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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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Mercy for Minors

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

Mercy for Minors

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 33

Truth wears a crown of thorns. (1103)

Do not move an ancient boundary stone, or encroach on the fields of the fatherless, for their Defender is strong; He will take up their case against you. (Pr. 23:10,11)

We fight for the integrity of marriage in order to vie for the virtue of children.

Father, we acknowledge You as the Defender of children against every kind of evil. Forgive our pursuit of false liberty; open our eyes to its powerful impact upon the least powerful. Open the eyes of the morally blind, and their defenders; lead them to Your Mercy before it’s too late. Empower us, Your merciful ones, to advocate for children. Send Your Spirit of adoption to those subject to perversion against their will. Protect and enfold them, O Shepherd of the sheep. Carry them near to Your heart.

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. 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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Merciful Discipline 3: Broken, We Endure Shame

This is the third 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 3: Broken, We Endure Shame

In the Church, God has put Himself into hands that betray Him again and again. – Pope Benedict

Do not hold against us the sins of the fathers;
may Your mercy come quickly to meet us,
for we are in desperate need.
Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your Name;
deliver us, and forgive us our sins for Your Name’s sake.
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
(PS 79:8-10a)

We repent on behalf of the abuse-broken church. We do not raise a defense for churchmen who did the right thing; we confess the sins of those who did wrong—bishops who failed to adequately discipline priests, negligent care of victims and their greater communities, the failure of the powers-that-be to steward existing policies of protection for minors.

We the Church are brought low. Our failures have leveled us. Just as the abuse of one is the abuse of us all, so is her discipline the discipline of the whole. Jesus prophesied on the eve of His crucifixion that ‘the shepherd would be struck, and the sheep would be scattered.’ (Matt. 26:31) As various Church leaders have been struck down by their mishandling of abuse, we too are cast down.

Will we scatter or fall forward unto the Crucified? We can repent on behalf of the abuse-broken Church. We can wait and pray. With Him, through Him, on His behalf, we can endure shame in the hope of new life.

I faced such a choice many years ago. Under my charge, a close colleague had abused two minors. That instigated a 10-year-process of discipline which included: purging the staff, tending to the victims, searching out other potential victims, and establishing new policies of prevention. In the eyes of the law and (arguably) God, I was the one ultimately responsible for the abuse. I became the subject of countless interrogations and the agent of raising huge sums of money to repair the damage done.

We as a ministry surrendered to God. He was disciplining us. Though we had much to do, my posture was face down. Had we not discovered the Crucified we would have followed the counsel of most who urged us to dissolve the ministry in light of our new financial burden.

‘When You disciplined them, they could barely whisper a prayer.’ (Is 26: 16) We had no strength to run from His refinement. We stayed down and discovered that only His wounds could heal the shame of the wounds we had inflicted on others. Our hope lay in faith: ‘He only disciplines those He loves.’ (Heb. 12:6)

Similarly, the Church today must learn to get low and stay low in this season of discipline. We err in raising fists at greedy lawyers, godless journalists, or an outraged public. We look to the Lord of our discipline, who uses many agents to refine those He loves. Through the Crucified, we can endure the shame and accept His discipline as a severe mercy. In the words of Benedict: ‘I wish to exhort all of you…to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them.’

Enduring the shame means accepting a loss of credibility, especially in regards to the Church’s advocacy of the dignity and integrity and inviolability of every life. Sexual abuse mocks her beautiful sexual ethic, and weakens her authority to uphold it. Referring to decades of unrestrained minor abuse in Ireland, Benedict exhorted the bishops there: ‘All of this seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.’ We glimpse this in the Old Testament. After Eli failed to restrain his sons, Israel suffered a terrible defeat. She fled the Philistines who then captured the ark of the covenant. (1Sam 4:17)

We can endure the shame because of Christ. He endured the final shaming at Calvary to grant us grace to endure ours. Take heart! We become more like Him as we submit to discipline. Maybe that’s why Lent is so long: 40 days along a thorny ascent path that ends before the broken body, crowned with thorns.

Lent is for slow learners like us. Change takes time. Discovering how to bear the shame of our corporate abuses is a lesson in endurance. In time, He will assume it wholly and transform us into transparent witnesses of our own failures and defenders of the weak.

Our discipline need not be morbidly introspection. He actively refines our hearts—their values and practices—employing real shame generated by the real damage done. As we turn toward Him, He burns off ‘the worldly sorrow that brings forth death’ (2Cor 7:10).

We ‘fix our eyes on Himself, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ (Heb. 12: 2, 3)
The hope of resurrection sustains us in this season of crucifixion, His merciful discipline. We are reduced to the bloody God. Like Him, we endure shame for the joy set before us.

It is likely that the rest of Pope Benedict’s pontificate will be consumed by this scandal. Sexual abuse in the Church will most likely define it. – Gregory Erlandson and Matthew Burnson Pope Benedict XVI and the Sexual Abuse Crisis

MORE:

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

 

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The Gaze from the Cross, Part 4

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

The Gaze from the Cross, Part 4

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 19

When I was dying on the cross, I was not thinking about Myself but about sinners, and I prayed for them to the Father. (324)

As God has made us sharers in His Mercy, and even more than that, dispensers of that Mercy, we should therefore have great love for each soul… (539)

If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples. (Jn. 15: 7, 8)

Sow for yourselves righteousness, and reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and showers righteousness on you. (Hos. 10: 12)

Jesus, we cry out for our fruitless ones. Give us time to prepare the ground of their hearts to welcome You afresh. We ask for the rain of Your Mercy in their lives; use whatever You must to break up the fallow ground. Help us to grant each what (s)he really needs. We set these ones apart for Your purposes, O God. Make them fruitful once more, in Your Name and by Your Mercy.

Also read The Gaze from the Cross, Part 1,  click here for Part 2, and here for Part 3.

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. 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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Mercy Restores Our Inheritance

Join us today at 3pm (CST) as we intercede for loved ones in need of God’s mercy.

Mercy Restores Our Inheritance

40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012 – Day 13

My Heart overflows with Mercy for souls, especially for poor sinners. If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them, and that it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with Mercy. (367)

While the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

Father, grant us the clear understanding that Mercy grants us the full measure of our inheritance. Show us what we have squandered; grant us faith to believe You will restore what has been destroyed by sin. Grant us eyes to see that Mercy itself provokes our return home. We pray for those who are wandering far from their inheritance. Bring them home, O God, in the power of Mercy.

For the complete 40 Days of Mercy Devotional – Lent 2012, click here to download.  For a paper copy, United States only, please call Desert Streams Ministries at (866) 359-0500. 

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry from the diary is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. 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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