ark of our hearts, pronouncing judgment on the rebels. Or we can open our hearts and ask God to have mercy on them. It helps to remember the mercy He had for us in our contemptuous ways.

I am reduced to tears whenever I read Luke 18: 9-14, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke wrote it specifically for those who ‘were confident of their own righteousness.’ He describes a Pharisee whose prayer is ‘about himself’ (v. 11): a hymn to his native virtue that sets him apart from obvious sinners.

In the glare of that verse I am exposed. Chaste now for years and oriented squarely toward my wife and adult kids, I am tempted to view that holiness as a product of my good choices, not ‘His kindness, forbearance, and patience.’ (Romans 2: 4) Such distortion primes me for unholy judgments toward the lost. Wow. Have I forgotten His kindness towards me when I strutted with the worst of them? Do I lose sight of the quiet sins I still commit: little ones like murder, hatred and lust of heart?

Mercy prompts me to remember the torturous fear that ‘this time I had gone too far’. And the generous wave of blood and water that rolled like a river on my pathetic life, serving justice through Love alone.

While the Pharisee prayed smug self-congratulations, the tax collector could only cry out: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ (v. 13) God heard him because of his awareness of the gap that only God can fill. My prayer? Help me to remember that gap, Jesus. And the mercy that made all the difference.

Prayer Points:

    • Desert Stream/Living Waters: New York/New Jersey, Garry & Melissa Ingraham, Regional Coordinators. Please pray for the Ingrahams as they work to strengthen Living Waters and help start new groups throughout the NY/NJ area.
      • Restored Hope Network: The Portland Fellowship, Portland, OR. Jason Thompson, Director. Specialty: curriculum for struggling adults and youth, family and friends, wives/spouses, and speaking outreach.
        Carolina New Song, Columbia, SC. Bud Phaup, Director. Specialty: groups for men and families.
    • Courage: Please pray for those on the verge of assuming a gay identity and /or acting on their SSA, may God illuminate their minds and fill their hearts with His love.
  • Cor Project: Please pray that we would have the financial resources necessary to fulfill our mission.

New Pharisee 3

Only through the Cross and the mercy released from the One who gave all can we counter the new Pharisee.

Boy, do we need it now. I am witnessing a new Pharisaic tendency in Christian spokespeople for ‘GLBT’ (etc.) communities. Instead of surrendering the sexually broken ‘selves’ to Jesus, these ones make huge efforts to justify their homosexuality. Though some claim orthodoxy (no sex outside of marriage), they nevertheless seek to integrate the gay self and ‘celebrate the grace of God in homosexual terms.’

Precepts of the new Pharisee include:

  • Exempting themselves from a theological anthropology that defines humanity as made in God’s image as male and female. Instead, these GLBTers define their humanity as fundamentally homosexual. Same-sex attraction sets them apart from straight people. Being ‘gay’ figures in profoundly to how they define themselves.
  • A split between being and doing. Though some may not believe in acting upon one’s homosexuality, they encourage strugglers to integrate their homosexuality. Given the momentum toward gay affirmation throughout the Christian culture, I suspect that abstinence will fall way as these ones find ‘good’ gay partnerships.
  • According to Christian GLBTers, Jesus chooses to not effect much, if any, change of their sexual inclinations. Alan Chambers is now infamous for his assertion that 99.9% of all persons with SSA seeking change do not change. Implicit in this assertion is that nature figures in more profoundly to the roots of SSA than nurture. For the new Pharisee, gay people are probably hardwired at birth and the redeeming power of Jesus does not touch this ‘gay’ foundation. Though one might say in the abstract that the ‘fall’ is responsible for SSA, (s)he actually concludes there is nothing wrong with it.
  • A new narrative in which one has little if any psychological brokenness undergirding their SSA. The new Pharisee need not muck around with messy relational and family-of-origin factors, cultural influences, or specific incidents that altered one’s sexual development. ‘Gay’ just is and needs no healing. ‘Healing’ efforts are framed as an old paradigm that they rather smugly refuse on the ground of their rather normal lives.
  • Scandalizing reparative therapy. Christian GLBTers scorn clinical efforts to overcome SSA. They suspect any therapeutic effort to ‘change’ on the ground that it manipulates and may even abuse people who cannot change anyway. Despite the fact that most have not actually surrendered their sexuality to a constructive course of action, they denounce such action and claim that the only just action is to integrate their homosexuality.

In our current Living Waters group, we are asking Jesus through His blood and Spirit to reveal the deep wounds that set us adrift in the first place. And He is answering, with insights that can only be understood as reparative, and with a Love that can only be experienced as healing.

In my small group, men from a variety of backgrounds are opening to the grace pouring from Calvary into the foundations of their humanity. We open our lives to God and each other. He comes as we prayerfully welcome Him; He offers Himself as the answer to our deepest needs for love and identity.

While preparing for one such meeting, God reminded me of a series of toxic early experiences in relation to other males. I felt the pain of these memories deeply. A few nights later I had a dream. While driving quickly through a strange town my car stalled and I sought help. I saw a small boy lying wounded and unattended in the street. I began to pray for his healing. I then felt a warm masculine presence reaching his arm over me and praying for the child too. It was a strong, tender man: Jesus? Perhaps. His very presence healed me as I sought to give life to the wounded one in my arms.

The Cross opens the horizon of our real brokenness and real healing. Mercy exposes faulty foundations and secures them in Love. Only Mercy compels us to drop our self-justifications. Manifest in a merciful people, Jesus makes a place for the new Pharisee at the foot of the Cross.

‘The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Me.’ (Luke 7: 22, 23)

Read The Sin Blog

New Pharisee 2

‘Your most merciful Heart is all my hope. I have nothing for my defense but only Your mercy; in it lies all my trust.’ St. Faustina Kowalska

The New Pharisee 2 Photo by RottnApplesHow do you restrain the inner Pharisee? Stay near the truth of your own sinfulness and the Cross. That fount of Mercy confirms our worst impulses but also cleanses us at their source. Then, together with all the saints, we discover the depth and power of love that becomes our offering to others. We become good gifts, the fruit of Calvary to a hungry world.

I witnessed this profoundly at our first Living Waters meeting last week. The newly revised material centers on that theme of becoming good gifts to others. Together we expressed our starting points: SSA, addiction, high anxiety, and the ache of old wounds among them, as well as how shame hovers over these problems and veils the gift we aspire to be for others.

I wondered where to go with the ministry time. We needed the Cross, pure and simple. Before I could finish the call to come forward and unite our need for Mercy with the wood of Calvary, I saw in a flash a dark strain of sin in me. Prior to the meeting, Annette and I had just discussed an unresolved issue. For the first time, through the illumination of the Spirit, I saw my sin clearly.

Love for her mingled with remorse and shame and I knew only Calvary would suffice. At the Cross (literally), together with fellow strugglers, we lingered. We endured the shame of sin for the joy of discovering our Advocate in overcoming sin. Over the course of our 20 weeks together, we shall learn that Mercy alone is our cure. We will continue to make that great exchange: surrendering sin and receiving in turn a double portion of His blessing as we pray for each other.

The truth of sin’s misery opens us to the Mercy that can be ours. Steeped in Mercy, we become fruitful gifts. Why then do we strive to justify our own virtue?

Could it be that the enemy of our souls has blinded our eyes to the Mercy that is there for us? Perhaps the reason that we cling to dehumanizing attitudes and behaviors is because we do not believe that there is anything for us in their place.

How else can you explain the irrational power at work in the weaknesses of those who insist that the ‘gay self’ or any other number of ‘selves’ is their deepest, truest expression? Cut off from Mercy, these ones construct fortresses to defend them from the threat of non-being. Here the enemy empowers a host of powerful ‘solutions’ to repair a broken life. It may be a sensually-exciting relationship or solidarity with others seeking ‘equality.’

Yet one’s new power is not sourced in God but a kind of self-justification that resists God and insists on its own well-being. Those who don’t like these new ‘solutions’ are judged harshly. Kind of like a Pharisee…

We are now witnessing this new brand of Pharisee with a vengeance. Activists from the GLBT (etc.) community convey a kind of moral and psychological invulnerability which when countered provokes an ugly defensiveness. And the enemy empowers this cause. Never before have we seen such a radical and irrational shift in public opinion concerning ‘gender diversity.’ What was once commonly understood as brokenness is now championed as an often superior alternative to male and female.

Only Mercy can counter this new Pharisee. Only living water can saturate the broken foundation on which these constructs are built. Only Mercy can dissolve these defenses. The false confidence and fleeting joy of these fractured ‘selves’ can only be displaced by a greater love.

Only Mercy invites us to own our most profound hunger. Jesus becomes the meal. At the Cross, the site of His complete self-giving, we can lay down our lies and welcome the Truth that makes all things new.

‘You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” ’ (Rev. 3: 17)

Lent Devotion 6: Open Door for the Broken and Accused

‘Since we have confidence to enter the Most holy place through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us by His body, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and full assurance of faith…’ (Heb. 10: 19-22)

doors‘Save us, Savior of the world, for by Your Cross and Resurrection You have set us free.’  – ‘Mystery of Faith, Roman Catholic Mass

My friend Dean Greer returned broken to the church of his youth. He had left years earlier to explore the homosexual life; fed up with his folly and under the death sentence of HIV, he needed a place to rebuild his life. He discovered a hard truth: ‘The church extols the virtue of getting saved but once you’re in the doors they spend the rest of the time hiding all the things they came to get saved from!’

A broken man, Dean needed an open door though which he could discover broken Jesus in His broken body. He could not return to the old dispensation–secrets and lies–he needed to be known and loved by others the way Jesus had loved the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8: 1-12).

Like her, he was under the judgment of his sin and shame. And like her he needed to be surrounded by fellow sinners who might drop their stones before the Crucified and help him ‘sin no more.’ Through the church, Dean needed an encounter with beautiful Jesus that would surpass the pleasures of sin and stimulate truer, deeper aspirations.

Jesus ‘saved’ Dean years ago. Through fellow believers in the one broken body, he has been getting saved ever since.

The church at Philadelphia needed holy rescue (Rev. 3: 7-13). Christians there were few and harassed. Surrounded by Jewish persecutors who insisted that their claims to salvation were preposterous, the door of faith appeared to be closing in Philadelphia. Jesus reminded them: ‘See, I have placed before you an open door that no-one can shut. I know you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My Name…Hold on to what you have, so that no-one will take your crown. Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of God.’ (Rev. 3: 8, 11, 12)

The church today is being harassed by all manner of secrets and lies. Church-based ministries that offer hope to people like Dean are persecuted on all sides. That ‘gay marriage’ is even considered by some Christians to be a just alternative belies the truth of how God made us and how He wants to redeem us.

And yet the good news of redemption cannot be stifled. The open door of God’s Mercy cannot be shut! Through Christ’s body, Dean (and hundreds like him) has discovered a river of life that has ruined him from returning to old ways of sexual sin and religious pretense.

What the church needs today is more than another stern lecture on conservative sexual ethics. Many abusive priests were ‘good conservatives.’ Of course we need the truth. But unless that truth leads us to merciful reliance upon Jesus and His body, that truth can imprison and accuse us.

Jesus clarifies the prisons we are in in order to open the doors of those prisons. He is the door that cannot be shut: the new and living way opened for us by His shed blood and made real to us by His broken body. I am proud to be among those who are morally weak and yet strong in Mercy; together, we persevere in holy love and overcome all manner of deception.

Now we offer ourselves to others in gratitude. Having been saved by His broken body, we become that body broken for others.  Once unstable and divided, we are being transformed into pillars that support His house, now and forever.

‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some do, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as we see the Day approaching.’ (Heb. 10: 25)

‘I will make the valley of judgment a door of hope.’ (Hosea 2:15)

‘With solid reason is there hope for me in Him because You Father will heal all my infirmities through Him who sits at Your right hand and intercedes for us. Were it not so I would despair. Many and grave are those infirmities, many and grave, but wider-reaching is Your healing power.’ – St. Augustine

 

 

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