Tag Archives: South America

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Marvelous Wound

Jesus’ broken body loosed a river of healing, not only for our personal wounds, but also for the massive divides we face as His body, the Church. These divides are many and complicated. Yet how mighty is the flood of blood, water, and Spirit upon broken ones who seek to ‘be brought to complete unity’ (JN 17: 23)!

I share a bit in the wound between Catholics and Protestants. It smarts when I hear either party speak smugly about the error of the other. When I do, I cling to the Crucified and allow a fresh draft of mercy to keep the wound clean. More and more, that burn and that mercy seem to define our Living Waters ministry.

On the eve of our 40-day fast for the Church, I had the privilege of visiting Santiago Chile where Ruth Olave and team have dug a deep well of ‘living water’ in the Vineyard Church there. I originally helped envision them to do Living Waters a decade earlier as a fellow evangelical. Last week I returned as a Catholic.

It is difficult for North Americans to understand the historic wound between Catholics and Protestants in South America. While Catholics continue to be a minority in the diverse religious culture of the USA, Catholics ruled both church and state in the south; in spite of independence from Spanish domain a century ago, the RCC still predominates and has often discriminated against evangelicals. Combine that with ‘born again’ former Catholics who eschew their history as false and serious Catholics who view these ‘sectarian zealots’ as false. Wounded!

In light of our love for each other, the evangelical team of Living Waters leaders in Santiago had concerns about our new ‘whole church’ approach to the program. I entered into our time together not knowing how to answer all their questions, which came fast and hard during meetings in which many leaders expressed concern about Catholic influence, wanting to work with Catholics, etc.

All I could do was hide myself in the wounds of Jesus. That’s where the water is! I can never fully know another’s suffering due to religious conflict but I can feel my own pain and take refuge in His merciful side. Answers flowed from love, however halting and imperfect. By the end of our time, we agreed to walk together in love for any broken person seeking mercy. On Christ, the one foundation (1Cor. 3:11), we will build together. Living Waters alone—His very mercy–makes a way.

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Details Concerning My Conversion to Catholicism

Dear Friends,

I wanted you to know that on Easter (April 2011) this past year I was confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. That significant decision began three years ago and involved two rounds of RCIA (the adult catechism course), wise counsel, and much prayer.

I want to emphasize that my decision is a personal one. Desert Stream Ministries has not become Catholic; it remains ecumenical and will continue to serve a variety of churches, mostly evangelical, which seek to minister to broken ones.

Furthermore, the Living Waters program will not be altered in any way. Its foundations are intact, a gift to the whole church.

I decided to become Catholic for several reasons. The first is the leading of the Spirit. I surrendered my desire for the Church after a year, and yet my longing intensified.

The reasons for my longings are evident: I love the centrality of Christ Crucified, the Eucharistic celebration in its two-fold emphasis on breaking open the Word and Bread daily, a non-personality driven approach to church-life, the Church calendar, and the historic teachings of the Church in regards to moral theology.

‘The Catholic Church is the sole surviving coherent institutional voice of morality in a world under the tyranny of relativism,’ wrote one Pope, expressing well one reason for my standing with the Church in this hour.

What I love challenges me continuously. What the Church believes she struggles to live. And though I agree with most fundamental doctrines contained in the catechism, I am troubled by some, and continue to seek God and wise counsel about them. Also, parish life is not highly conducive to the ministry I have pioneered, and will require more patience and wisdom than I have.

Answers to a few commonly asked questions:

Confession to a priest? I see no conflict between confessing to a priest and the type of confession we do daily with one another in our ‘Living Waters’ world. A Catholic seeking sobriety in today’s idolatrous world needs both a good priest and good friends with whom to work out grace and truth-filled accountability.

A closed Eucharist? I value the Church’s high view of communion. I did not partake of the Eucharist until I was confirmed, respecting that only Catholics are allowed to partake of what is believed to be the Lord’s Body and Blood. However, I have no conflict with partaking of the Lord’s Supper with Protestants who hold a different view of the elements.

The idolatry of Mary? I have always valued Mary more than most evangelicals: ‘Blessed is she among women’ is biblical truth!  I honor her because she points away from herself and toward Jesus continuously. The Catechism forbids the deification of her and thus of anything approaching worship. Because I value her humility above all else, I struggle with the attention the Church gives her, and certain doctrines that grant her attributes that I do not see reflected in Scripture. Though these are not ‘deal-breakers’ for me, they give me pause. Pray that I might distill what is precious from what isn’t.

Lay ministry in the Catholic Church? The Church highly values the ministry of lay persons. That is essential for me, for our mission at Desert Stream involves equipping the saints to walk with other saints into sexual and relational wholeness.  For my volunteer service (each Desert Stream staff person must be involved in a church-based healing group), I am exploring an opportunity to serve the Church where I live. God help me and them!

Wholeness and holiness in a perverted Church? The Church has been rocked by sexual abuse scandals for a couple of decades now. It is a good and necessary thing. I believe that God is disciplining her, as Christian ‘love’ without discipline is not love at all. Strangely, my allegiance to the Pope came about in the last year amid all the scandals. I entrusted myself to him as the leader of my Church and vowed to prayerfully stand with him in this crucial hour of his leadership.

I await new partnerships with which to serve the Church in this hour of her discipline. She currently has few effective outlets for sexual restoration, beginning with her priests. It is too early to tell how I might help her. I shall begin by serving where I can in the local church or diocese.

A schism in Living Waters due to my conversion? A rumor began last summer that my Catholicism broke up our unity in Living Waters, especially in South America. That is false. Argentine Mauricio Montion chose to no longer serve under my leadership due to my change, and the Living Waters International Council assigned him another overseer. I am glad he is still committed to Living Waters and that he has fresh oversight.

Is Annette a Catholic? Annette began the process toward Roman Catholicism with me then stopped mid-way through. We work hard to sort out our differences here. I attend her Church on Sunday morning then go to early Communion most mornings. It is not easy but as mature Christians and married partners we are seeking to grow through this challenge.

(I would not recommend that spouses go to different churches! At this point, however, we are doing the best we can, respecting one another’s consciences.)

An evangelical Catholic? You betcha. My roots will always be evangelical. I believe in the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ, founded on the Scripture. I also believe in the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. That means I have more to learn than I ever will; I hope it also means that my reliance upon Jesus and each other as our Source for sexual wholeness will wake up sleepy Catholics.

Catholic elitism? I do not think of myself as having found the exclusive or best Church; I respect everyone’s right to discover Jesus where (s)he finds Him on the local Church level. The Desert Stream staff represents a variety of Churches; we work out daily what it means to find the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Combined, we compose one body.

Church Unity? The little conflicts that have arisen thus far over my Catholicism are an acute reminder to me of how divided the Christian Church is. While praying the other day, I saw a gulf of water between two groups of people. It was vast, water mixed with blood. Instinctually I knew that this was the Mercy stream from the Crucified; it also represented the Protestant/Catholic divide, still bloody, still too large to bridge.

Then I saw broken people coming to either side of the river and putting their weary, fractured limbs in the water. They were receiving healing and were unconcerned about the doctrinal differences on ‘the other side.’ They just wanted and needed Jesus and welcomed all who sought the same.  Healing of sexual brokenness was helping to heal the greater divide between the two groups.

I pray that the mission of Desert Stream Ministries will do its part to heal our one divided Church.

‘There is one body, and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’(Eph. 3:4, 5)

UPDATE January 23rd 2012 at 2:00 PM CST:

Dear friends,

Thank you all for your concerned, thoughtful response to my Catholicism. It honors me that you would take the time to respond. I am reminded of the many years we have stood together for holiness and wholeness in Christ’s body. Our commitment endures, even as the particular arm of Christ’s body in which we stand may have changed! Again, bless you for your friendship, advocacy, and respect, even if you disagree with aspects of Roman Catholicism. We all love Jesus, and are seeking to prepare a people for Himself. Even so Lord, come!

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The Cleansing Flood

The heart of our efforts in South America lies in Argentina, home of our faithful colleagues, Mauricio and Daniela Montion.

The enemy of our souls aims at the heart–perhaps that is why I usually experience significant degrees of temptation in Argentina. I can feel the tension as soon as I enter Buenos Aires then trek to Cordoba where our annual training is.

One year was especially tough. And I had only myself to blame. Troubled by the advances of ‘gay marriage’ back in the USA, I tossed and turned all night then turned on the TV for a distraction. Some Latin soft-porn game show was on—it only took a couple of minutes for my mind to be inflamed with foul images.

Shamed and dulled by sin, I met with the Living Waters Leadership team the next day in preparation for the training. All I could do was confess my sin before them. That elicited a string of confessions. Then we waited before the Lord. In a manner that I had not experienced before, God rolled in like a huge raincloud over us and just began to pour forth ‘living water’ upon us—He poured out His mercy like driving sheets of rain upon us. I could see sin and shame being forced out like rodents from a storm drain.

It was as if we were enveloped in a low-hanging cloud that kept raining on us, removing one layer of silt then raining more and removing another, then another. God’s cleansing Presence hovered about us for 15 minutes.

He made us new. He prepared us through His extravagant mercy to help others enter into the waters of mercy themselves.

The night that we renounced idols was unusually powerful. As soon as the sounds of deliverance had subsided, there was a sweet calm. Then one couple started dancing in the quiet. The worship team took their cue then we all started to dance, joyful celebrating the real people God had given us to love—not unreal images but beloved brothers and sisters we can enjoy without shame.

In spite of the merriment and victory, I awoke the next morning feeling heavy in spirit; my only refuge came through prayer. I kept praying through the heaviness, seeking a breakthrough. During the break, I took a long run in the pampas. I followed the same highway that the Franciscans and Jesuits took as they moved south to establish churches and schools throughout Argentina.

I noticed two foxes in front me traversing back and forth from the brush onto the road then back again. I was reminded of ‘the little foxes’ in Song of Songs, referring to spoilers of the vineyard and its fruit.

In a whisper, the Lord reminded me of just what we were doing at the training on behalf of South America. ‘Through your team, I am cleansing my people of the biggest obstacles that threaten to divide and devour them: sins of impurity and adultery, hostility between men and women, hostility between rich and poor, hostility between the dark native people and the white Europeans, hostility between Catholic and Protestant. You are establishing my cross as the ground of mercy, the level ground where those humbled by my mercy will be saved and set free. And the merciful ground that they will take establish in their own churches!’

I understood the warfare. It was worth the fight. I vowed yet again to tell the truth of my own sin and distress so that God’s mercy might rest upon me all the more. And I renewed my commitment to run hard as long as God gave me breath. And mercy. I barely noticed the little foxes in front of me as I ran back to our gathering.

‘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 that 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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Taking the Land for Mercy

We landed in Caracas, Venezuela—the first of many advances in South America. The soil was rich for digging, and God’s merciful ones received us with open arms. Still we faced numerous obstacles to releasing Living Waters there.

Suitcases never arrived; flights were cancelled, and the buses we took instead landed us in the wrong destinations. During our first training, in the jungle above Caracas, I stretched my bed-sheets tight across my frame to prevent the small unidentified creatures scurrying across the floor from scurrying onto me!

These challenges revealed how easily deterred we were from doing our job when facing any number of road bumps. We had to get tougher. When the majority of the team got ill from the food, we had to press through. We had a training to do!

No one was spared from the privilege at hand—equipping the saints to release their fellow strugglers with God’s mercy.

During one conference, I stayed in the home of the host. Next store to his house was a corner vacant lot that was the home of a dozen wild dogs. My host promised me that just around that corner was a road that opened up to a beautiful wilderness and view of the city below.

As a runner, I wanted badly to explore the territory. But the dogs frightened me. Just my walking in and out of the host’s home provoked their fearsome growls. I either had to run through my fear or play it safe inside.

I wanted the beauty of the land! In fear and trembling, I suited up and ran around that corner. Fast. The pack chased me; I felt their breath on my legs. I ran faster, and they eventually gave up. On the way back, I found a stick. I did not intend to hit them but only to show them that I was not scared, and had no intention of altering my plans for them. (The ‘dog whisperer’ I am not…)

I asserted myself; I claimed my right to be there, with a growl and a flick of my ‘sword.’ They barked less and less each time I ran by them. I claimed that land as my own. I endured the threat of attack for advancing into the land.

And what a land—lush foliage, fruit resting upon polished green leaves, a diversity of trees and tropical plants and flowers that invited me deeper into the fragrant wilderness.

God gave us the land that He loved: a people who loved Jesus with their whole hearts and who were ready to go the distance—bearing with one another in love for mercy’s sake.

God changed me through these minor challenges. He was helping me to trust Him, to press through my fears. Beauty awaited me.

‘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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