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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture
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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.’

 

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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