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Clean Water

The temptation to fall with other men sexually increased after I first proclaimed healing from homosexuality. The word of my testimony, through which one triumphs over evil (Rev. 12:11), seemed to invite the evil one to nail me!

Now I see clearly, then I did not. I had become known (In a limited way) as one who had overcome the ‘gay self’. That declaration need to be refined. So God allowed some desert heat to test me. Would I stay true to Him even if offered a chance to realize a more alluring brand of homosexuality than I had known in my hometown?

In a manner I had not experienced in my Christian life up until that point (and have since to experience), three distinct opportunities arose in which I was tempted to have sex. I had made many friends on the UCLA campus; several were active homosexuals who were used to sleeping with ‘friends.’ These were smart, handsome guys who were going places.

I came close to crossing lines with them. I was aware of mutual attraction and could have signaled that I wanted more. All I can say is that God in His mercy gave me some restraint, some unexpected gift of self-control. I exercised that gift. Before thoughts became action, I was able to testify to each one who I actually was as a Christian man who wanted Jesus more than gay sex.

Those testimonies mattered more than the one I gave the summer before. In the heat of the moment, when the mirage shimmers like a dream come true–that is when the word of our testimony matters most.

It was pretty simple. Mercy met me in the desert of temptation and allowed me to define myself and my boundaries to these guys. One remained a friend, but with a solid line between us.

Simple is not the same as easy. I struggled hard. Against the sexy Westside backdrop, flanked by Bel-Air and Brentwood, exploring my homosexuality seemed right, naturally-speaking. It was as if Satan led me out to the intersection of Wilshire and Westwood and said: ‘This could be yours…’

God’s mercy was greater still. He made Himself known to me as the One I wanted in the desert of temptation. I wanted His Presence; and I wanted male friendships free from body fluids and distorted emotions.

God wanted that too. He also wanted me to be a pure drink to others, not an offering polluted by sensual motives. Others were beginning to ask me the reasons for my hope in Christ. I wanted to give an answer with a clean heart.

To achieve that, God led me into the desert. I had to be tested. He asked me to give three testimonies behind the scenes. He had His way. He refined my offering of hope to others. Mercy triumphed over judgment.

‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world but to lose his very self?’ (Lk 9: 23-25)

‘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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Drinking Water

After Europe, I moved into a UCLA fraternity house crammed with conservative Christian men. They were Republicans, I was the on the lunatic fringe of the Democratic party, as was my hair, which resembled a Benjamin Franklin fright wig; their crew cuts and manner were clipped and practical while I was emotional and spontaneous (remember, I used to be fun), tending toward the absurd.

A match made in heaven? Precisely. I needed the limits imposed by a tight community of guys who loved me in spite of our differences. We were one people in our love for Jesus and in our desire to make Him known.

Living there identified the desert of my detachment from regular guys and from the regular guy I was. I aimed awkwardly to explain who I was as a Christian seeking to overcome homosexuality. I tried to convey my commitment to holiness while still confessing my weakness and need for their support; what many heard was that I was still in sin.

Ah well…Semantics matter, and I was still trying to find the words. Yet beyond words, these guys loved me. I drank in their acceptance, which freed me to accept my own masculinity in some new ways. Mercy flowed out from most of the guys and satisfied my soul in a way that gay relationships never did.

That next summer, I joined an outreach project aimed at reaching a beach town in Southern California for Christ. We sought to extend mercy to the unsaved yet learned more about mercy in our team relationships than in evangelism.

There I grew in trusting people, both leaders and peers. One of our assignments was to share our testimony before a large outreach meeting. I asked God throughout that summer to distill what I had learned thus far in my journey out of homosexuality. By the time I shared, I was ready: clear, unashamed, grateful for the mercy that had become my freedom.

I was amazed at what happened next. Team members came to me in quiet, like Nicodemus, asking for hope and help in deep areas of personal brokenness. (Not homosexual per se; most were good old idolaters of the traditional kind.) They were hurting, locked in shame. Mercy alone drew them out of the desert.

Having drunk deep of mercy through Christ’s body, I had merely held out a cup of cold water to them. They wanted more. They needed more in order to go further up and into Christ’s purposes for their lives. Throughout that summer and into the next year, I continued to receive requests for help as a result of that one testimony.

That summer confirmed my calling to release living water to those in the desert of sexual and relational sin. God was multiplying my little offering of mercy. Desert Stream had informally begun.

‘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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The Pool at Piccadilly Circus

Soon after the French party, I moved home and determined to grow with the Christian friends I had. Fun or not, they were my people.

My parents asked me if I wanted to save my shekels and go with them on a short trip to Europe the next summer. I did and I went.

London was a blast. I loved the roar of it. I would find a busy street and get lost for hours in the waves of people pouring like currents from every square, park, and avenue.

I met a smart young coupled from Manchester who like me were walking quickly through the City of London Museum. We spent the afternoon together, and shared with some depth about our lives, after which they kind of prophesied over me. They predicted that I would write and speak about social matters related to my Christian spirituality. Their words rang true.

Later that night, my search for companionship took an ugly turn as I walked through garish Piccadilly Circus (London’s version of Time Square). I found a disco there (I used to be, well, fun…) and started dancing in a big group of people. It was ugly—yes, the hair and fashions of course—but mostly the spirit of the place. These people were not my people.

After such a life-giving day, I found myself in a self-absorbed, seductive world that was choking the life out of me. I knew if I did not leave right away, I would bow down to the evil one and his sexy idols.

Surfacing from the underground, smoky club, I gasped for air then called upon Jesus. He met me faster than the oxygen. He filled me with His Spirit and freed me from the ‘desert’ disco. I remembered mercy; I wanted Him, and He wanted me.

I turned a corner to exit the Circus where a young man was waiting for a sexual pick-up. He motioned to me; I walked on but as I did I thought, “He needs ‘living water’ as much as I do…” The Spirit came upon me and gave me unusual boldness.

I turned back and met up with the guy, telling him that I did not want sex but would love to talk with him over coffee. He agreed, and I shared my whole story, even the escape from ‘disco inferno.’

He related, he was amused, and he needed Jesus. We prayed together and committed to keeping in touch with each other. We wrote back and forth for over a year until he left London for University. I do not know what happened to him next. But I know that he encountered Jesus in the desert of his homosexuality. He discovered the God who turns the burning sand into 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.’

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Reflection 3

What is your desert? It could be several things: harsh and severe circumstances, or personal distress–physical, emotional, or moral. Maybe you are wrestling with heightened sexual temptation, or the temptation to hate yourself or another due to a conflicted relationship.

You are probably discovering that there is a link between external hardships and personal distress. In other words, fragile areas in the soul get inflamed by severe circumstances outside of you.

That can also occur when we, Lenten-style, give up certain things that have satisfied or diverted us. Some of you may be hungry due to a food fast of some kind; others may be a bit agitated by letting go of some media-fix. Without your computer or favorite show, you may feel empty, at a loss.

Whether the weakness is native to our humanity or imposed, we may find ourselves this Lent more vulnerable to the hardships outside of us, and thus more vulnerable to temptation.

Name your desert. We all face familiar weakness that can become the ground of the enemy’s temptation. Maybe his voice goes something like this: ‘God isn’t healing you; worship me and sexy idols instead!’

The good news about the desert areas of our lives? God has gone before us. According to Scripture, Jesus faced and refused the seductions of the enemy. In so doing, He sent the evil one out of the desert. He made the burning sand a pool of mercy.

He in His humanity showed weak ones like us the way in which we can endure and overcome temptation, without sin! He gives us His mercy and His truth as the basis for our life in the desert. That must involve looking to Him in our desert moments.

Self-denial means not denying the struggle but rather in the struggle looking to Him and saying: ‘He has gone before us; let us look only to Him who has vanquished the evil one. Right here, right now, He has made a way in this wilderness and released water in this desert!’

That means thriving in, not merely surviving our often complex pairing of severe circumstance and inner weakness. In that way, we can say that Jesus has sanctified the desert; He has made it holy. He has turned the burning valley into a place of cool, pure water.

We are changed as we look to Him and find Him in our deserts.

A few years ago, my then 8-year-old son Sam and I went for a hike in the Mojave Desert. Our destination was ‘Angel Falls’, a small oasis two thousand feet up a rocky desert mountain. What we had not counted on was the trek through ‘Devil’s Canyon’ before the ascent.

The signs warned us: one urged us to carry 2 gallons of water (we had 8oz.), the other alerted us to the threat of mountain lions. Sam’s eyes were like saucers in a face increasingly red and troubled by the blistering sun. I urged him onward, secretly praying I was not endangering him!

We hiked for a good hour in the valley, our uneasy silence broken only by my faltering assurance that it was going to get better. At the end of the canyon were a series of huge boulders. They provided a good challenge for us both, as they had to be climbed to reach the falls! We began to scale the rocks with fresh enthusiasm. We noticed a few patches of green then some wildflowers.

We began to hear the sound of water. Now there was no stopping us. We climbed for another hour or so until we saw a miracle in the desert: a genuine oasis. The falls created a pool of water that fed a lush grove of palms and other desert fruit trees. We raced to the pool, threw ourselves in and just enjoyed the cool water and shade. We had not endured ‘Devil’s Canyon’ for nothing. We endured for the beauty of life in the desert.

Jesus makes the burning sand a spring of water. He endured the desert for the joy set before Him, a foretaste of the death He would die unto resurrection. So too we can take courage as we endure our small temptations, our little crosses. We too persevere for the joy set before us. He intends to lead us into the greater life He has claimed for us in the desert.

‘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 Cesaer what is Cesaer’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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Reflection 2

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert came immediately after His baptism. Filled with the Spirit, just named by the Father as His beloved Son, Jesus was ready to endure the weakness of fasting. Taken his advantage, as he always does with the weak, Satan made three efforts to tempt Jesus into satisfying His hunger falsely.

Jesus faced two hardships–weakness from hunger and the impact of a severe environment. The desert can be cruel. It offers little respite from heat and thirst. Jesus’ hunger and thirst, combined with the severity of desert solitude, intensified His weakness.

Yet the Son remained spiritually acute and clear. He allowed the empty stomach and barren landscape to tune his spiritual eyes and ears. Jesus partook of the Father’s Word. Alive to unseen realities, Jesus might have heard the underground stream and waited for its surfacing. Already He was expecting the burning sand to become a pool. Jesus was ready for temptation.

No respecter of persons, Satan preyed upon Jesus’ perceived weakness three times. The first two temptations had to do with the enemy luring Jesus into proving Himself, the first by turning the desert stones into bread. That of course hooked into Jesus’ physical hunger.

Jesus responded by naming His main gluten-free meal—the Father’s Word. Alive to that Word which both confirms and feeds His personhood, Jesus busted the enemy’s scheme wide open. It’s as if He said: ‘Only the Father can feed me with food that lasts; only His Word validates me as the Beloved.’

Jesus knew the power of the Father’s validating Word over any miracle or meal. Similarly, He refused the second temptation to hurl Himself down and stay intact as the basis for His divinity. Again, Jesus knew such a test was wrong; His divinity needed no such validation. He had it, the Father confirmed it, and that was that.

Against the barren desert wilderness, the enemy offered Jesus his sexy kingdom—a world splendid and exotic, sensual, visually-stunning, enticing—a world married to man’s pride and vanity. (1Jn 2:16)

All Satan wanted in exchange for his realm was a little worship. Jesus knew the cost of such idolatry. He knew that friendship with sexy idols meant hatred toward God the Father. (James 4:4) Even in weakness, Jesus’ devotion was sure—He bowed only to the Father who loved Him.

Declaring that worship and service belong solely to the living God, Jesus sends the deceiver away.

In so doing, Jesus clears a path in our deserts. We follow Him, as we are still learning to be sons and daughters who listen first and foremost to the Father’s validation. Especially in times of weakness and distress, when our worlds seem more barren than fruitful, we are subject to the desert, and its temptations.

Sadly, we in our weakness have often agreed with the enemy’s deception there.

How many times have we demanded that God perform a miracle and give us what we hunger for now, when He is simply asking us to hold fast to His Word that feeds us more profoundly than any other meal? How many times have in our insecurity compromised our worship to the One just to be stroked for a few moments by a sexy idol?

Truly we are the weak and hungry and poor, those still driven and derided by the enemy who claims to validate our souls only to curse them. Like our Savior who goes before us in the desert of temptation, we must learn to respond to God’s truth and so spring the trap set for us there.

More than anything, this is about listening to the truth and upholding the Father’s sure Word to us. Perhaps He would say to us this Lent: ‘Listen to my voice; in your hunger eat my Word, let me confirm your insecure humanity. And where you in your pride and vanity have bowed down to sexy idols, let me lift you up. Let me wash you clean and set you free from the ties that have bound you to evil.’

At times we have failed the test in our deserts. Greater still is His mercy.
Let Jesus make the burning sand in your life 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 Cesaer what is Cesaer’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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