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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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Merciful Discipline 4: Hopeful, We Rebuild Trust

This is the fourth post of six in the Merciful Discipline Series. A complete list of available posts will be at the end of each article as they are made available.

Merciful Discipline 4: Hopeful, We Rebuild Trust

We do not want you to grieve…as those who have no hope. (1Thes. 4:13)

Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. (1Cor. 4:2)

Cursed is the man who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord…He will dwell in the parched places of the earth. (Jer. 17: 5, 6)

One struggles to consider a more profound violation of trust than priestly abuse of children. Based on the trust Catholic parents grant the Church, they have entrusted their children to a handful of priests who used that trust to abuse.

Diabolical—the disintegration of young lives and long after, the disintegration of trust in the Church itself. What greater victory could the enemy of our souls achieve than the scattering of the sheep through such a violent abuse of trust?

We overcome evil through good. And that good comes through acknowledging the mistrust that remains and choosing to begin a process of forgiveness. Our wounds united with Christ’s, we have access to the antidote: Mercy. We can apply that Mercy to both abusing priests and those who unwittingly sustained the abuse through its mishandling.

Forgiveness is neither weak nor a set up for ‘revictimization’. Forgiveness is power. In the Spirit of Jesus, we entrust all involved in the abuse, including our own damaged hearts, ‘to Him who judges justly.’ (1P2:23) We choose to place the hemorrhaging mess into the only Wounds that can heal it; we gratefully remove ourselves from the role of Redeemer and Judge. In forgiving our captors, we begin to be released from an unbearable weight. Little by little, we chip away at the burden of another’s sin until Jesus alone bears it. Forgiveness is the power by which we triumph over beloved enemies.

Forgiving spiritual leaders means that we are growing up. As the laity, we have authority to name a leader’s sin against us or loved ones and to do something about it. In that process, which includes forgiveness, we strike a death blow to clericalism. We refuse to grant Catholic leaders the magic of perfection. We cease to be children and become discerning, engaging colleagues with clergy.

We can disagree with them. And we can go directly to Christ ourselves—to trust more in Him than in the priest or bishop. Jesus always wanted it this way. God wants to use the sexual abuse crisis to free the laity from childish reliance upon mere men, and to mature into wise and helpful members of Jesus’ body.

Trust must be earned. We forgive our offenders in obedience to Christ and to free our own hearts. Yet reliance upon those we have forgiven is wise only when their trustworthiness is evident.

There is evidence that the Church is repenting of her lack of transparency in failing to protect her young. Pope Benedict has championed reform here. He has repeatedly acknowledged the Church’s scandalous track-record and has exerted enormous energy in insisting on strict measures of accountability, discipline, and prevention in the world-wide Church. (He would be wise to keep doing so!)

The US Bishops have established arguably the highest standards for transparency and accountability and victim-care for the US Church than any other branch of the RCC. For that to become a living reality, ‘all diocesan leaders must be committed to transparency about their actions, ensure that immediate and appropriate responses to abuse become routine, and ensure that all such actions are adopted by all church leaders.’ (John Jay Report, p.93)

Having stumbled recently, the Kansas City Diocese under Bishop Finn has set up a new and solid system of checks and balances that line up entirely with recommendations from the Graves Report. Instead of alleged abuses going to the Vicar-General, an Ombudsman receives them and reports them directly to the police and the DFS, while initiating an investigation, which includes a Victim’s Advocate. An Independent Review Board operates as well, investigating whether alleged perpetrators should continue in ministry.

Jennifer Valenti, the new and apparently dynamic Ombudsman, urges all of us to do our part as faithful, discerning members of the one Body. She implores us:

In order for the safety net to be effective, you must take a stand. You cannot stand in silence when you suspect abuse. It takes courage, but you must report it.

If we discern any possibility of abuse, we are to call DFS at (800) 392-3738.

Our hope is in God, the Author and Finisher of His Church. To love the Church and to be whole-hearted in our service of her, we must forgive her grievous failures even as we discern her repentance. In so doing, we destroy the will of the evil one with good. Evidence of change in the ‘system’ still requires that we keep growing, learning how to trust others with a new maturity. That maturity requires that we do our part to ensure that the Church is a safe place for children.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water, that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has now worries in a year of drought, and never fails to bear fruit. (Jer. 17: 7, 8 )

Since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. We have renounced secret and shameful ways. We do not use deception, nor do we distort the Word of God. On the contrary, be setting forth the truth plainly, we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (2Cor 4: 1, 2)

O Blood and Water, that flows from the heart of the Savior as a fount of Mercy for us, we trust in You! – St. Faustina

MORE:

The Merciful Discipline Series of Posts (updated with each new post as they become available):

 

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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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Mercy for the Worldly Church

Day 35 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Mercy for the Worldly Church

‘O my Jesus, I beg You on behalf of the whole Church, give us holy priests. You Yourself, maintain them in holiness. O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devil’s traps and snares which are continually set for the souls of priests. May the power of Your Mercy, O Lord, shatter and bring to naught all that might tarnish the sanctity of priests, for You can do all things.’ (1052)

St. Faustina is right in prayerfully advocating for our leaders. (I would extend this to all clergy, both Protestant and Catholic.) We must ask the Lord to strengthen leaders daily against demonic powers that deaden their authority and tempt them to infect others with a form of love that could only be described as worldly.

The first form of worldly love is love without discipline. It may be sourced in several things. ‘I am a weak leader who is not free from sin in some areas, so how can I judge you for your sin? We are all saved by grace anyway.’ Or ‘the Church has been so hard on people, I don’t want to be heavy; grace to you in your sin.’

How else do adulterers and pedophiles and others who use and abuse others in their sin get away with murder in the Church? From leaders who have become worldly, and who confuse forgiving offenders with their need for discipline.

What we fail to see is that sin hurts others, often those much less powerful than the one confessing his/her sin. And such sin grieves God badly. It infects His house. Leaders must learn to impose limits on those who risk damaging others with their sin.

Another form of worldly love is love without truth. Here leaders mirror worldly ethics for sexuality and relationships. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the homosexual question. Most ‘Christian’ higher education on the topic merely parrots secular views on the moral neutrality of homosexuality and how the worst thing you can do is to encourage the struggler onto anything higher or truer.

Why else would I hear reports of Catholic priests urging parents to celebrate the homosexuality of a child or dissuading same-sex strugglers from pursuing a course of healing? Love demands that we uphold truth-in-love regarding sexuality. When love becomes worldly, we bar individuals from their true hope in Christ.

And leaders run the risk of becoming immoral themselves, conceiving their own weaknesses into wickedness. I am appalled at the number of pastors and priests I know who regularly visit porn websites and live on the edge of crossing lines with those they serve, while others consider themselves ‘gay.’

Refusing the love that is full of truth and discipline, they succumb to the spirit of the age.

I contend that we need a new and merciful standard for our leaders. That means demanding that leaders are rigorous about submitting their moral weaknesses to mature colleagues, and fully, evidently repentant over wickedness. Until they are, they must be disciplined until they are ready to lead the sheep into holiness by their good example.

Truth and Mercy go hand-in-hand. Priests and pastors alike must repent of any alliance they have made with worldly love, that is, love unrefined by truth and discipline. We need love rich in these two minerals if we are to become a Church that disciplines her own. We will then no longer be under the world’s judgment; we will become spotless and pure, the Bride who has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)

‘I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching, she misleads my servants into sexual immorality. I have given her time to repent of her immorality but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her to suffer intensely unless they repent of their ways. I will strike her children dead.’ (Rev. 2:20-23)

‘Grant us a holy fear, O God, of worldly love that masks as ‘holy’. We are sick in our sin, unable to do Your will because we lack truth and discipline. Would you grant us Mercy to repent? And would You raise up repentant leaders who would lead others in genuine holiness and wholeness? Grant us holy leaders, and may each of us do our part to ensure their well-being.’

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote or simply a page number in parenthesis. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com.

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