The French Lesson

My first desert experience occurred shortly after I became a Christian. Having moved back to my parent’s home from the gay ghetto of Long Beach, I grew bored. Fast. So I moved back to the beach, only this time to a family of French folks who were renting out a tiny 20’ by 8’ room in the back of their large home.

Not a good idea. My motives were impure—I wanted to have fun again, and the peculiar Christians I had met were not fun. Needless to say, I immediately returned to my old habits. Only this time it was not fun. I found myself guilty, ill at ease with new ‘friends’, feeling and acting false. I was not being true to the stream of new life coursing through me. I had to stifle the Spirit in me to dance with other spirits.

I loved the French family. But they did not know what to do with me. What must they have thought: Was I gay? A member of some fanatical American cult? They were typically liberal, with many gay friends and relatives. I partied with them; I amused and confused them, and failed to give a clear account of who I was.

In this desert, I was only confused.

Desert life was awful. I remember one day I asked the Lord to leave. I pleaded with Him to remove the life-spring inside me.

The day went from bad to worse. I worked with mentally challenged kids (fitting for one morally challenged!) and the entire classroom broke out into sustained chaos. On the bike ride home, it poured rain. My tiny room had neither kitchen nor heat; I sat there, a wet, hungry lump. There was a knock on the door: my beautiful friend Ted, the only Christian I knew in the area, had come to just encourage me. God had not answered my prayer for Him to vacate.

‘Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.’

(PS 139: 8, 9)

Things started to change. Ted was my real friend. Jesus was the real Source. I found I could summon the ‘waters’ by hanging out with Ted, by singing the dumb songs we learned in Church, by reading Scripture. I began to realize that I was not genetically ‘gay’, just foolish and addicted and lonely, and that my choices could help determine my destiny. I had purpose.

At my next (and last) French party, I was sober, clear, and grateful for these wonderful people who had accepted me in all my confusion. The sister of the owner, unusually sophisticated and sharp-tongued, asked me what I was about.

At first I gave her the usual Christian schtick. She was unimpressed, certain that I was in a cult. Then I told her how Jesus was actually helping me to overcome a lot of destructive things tied to my homosexuality. He was giving me an identity that surpassed the old gay self.

Her eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t believe it. ‘He helps you with that?’ I explained more. She took me down the hall and confided in me that her son was gay, and troubled—in and out of mental health clinics. I promised to talk with him if he wanted to. (Although he did not, his older lover, a Catholic, did. I encouraged him in the Lord; we prayed together and agreed that Jesus is the answer.)

Jesus met me in the desert of my wandering and proved Himself to me as the Source. He even used me to release water there to others. He makes the burning sand a pool of mercy.

‘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.’

Reunion

‘He is risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him.’ (Mk 16:6)

Resurrection is reunion: Jesus, torn from His Father, now returns to Him. Evil demanded payment: crucifixion, the vast distance between God and God.
Love crossed over that gap, conquering sin and death.

Resurrection is the ultimate Father/Son reunion.

Every Easter, God extends to us a fresh invitation to reenter that reunion.
Jesus descended into hell to get us out of there.
He rose again into perfect union with His Father, that we might join Him there.

His reunion with the Father becomes ours, His triumph over sin and death becomes ours. The afflicting power of our ‘sin-sickness’ no longer prevails;
the sheltering, empowering love of our Father does.

Resurrection insists on it.
‘The resurrection of Christ is a sign of God’s purpose and power to restore His creation to its full stature and integrity.’ Alister McGrath

Resurrection ‘lays the foundation for a completely new life, a new order. In Christ, we become completely different men and women in the very depths of our beings.’ Christoph Blumhardt

Through His cross, Christ grants us a share in His suffering; how much more does He, the risen Christ, delight in granting us full rights and privileges as beloved children of the Father?

Jesus has transformed the burning sand into a pool, the cross of suffering into reunion with our Heavenly Father. May His triumph be ours this Easter—full of the same comfort, confirmation, and confidence that Jesus now shares with His Father.

Rejoice!

Isaiah 35
“The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly, and shout for joy…
Strengthen the feeble hands, and steady the knees that give way;
Say to those with fearful hearts: ‘Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution to save you.’
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs…
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.
Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”

‘You will go out with joy, and be led forth in peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands…’ (Is 55:12)

‘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.’

Abandonment

‘But I cry to you for help, O Lord; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?
I have suffered your terrors and am in despair. Your wrath has swept over me;
Your terrors have destroyed me. All day long they surround me like a flood;
They have completely engulfed me.
You have taken my companions from me; the darkness is my closest friend.’
PS 88:13-18

Jesus’ rejection, abuse, and murder at the hands of men were not His greatest sorrow. It was His Father’s abandonment of Him on the cross.

Jesus expected the scourge of political and religious foes. The desertion of His disciples, however painful, was bearable.

Through it all, He held fast to His steadfast consolation–the Father who promised to never forsake Him. One cannot imagine His dismay when the Father abandoned Him to the darkness of sin.

He was willing, yet not prepared for the scourge and judgment of sin to fall upon Him. He knew the truth: what is holy cannot commune with what is foul. Jesus realized that the evil in humanity demanded a sacrifice. The price had to be paid. And He knew that whatever bears that sin becomes a horrible, stinking cancer that the Father cannot look upon.

Nothing can be further from the Father than that which is accursed!

That’s why Jesus’ lamented in the garden: ‘Father, all things are possible—remove this cup!’ The cup was the wrath and judgment of sin that Jesus agreed to drink.

Perhaps a part of Him still held out for a slightly less painful way to bear sin, one that would still include fellowship with the Father.

Listen to this prayer of David, a prophecy of Christ’s lament on the cross:

“All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads;
‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him.
Let the Father deliver him, since he delights in him.’
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast…
From my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near
And there is no one to help.” (PS 22:7-11)

Jesus prayer was not answered. He was not granted a cup that included fellowship with the Father. He had never been cut off from Him! Overwhelmed by the scourge of sin, Jesus was not ready for utter separation from the Father.

Accursed, veiled by the darkness of sin, the Son could no longer behold His Father. The One Voice, His One Hope, His Steadfast Source vanished, and Jesus cried out into the void: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ (Matt. 27:46)

The weight of assuming sin’s darkness cost the Son His communion with the Father. Having abandoned Himself to the Father’s will, the Son found Himself abandoned. This was God’s supreme suffering. Not the mocking abuse, the smashing of the mirror, but the veil of sin separating Father and Son. The Son lamented His ‘fatherlessness’, the Father His ‘sonlessness’.

The pathos of the cross involved at core the grief of a parent releasing a child unto death. For the Son, a descent into complete darkness. And for the father, the horror of knowing His Son would be consumed by that darkness, without consolation.

Simone Weill conveyed with unparalleled artistry the distance sin imposed upon Father and Son: “So that love may be as great as possible, the distance must be as great as possible. This infinite distance between God and God [Father and Son], this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, this is crucifixion…

This tearing apart, over which supreme love places the bond of supreme union, echoes perpetually across the universe, like two notes, separate yet melding into one, like pure and heartrending harmony. This is the Word of God. The whole creation is nothing but its vibration. When human music in its greatest purity pierces our soul, this is what we hear through it…”

Our twice-born lives, still subject to the ‘sickness-of-sin’, may at times tempt us to believe that we have been abandoned to the separation sin demands, that the curse still holds sway over the powerful blessing of the Father’s love.

The cross invites us this day to hear the music of mercy once more. We need to behold the distance once more that both Father and Son endured to bring us back. ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion, I will bring you back… (Is. 55: 7)

Jurgen Moltmann writes: ‘When we recognize our helplessness and can do nothing more, the forsaken Christ gives us a share in His passion. Our struggle against sin and despair need not separate us from Him, but rather can draw us into deeper communion with Him. We join in His death cry and await resurrection.’

Today we do not focus on what we can do. We are all reduced to the same impotence. Like Peter, all we can do is behold the Lamb who has turned toward us.

Behold our faithful mirror, the One who manifests unfailing love to us, now smashed. Behold the true Image of God in humanity twisted and torn, abandoned by its Maker. Behold the agony of Love wrenched from Love. Behold our pretense and cowardice; behold the only Truth more powerful than our sin. Behold the crushing that cleanses, the fracturing that heals, the dying that makes all things new.

Today Father and Son do the terrible work that gives life to the world.

Beneath Thy Cross
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their face in a starless sky
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

‘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.’

Turning for Good (Friday and Beyond)

We might receive foot-washing and communion and yet still not grasp the cross. Perhaps our need for that cross is not yet clear. We may still believe in our own capacity to follow Him, the self-inspired power of allegiance to Jesus.

Peter the ‘Rock,’ full of bluster and unrefined zeal, helps us here. He believed himself to be among the most radical followers of Jesus. Pride came before his fall on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion. Until the midnight hour, Peter continued to be stumbled by the prospect of Christ’s humiliation.

He still did not grasp the cross. First he had to suffer the humiliation of his own infidelity.

How often have we seen this before? Many of us have followed Christian leaders whom we granted ‘Rock-like” status, only to be devastated when they fell. How could they? How could men or women espousing, say, ‘traditional values,’ prostitute themselves and so breach trust with us? (Not to mention with their families, their churches, and the greater Christian community?)

Easily. We can preach the cross and its merits for everyone else yet avoid it entirely when it comes to our own need for the cross. We can live in that divide as long as our weaknesses are kept in check. But seasons change, and under the stress of real life, weaknesses become wickedness.

God exposes us as the cross-‘dodgers’ that we are. Such exposure breaks ground in us for mercy.

Jesus’ prophesied Peter’s three-fold denial of Himself. In Luke 22: 54-62, we behold its fulfillment: the Rock boldly distances himself from Christ by refusing any connection with Jesus. The one who set himself apart by naming Christ as God, the sole source of salvation, refuses Him when the heat is on.

Peter tries to save himself in the face of Christ’s capture; to three inquirers, he denies the truth about Jesus and his own discipleship.

But the power of the passage rests not on his denial but rather on Peter’s repentance. By this point, we are used to blind, blustery Peter. But repentant Peter is quite another thing. The key verses in Luke 54-62 come after his third denial: “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter…and he went outside and wept bitterly.” (vs. 61, 62)

Jesus turned first. This was the threshold of change. Yes, Jesus had rebuked the Rock sternly before, had washed his feet, fed him bread from Heaven—all preparation for the pivot that would change Peter forever.

Jesus turned first. One glance from the eyes of Jesus, burning with tender mercy, and Peter saw his sin. More importantly, he saw Jesus as the sole enabler and object of his devotion.

Jesus turned first. One wise woman put it this way: “In the presence of His integrity, our pretense is exposed. In the presence of His constancy, our cowardice is exposed. In the presence of His fierce love for us, we either fall down and worship Him or do anything we can to extinguish the light…”

Perhaps Peter would have rather looked in any one’s face than Jesus’ at that moment. He was exposed –his self-deceiving ways more apparent than at any other time. But such exposure ploughed deep ground in Peter’s heart. That is Real Presence: the Lamb of God revealing the truth of His servant’ sin in order to heal him.

Peter broke, and water poured from the Rock. His tears manifested a turning unto the Savior as he had never done before.

True repentance can occur only as God looks at us. He turns toward us, our only hope from the stranglehold of both the prostitute and the Pharisee. We can suffer a kind of narcissistic sorrow over sin. Truly this is wounded self-love, founded more on social shame or loss of a beloved idol than over genuine spiritual grief.

But when the God of fierce love turns toward us, we can feel deeply our sorrow over sin—our inspired regret at running away from our only Hope, the sole Source that loves us deeply in the full glaring light of who we are in our pretense and cowardice.

One wise man said it like this: “Genuine repentance consists of feeling deeply our helplessness, of knowing how God comes to us when we are completely broken.”

God deals firmly yet gently with us in our waywardness, the gap between what He wills, and who we are. He persists to shine the light of His mercy, daring to expose sin and brokenness in order to heal us.

Henry Drummond writes: “Today perhaps the Lord is turning and looking at you. Right where you are, your spirit is far away, dealing with some sin, some unbearable weight. God is teaching you the lesson Himself, the bitter and sweet lesson of your life, in heartfelt repentance. Stay where you are. Today, don’t look away.”

Peter reveals to us the revelation of sin that invites mercy. But not all turn toward Christ in the light of such exposure. A tearful pivot is one thing; a posture of murder—seeking to extinguish the Light—is another.

One pastor observed: “I remember being at a retreat when the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Jesus in our lives. One woman said: ‘I had to think hard about that one: I kept thinking—who is it that told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’

‘This is the verdict—light came into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.’ (Jn 3:19, 20)

“According to John, Jesus died because He told the truth to everyone He met. He was the truth, the perfect mirror in which people saw themselves in God’s own light. The religious and political leaders were so appalled by what they saw in that mirror they smashed it. They smashed Him every way they could.”

According to the Gospels, this ‘smashing’ included men: spitting in His face, striking Him with fists, slapping Him and mocking Him with prophesies, then stripping and flogging Him, followed by repeated head-bashings. The insults and mockery continued throughout His slow, agonizing death on the cross.

On Good Friday, we are reduced to mercy. In the mirror of His suffering unto death, we are exposed as those whose ‘sin-sickness’ persuaded Him to become our cure. Let His merciful eyes catch your gaze as you behold Him, Crucified for you.
Amazing love, none greater.

‘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.’

Receiving the Fullness of His Love

Maundy Thursday makes one thing perfectly clear. It is God’s faithfulness that makes us faithful. On this night of foot-washing and communion, we behold the full extent of God’s love toward us.

Mercy takes on new meaning as Jesus grants us tokens of the cross that awaits Him. He washes away our filth; He feeds us with bread from heaven. Foreseeing our departure from Him, He grants us powerful assistance for our return.

In His faithful love, we see our unfaithfulness. Here we have a choice. In that gap between perfect love, and our own, our hearts either tenderize or toughen. We can fall forward into His mercy or flee His presence altogether.

Peter did not bolt. But he remained a slow learner. Just before the Passover meal, according to John 13, Jesus began to reveal “the full extent of His love” (v.1) by washing the disciple’s feet. ‘Maundy’ Thursday is derived from the Latin “mandatum”, referring to Jesus’ mandate of the disciples to wash one another’s feet (Jn 13:14).

Jesus came to Peter with basin and towel, ready to get low and cleanse his lowliest part. Feet in the Hebrew culture designated the most humble part of a person. Unlike today, feet were filthy as a result of hiking dirty roads in sandaled feet.

This washing is prophetic, a foreshadowing of Jesus’ life being poured out on the cross. We glimpse the essence of that flood when at the crucifixion the soldier pierced His side, releasing “a sudden flow of blood and water.” (Jn 19:34) That river alone has power to dissolve our deepest stains.

Foot-washing also foreshadows Paul’s words about the less honorable aspects of the body of Christ. The Apostle writes to the shamed ones at Corinth who were being neglected by the sleek and the strong there: “Those parts of the body we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…God has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.” (1Cor 12: 22, 24)

Sometimes we don’t need others to neglect or reject us. We are very capable of hating ourselves for the broken and dishonorable parts. Feet represent those parts, the untouchable zones, the parts least likely to succeed.

These are the dimensions of our humanity which smell, that are unruly, that we stub unto more of a stench. These are the areas that are dangerous, and that can cripple God’s will for us unless they are properly attended.

That’s why we are tempted to hide our bloody feet. And often do. The religious man will even use spiritual language and rationale as to why he should hide them. In most Christian cultures, we lead out with our best foot forward, and may make Herculean efforts to conceal the club foot we drag behind.

Yet to deny foot-washing is to deny the very person of Jesus and His passion: the bloody God pouring out His life to remove the stench of sin. That involves God’s body—His basin, if you will, meeting us at our least honorable. He who receives such washing welcomes Christ right where Christ most desires him.

‘Foot-washing’ best describes the ministry of Desert Stream and its many pools of Living Waters around the world. Set in churches, these provide a protected, powerful opportunity for one to lower his/her shameful parts into the ‘mercy pool.’

But we must be ready. God is faithful to mirror back our lack of readiness for foot-washing, just as He did for Peter. Peter asked Jesus as He knelt down: “Are you going to wash my feet?” (v.6) Hearing His ‘yes’, Peter refused the offer: “No, You shall never wash my feet.” (v.8)

The Rock, the doctor of the Church, refuses foot-washing as stubbornly as he refused Jesus’ cross. Jesus replies simply: “Unless I wash you, you have no part of Me.” (v.8)

Peter was not ready for the cross and its benefits. He had yet to surrender old religious notions. The zealot still wanted to protect Jesus from His passion. And from his own smelly feet! The two are profoundly related. Jesus broken body, releasing a flood of cleansing, corresponds to our human brokenness and its defilement. Peter wanted neither a broken God nor the revelation of his own brokenness.

Maybe Peter was not yet desperate, not enough anyway. The Rock had more bluster in him yet, more of that good carnal energy that champions the Savior yet refuses to get saved. He did not yet see Jesus clearly. He did not see himself clearly. The mercy that might have made him meek eluded him.

Yet Peter’s time would come, and in the meantime, Jesus washes his feet. Jesus is patient; He waits for us, just as He waited for the time when its meaning would become clear to Peter.

Eating the Cross
Foot-washing prepared the disciples for Passover. The meal itself, described in Matthew 26:20-28, is a continuation of Jesus revealing the full extent of His love. During this meal, Jesus prophesies that His body and blood would be given “for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51)

If foot-washing foretold cleansing from sin, then the bread (Jesus’ broken body) and the cup (Jesus’ shed blood) represent sustenance. Communion conveys the Real Presence of God indwelling the people of God. Its purpose? To fortify and empower the saints to become His manifestation on earth.

The bread and cup release the essence of Christ Crucified to our hungry, thirsty souls. We ingest Christ, a fulfillment of John 6:35 when Jesus says: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry; He who believes in Me will never be thirsty.” Jesus wants this meal to satisfy us deeply, to become a fulfillment of that verse.

In a way, communion is the means through which we most purely partake of the cross. We drink and eat of its fruit at the Lord’s Table. Jesus said: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains, abides, and rests in Me, and I remain, rest, and abide in him.” (Jn 6: 55, 56)

Communion also reminds us that we as Christians exist as far more than a group of highly individualized units; we are one beautiful broken unit partaking of a single loaf and cup. At the Lord’s table, we sit together with Christ and His disciples as one body representing the worldwide communion of saints.

Around that table we fulfill the truth that “together with all the saints we are learning to grasp the height and width and depth and breadth of the love of Christ…” (Eph. 3:18)

The washing of feet prophesies the cleansing flood released at Calvary, the basin, His body on earth; the communion meal conveys the sustenance of Jesus’ love made manifest on the cross. These are mercies unimagined, disorienting to our natural sensibilities, until Jesus reveals them to us.

The disciples struggled to grasp these mercies. Their feet washed, their stomachs full, they still did not yet see themselves clearly. Nor did they behold Christ and His purposes clearly. Yet His mercy prevails. He prophecies the falling away of those who had just partaken of His most tender and profound expressions of mercy.

“This very night you will all fall away because of Me, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” (Matt. 26:31)

Amazing love. God prophesies restoration to His beloved betrayers before they violate Him. That is mercy: the all-knowing, all-seeing grace that knows our inability to be faithful and makes a way for us to fulfill our vows.

Blind Peter leads the blind. With typical bluster, he insists his response to Christ will be different than his wayward colleagues. Peter vows to go the distance.

“Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will, “said Peter.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered. “This very night before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You.” (Matt. 26: 33-35)

The Rock dies hard. Yet Mercy prevails; Jesus promises, in essence: ‘I will meet you in your abandonment of Me. My merciful love toward you shall liberate your turning back to Me.’

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus in His unfailing love reveals our unfaithfulness. At the same time He bridges the gap with His most tender mercies, mercies that wash us and feed us.

‘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.’

Suffering for What is Right

In His mercy, Jesus redeems our suffering. Some of the sorrow we submit to Him is not of particularly noble origins—it may be, as we have seen, the bad fruit of our sin, or the normal wounds and losses we sustain this side of Heaven.

He loves us to the extent that He will take every opportunity to invite us to surrender our sins and wounds. He grants us ‘cross-time’: an opportunity to receive and extend mercy. He makes us that much more fruitful in love.

But suffering for what is right: that is the highest form of suffering, and one to which the Christian seeking mature identification with the Crucified must aspire.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: ‘The cross is suffering that comes only from our commitment to Jesus Christ…the cross is not the normal suffering tied to natural existence but the suffering tied to being Christian.’

That is what Jesus referred to in the Sermon on the Mount when He spoke of persecution for the sake of righteousness. (Matt. 5:10)

One of the ways in which I witness this suffering is for those who aspire to and proclaim healing from their homosexuality through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Early on in my own cross-walk, I recall an incident at a school where I worked. I had been good friends with a handful of employees there—we partied together and they knew of my homosexuality. When I became a Christian and expressed my desire to leave behind my old life, they banded together and started to ridicule my efforts to know Him more.

That began a rather long period of loneliness: being rejected by pagans and not yet knowing enough Christians who might help close the gap. It was tough; my only solace lie in believing that Jesus understood my dilemma and somehow was upholding me in it.

I see now and rejoice that I was suffering a little for what was right!

Peter illuminates this further: ‘It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil…But rejoice that you participate in Christ’s suffering, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed…If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or a thief or meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear His Name.’ (1P 3:17; 4:13-16)

About one year into my conversion, I sought help from a seminar at my university entitled ‘The Christian and Homosexuality.’ Every major denomination was represented, included a Catholic priest.

Their one message? Jesus says it’s OK to be gay. I knew they must be reading another Bible. Even as a babe in Christ, I had heeded Jesus’ call to pick up my cross daily. I knew that had something to do with surrendering one’s sexuality to Him. When I suggested this, they rejected my offering as foolish and irrelevant.

For them, the cross was foolishness, the image of God in humanity irrelevant. That response continues to be how the worldly church responds to those of us who proclaim healing from homosexuality.

To hear the words healing and homosexuality in the same breath prompts an irrational response from a church so intent on courting the ‘world’ that she gives up her inheritance—the truth that we all bear God’s image as male and female. Regardless of our starting point, we each have the same chance to be reconciled to out true selves through surrender to Christ Crucified and Raised.

Our proclamation as ‘ex-gays’ that Jesus has given us a share in His suffering and in His image—that is glorious! And anathema to the worldly church that denies both the cross and the imago dei for homosexuals.

In the growing unwillingness of the church to stand her ground as the healing community for homosexuals, we behold the end-time battle between light and darkness, truth and deception, good and evil. All the more reason to proclaim through our very lives how Jesus heals the homosexual!

Of course we expect much of ‘the world’ to reject the healing of the homosexual. Throughout the globe, Living Waters gatherings have met with irrational, at times ferocious opposition for daring to invite homosexuals to the merciful cross. For this we are blessed: what a privilege to suffer for upholding what is right!

More difficult is the merciless church. Here I refer to conservative churches that reject those like us who aspire to live a cross-centered life and yet who know it is a lifetime quest marked by fits and starts, breakthroughs and setbacks. The merciless church refuses that process.

She tends to arbitrarily reject strugglers for setbacks, and frowns with embarrassment on those of us who must ‘live out loud’ in order to stay on track. The merciless church requires that we become liars, dishonest about how tough it is to remain true to Christ in an idolatrous world.

She intensifies the suffering of the weak; she withholds Jesus from those most in need of Him. For her lack of mercy, Christ will judge her, as surely as He will judge the worldly church for withholding that truth from the struggler.

We face persecution for proclaiming and blazing an authentic healing path for the homosexual; we rejoice. For those of us who have suffered long due to sins and everyday wounds, we are privileged to know Christ in His suffering–that is, suffering for righteousness’ sake.

My fine Australian friends, Ron and Ruth Brookman, proclaim together the healing God has wrought in his homosexuality and in their marriage. They take many chances to do so in both Christian and secular settings. They get flack from everyone—the worldly and merciless church, as well as the rage of gay pagans undone by the threat of healing.

Ron and Ruth children stand in the cross. They suffer for what is right, and have become mature spiritual adults. From their story the Gospel goes forth to a continent, and beyond. They know that if their message is hidden, it is hidden from those who are perishing. (2 Cor. 4:3)

‘Whoever belongs to Christ must go the whole way with Him. He must mature to adulthood: he must one day walk the way of the cross from Golgotha to Gethsemene.

Will you remain faithful to the Crucified? Consider carefully! The world is in flames, the battle between Christ and the Anti-Christ has broken into the open. If you decide for Christ, it could cost you your life. Carefully consider what you promise.’
Edith Stein

‘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.’

Discovering the Cross in Our Wounds

During Holy Week, we pause to consider Jesus’ cross and the smaller one He asks us to carry. The goal? To know Him more. Perhaps He will invite you in these days to ‘keep watch with Him’ in His suffering. We take another step toward Calvary by considering the ways we have been sinned against. He has not suffered only for our sins and foolishness; His cross-walk had as much to do with the gaps and gashes we bear due to others’ sins.

Isaiah 53:4, 5 says it best: ‘Surely He bore our grief, and carried our sorrows…and by His wounds, we are healed.’ He wants us to come to Him as readily with our wounds as with our sins. Why? Because He loves us; He wants what He has suffered to have its full effect—to alleviate our suffering.

He also knows that the wounded heart, unattended and seeking to heal itself, will naturally harden and defend itself against the damage done. We in our hurt become ugly; one infected wound can make us hateful and indiscriminate in transferring that hate onto innocent ones who represent our ‘wounders.’

Remember yesterday’s entry in which I recounted my slander of a colleague? The revelation of my sinful response to him began a long process of meeting with Jesus and a trusted brother. Behind the rage and self-vindication, I was hurt beyond words. Jesus was intent on laying claim to that wound as the basis for new life in me.

Let me explain what happened. We as a family and ministry were preparing to move to Kansas City; it was a dynamic, difficult time full of good prospects ahead. A former colleague of mine—a good friend whom I valued–wrote me to express his concerns about our moving there. That was his right, and I responded, agreeing to disagree on some of his concerns.

About two months later, I received a blistering email that changed my life. He had shot off a several page list of accusations against me; he blasted me in a fashion that could only be described as a rant, and sent it simultaneously to all my international Living Waters colleagues. He raged not only at the decision to go to Kansas City, but more painfully at my character, and arbitrary events that we had experienced together that I barely recalled but to him made me monstrous.

After the shock, came rage (and slander, as I already confessed). The only place to go was down, down beneath self-vindication and pity into grief and sorrow. I had to give myself a lot of space to just feel pain and to surrender as best I could to the God who knew pain, the afflicted Lamb ‘who did not open His mouth.’
(Is. 53:7)

I have never experienced that kind of solidarity with the suffering God. I remained in prayer for extended times, at times weeping and always clinging to Him. I placed a large cross on my chest and just asked Jesus to bear the bleeding, to assume the wound as I poured out my heart to Him.

I also appreciated the prayers of my friend to whom I entrusted this process; I needed to stay present to him, the body of Christ. But the richest communion came in solitude.

I arose on shaky knees from this wound, still hurting but being healed. The only guidance God gave me was to forgive my offender, and to contact all those who received his email and to ask each how I had wounded them in any way.

About a third responded with minor grievances. I was ready to hear them. I was broken. Regardless of my colleague’s terroristic methods, he was God’s instrument. Isaiah describes the God who allows His enemy to wreak havoc and so fulfill holy purposes. God used my colleague to level me. Yet according to Isaiah, these weapons of warfare would not prevail against me, e.g. they would not make me bitter and hateful. (Is. 54: 16, 17)

In God’s hand, this wound possessed power to make me more whole.

Jesus used my wound to draw me near to Himself, and to humble me so that I could hear hard things from loved ones who spoke lovingly.

The timing was right. I was starting a new life in Kansas City, and that meant my heart had to be broken and made malleable, able to be conformed to what Jesus had in store for us.

Surrendering to Jesus in my wound was my response to this invitation: ‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds…Whoever serves Me must follow Me; and where I am, my servant also will be.’ (Jn 12: 24, 26)

Jesus gave this invitation to His disciples on Holy Week. May we heed it. I can now attest to the fruit that has come from following Jesus to where He is: at the cross, ready to bear our suffering.

I bless you, beloved colleague, for wounding me. You were God’s instrument in breaking my ‘husk’, which then released many seeds of truth and mercy. You made me more fruitful.

‘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.’

Discovering the Cross in our Sin

A tendency of most Christians is to want to enter into relationship with Christ through His cross but to want to avoid that same cross in our own lives.

No-where is this more apparent than in how we deal with our personal sin.
We will go to great lengths to deny our sin, and the suffering that we cause ourselves and others due to our sin. It offends us.

We are in good company. I love how Peter, whom Jesus had just named as the Rock of the Church, refused the truth of the cross. Peter’s clear vision of Jesus as the Way did not yet include the truth that Jesus had to suffer and die. Jesus’ prophesied His crucifixion in Matt. 16: 21-23 and Peter cannot stand it. He blurts out: ‘Never Lord!’ Jesus’ response? ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’

God’s vision of what He must endure at Calvary, and what we must endure as well as we follow Him there, is different than our own. The cross offends us, particularly as it applies to owning the suffering caused by our sin.

Facing our own sin at Holy Week is the most elementary form of suffering. And a crucial step to experiencing rightfully the cross in other forms of suffering. If we deny our sin through ignorance or shifting its blame onto something else, we like Peter shall be hindered in going the distance with Jesus at Holy Week.

Not long ago, I was upset at a Christian colleague of mine. I could not believe what he had done to me. His name came up during lunch with a friend and I crucified him with my tongue. With a force that surprised me, I served my friend a huge dollop of gossip. He looked stunned, like I had just slapped him. I had. With my sin. He was left to bear this horrid account of one he barely knew.

I tried quickly to justify my sin to myself: ‘I am just processing my pain…’ The Holy Spirit gave me an immediate vision of His finger poised to flick me off my flimsy little chair and send me tumbling through the restaurant. It was as if He were saying: ‘You crucify others? Prepare to be crucified.’

‘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.’

Holy Week of the Merciful Cross: Knowing Him More

On Palm Sunday, Lent becomes Holy Week—the seven days leading to the cross. Perhaps the parallel between Jesus’ 40-days in the desert and His commitment to crucifixion is becoming clear.

Jesus sanctified the desert for us. He made a way in our wilderness. Instead of a place of temptation unto despair, He transformed ‘the desert of loneliness into a garden of solitude’ (Leanne Payne). His reliance upon the Father there grants us grace to encounter Him in the harsh realities of our lives.

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert had another purpose–it helped prepare Him for Calvary. Enduring harsh circumstance and demonic temptation was a practice run for His ultimate desert: the bitter cup of abandonment unto death. Just as He made the ‘burning sand a pool’, so shall He transform the grave into the ground for new life.

As we followed Him into the desert, so shall we follow Him to His death. Our hope lies in mercy: the first fruit of Calvary. We already believe that He died and rose again in order to unite us to the Father’s unfailing love. Yet partaking of the benefits of the cross does not exempt us from the crosses He asks us to carry.

This is where we waver. We want to celebrate His new life without suffering. We want His glory, not a glimpse of His wounds yet visible. We want to dance on blood-free ground. Jesus does not give us that option. He calls us to discover our own little crosses in light of His large one. His victory sustains us as He calls us to endure minor abandonments for the Kingdom’s sake.

I resist this. As Bonhoeffer says of Christians like me, I claim to love the cross but actually resist it in real life. I want to leap over tribulations like a Pentecostal athlete, not bear them patiently. I may even dare shake my fist at God for inviting me to share in His suffering. In that way, I claim to love the cross but in actuality I hate it. Why else would I so strenuously try to avoid it?

Yet how else can we know Him more? The Apostle Paul said it all. ‘I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Phil. 3: 10, 11)

That verse is key to understanding our participation in Holy Week. Knowing Christ demands we follow Him to Calvary, our little crosses intact. As we bear suffering patiently, He bears with us, and waits with us for the resurrection to come.

We start walking to Calvary on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ ‘triumphal’ entry into Jerusalem on the eve of His passion.

Looking back on this celebratory event, ‘triumphal’ seems a bit ironic. The very disciples that cheered Him with palms and Hosannas crucified Him with their silence a few days later. Like me, they embraced the benefits of the cross but refused its claim on their lives.

People love miracles. According to Luke 19:37, they praised Jesus loudly on Palm Sunday ‘for all the miracles they had seen.’ Jesus brought Heaven down to earth through miracles. He had opened blind eyes, bound up broken hearts, cast out demons, and raised the dead. How apt the adoration of Christ the Healer!

But being touched by Heaven does not a faithful follower make. He who sings loudest and longest may use the same voice to cry out ‘Crucify Him!’ or at least ‘I don’t know Him’ when the Crucifiers come looking.

Scripture is clear: After the parade, when the heat was on and the political and religious leaders hunted down Jesus’ accomplices, ‘all the disciples deserted Him and fled.’ (Matt. 26:56)

Zeal for the benefits of the cross must be continually tempered by its costliness. The cross invites us to follow Him after the worship and healing conference. It is usually after the ‘group effect’ that we are confronted by forces inside and outside of us that test our allegiance to Him.

God is faithful to us through such tribulation. He wants us to know Him more through such hardship, not in spite of it. That has been key to my spiritual growth and to the growth of Desert Stream. The merciful joy won for us on the cross can thrive amid the sorrow of facing our crosses squarely.
‘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.’

Merciful Children

Through our four children, mercy breaks like waves upon Annette and me. They delight us. All in their twenties now, each possess unique gifts and strengths—Greg’s kindness, Nick’s astute analysis, Kate’s perseverance and lack of pretense, Sam’s integrity. All four remind us daily of the gift God gave us in each one, each the fruit of our marital love.

For us, the family is all ‘gift’, each child a sign and a wonder. In each, we marvel at the mercy of God towards us.

Our children are a direct result of God’s saving love to Annette and I. Were it not for His restoring love, they would not exist!

In this season, we are not without regrets. We have wondered: Have we made decisions in service to God that demanded too much? I have travelled extensively throughout most of our married life. As I globe-trotted, Annette had to compensate for my absence. Amazingly. Yet her single parenting skills, and my phone calls and homecoming gifts, did not close the gaps.

Releasing Living Waters around the world cost us as a family. As the kids have grown up and reflected on the gaps, they have their own take on it. For example, Nick recounts my diving into relationship with him only to swoop out again; he came to resent that style of ‘impartation’ and would have liked just ‘being with.’

Another impact is the shame my children have felt on various occasions concerning my sexually broken past. I recall one large prayer gathering in which I shared my story before 25,000 people, my children included. When I returned to the family after sharing, my daughter could not stop weeping.

The impact of my story—amplified to such a large degree—impacted her deeply. How she wished at that moment that I was not her father!

Regrettable; I shall continue to ask for mercy from my kids for how my adult decisions hurt them. And they grant us mercy.

Last Christmas, snowed in and unable to do anything but be together, we gathered as a family and blessed one another for the gift each had been to us. (It was my idea: the kids mocked me mercilessly for it until they got into the flow.)

I have never experienced such a rich exchange among family. Sib to sib, sib to parent and vice-versa—the lines of gratitude opened up and we filled each other up with how God had met us through the other.

The best presents we gave out that Christmas? The way we recognized, simply yet profoundly, the unique gift of each member of the family.

I have always wondered how my children might follow in our footsteps at DSM. We started out as a specifically ex-gay ministry. Even though we have since expanded to help redeem other forms of brokenness, I felt unsure about how much I wanted my kids to find a place with us!

They have. Though none have experienced profound sexual brokenness, each has had to discover a path of integrity through an idolatrous world.

A highlight for me last year was Katie joining our local Living Waters group. She then traveled with me to Venezuela to assist on the team of a Living Waters Training. After that, she joined our leadership team in Kansas City for Living Waters. What a gift—prayerfully confessing our sins and needs together as a team then helping others week after week! We take pride in one another.

Nick went through CrossCurrent a few summers back; after University, he returned to DSM to do an internship with us. He is currently assisting me and has become invaluable to the ministry overall. He will soon be off to seminary.

I recall an incident many years ago in New Zealand. Nick had traveled with me there, and had just started running track seriously in high school. He was fast, about as fast as his father, who then prided himself on being a competitive long-distance runner.

We ran together each day. At first I beat him readily, but each day he would come closer and closer to catching me. By the end of the two weeks, he had surpassed me. Easily. I remember our very last run in which he had beat me by about 10 minutes! (That’s about one-minute a mile faster than me!)

Apart from a blow to my pride, it was a gift of God’s mercy. God whispered to me that my kids would take what they had gained from Annette and me and run with it–further and faster than their parents could ever take it.

Kids empowered by mercy to go the distance. Grateful parents. Merciful God.

‘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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