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A Deeper Well, Waters Rising

The move to Anaheim was a shakedown. Everything that could be shaken was—from our relationship with our previous church to the still reverberating effects of our sexual abuse crisis.

God was merciful. He used both earthquakes to level us. He was preparing us for a new season of growth founded on simple trust in His goodness towards us. We sent our roots down a little deeper in the Source, and ceased to be so readily dismayed by hardship.

God demonstrated that goodness through the advocacy of John Wimber. As head of the Vineyard movement, a pastor of pastors, John had navigated dozens of sexual messes created by unhealed churchmen and women. He knew the need for safe and powerful places in the church for getting real and getting healed. He loved our main offering– ‘Living Waters’–and insisted it become a primary offering in his church and beyond.

Strength in weakness: could our little band of wounded healers step up and quicken our training of lay persons to make their churches such a merciful haven for the sexually broken? John said yes; DSM prayed: ‘Lord have mercy.’

God had mercy and insisted we do it His way. John featured me in one of the annual conferences sponsored by the Vineyard Anaheim. This 5-day conference sold out and so another was slated for the next week: total conferees over two weeks? 10,000 people! (Desert Stream did daily workshops for hundreds and I was scheduled to address the large group a couple times each week.)

Like every novice given such an opportunity, one tends to over-function, jamming a brief talk with every sparkling insight ever mined. Not helpful. God knows this. After laboring over ‘the talk above all talks’, He made it clear to me that my efforts were unacceptable. (A few hours before?!)

He led me to preach on PS 103:6: a simple word on how God works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed, those like me who had been damaged by sexual sin.

I essentially shared my story. I left my impeccably prepared teaching on my seat, and mounted the podium with a few notes jotted on scrap paper. I taught for 20 minutes and prayed over the people for 40.

God poured out His mercy in a manner I had never seen before, or since. This ‘mercy surge’ lanced the shame and pain of a Christian people who had little experience in bringing their sexual brokenness into the light of Christ’s merciful body. The screams and agonizing sobs sounded like hell breaking loose but actually it was Heaven freeing captives.

Pastors took note of the healing available for their people if the church would take up her responsibility. Desert Stream began to flow with a new force and freedom throughout the USA and beyond.

Our strategy was to train a group of lay leaders to do ‘Living Waters’ in a church; then, when locals were digging a good well of healing for their people, we would come and stir up the waters a bit in order to bring people into ‘Living Waters.’

Around this time, I recall fondly a conference we did in the heart of San Francisco.

That Vineyard Church happened to be on Folsom Street in the middle of the city’s notorious sadomasochism district; and our conference happened to coincide with the weekend of their annual ‘Leather Festival’. It was hard to bear the oppression of the enslaved. How much more heartening to watch over 400 Christians of every ethnicity pouring out of the church and bearing powerful mercy for the sexually broken!

The Kingdom of mercy is more potent than the rule of any perversion.

We were in the right place at the right time. The Vineyard Anaheim had become the hub of an international network of churches and Desert Stream benefited. Following the Vineyard model, we began to plan an international strategy for identifying and raising nationals to dig deep wells of Living Waters in their lands.

We were digging a network of wells vigorously. The waters of mercy were rising and beginning to pour out to the nations.
‘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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Falling Mercies

You could say that the way to Vineyard Anaheim had been paved in righteousness—we had been cast out of our home church for doing what was right, and God promoted us. Noble.

How ignoble to discover a darker strain of sin in our own ranks. The hardship we endured in the first desert was a mere test run for the Sahara of our own making. Mercy met us facedown, seconds from death as a ministry.

It seems that a longstanding staff person from Desert Stream had sexually abused at least one teenager who had sought help from us. (I will spare you the details; needless to say, its revelation shattered us.)

Before we as a ministry even knew what had actually happened, one relative of the boy, savvy in the ways of insurance, insisted on a face-to-face meeting with Jonathan Hunter and I. He wrote down an astronomical figure that he insisted we pay out to him, or else. He threatened to take the case to the press and a flamboyant celebrity lawyer in LA. (He assumed that our large and prominent new home–Vineyard Anaheim—had millions for such settlements).

I remember looking at the 7 digit figure then at Jonathan in the unfounded hope that we were mere players in a nightmare. There was no waking up. We were living the dream.

And so we did for the next 3 years—a scourging of our entire ministry through police interrogations, the naked bulb of insurance agents and their lawyers, and Vineyard elders who for good reason wanted to know what was really going on in Desert Stream Ministries.

We the righteous became the scum of the earth—not only the defender of victims, but the predators.

More deeply, we as a ministry were torn in two. The man who had abused was intrinsic to our operation—his influence pervaded DSM. In waking up to the depth of his brokenness and capacity for deception, we were torn in two. His wife had been Annette’s lifelong best friend. Torn in two. Faith in my capacity to discern another’s readiness for ministry: torn in two. Our faith that we as a ministry could endure anything: torn in two.

News of our tragedy, now official on police and court records, attracted our accusers like vultures: ‘Do they change homosexuals or create them?’

We were torn in two. For good reason. We as a ministry had committed the sin of Achan (Joshua 7). In the name of DSM, one man had taken what was holy—a vulnerable life—and had partaken of him hideously. He then hid the evidence.

God’s anger burned at us in the same way that God’s anger burned at the whole nation of Israel for the sin of one man (Achan). He did what our staffer did–he stole Israel’s treasure then lied about it. The blood was on the hands of DSM.

Achan’s sin made us ‘liable to destruction.’ (Joshua 7: 12) As the Israelite’s did, we removed the violator from our midst and got low. We cried out for mercy. We fell face down, over and over and over. We gave Desert Stream back to God.

We knew that if He wanted us to live, we would live. Or He might gently withhold His hand and we would die. He gives, He takes: bless His Name.

At the end of 3 years, the case was settled. Our insurance covered most of the costs. Our groups were reinstated at the Vineyard, with new boundaries and requirements intact. Not one story was printed about the tragedy. God spared us. His mercy leveled and sustained DSM.

‘He who falls on this Rock will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’ (Matt. 21:44)

‘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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A Severe Mercy, Part 2

During the long drive to the confrontation at hand (see #18), I felt the sentence of death. And yet peace. Something in me was dying but deeper still was the witness of His presence.

My premonition of death was right. The pastor weaseled his way out of my charges on the grounds that he was merely exploring relationships as a single man, and that I was a rigid person whose historic brokenness required boundaries that he did not. The overseer slapped his hand and politely thanked me for my concern.

God met me in His mercy. On the drive home, I felt light. I had done what God wanted and it was no longer my burden to bear. The rest was up to God.

The next week, the pastor removed Annette and me from all leadership in the church (I was a part-time pastor; Annette was a leader in Sunday School). He said we threatened the church with our invasive, religious ways.

The end? We could barely fathom it. We and Desert Stream had known no other church home. We could not imagine life without our beloved community.

One other pastor on staff had been a close friend; we knew he shared our commitment to not partake of another’s naked body until marriage. When even he treated us as a public nuisance, we knew that we had lost our home. (To the senior pastor’s credit, he gave us a couple months with pay and time to relocate our offices as a ministry).

We were grateful to have obeyed God, and devastated by the result. For the first time, we as a ministry and couple were homeless. We lost the unique spiritual protection afforded by a local church: we felt uncovered, as if there was no more ozone layer between our skin and the unrelenting sun. Running into members of our former church chafed our skin all the more.

I entered into a kind of depression I had not known before. Annette wondered what would happen to us. We had three babies and one on the way. We moved our Desert Stream offices into our garage, for storage, and tried to work out of our homes. I perused the paper for sales jobs.

Jonathan Hunter and the Desert Stream staff kept praying. We sought the Lord at John Wimber’s booming Vineyard Church, an hour southeast from Los Angeles. John had since taken over the leadership of the Vineyard movement; he loved Desert Stream, though we had little contact and our offering of Living Waters had yet to be released in his church (then a global center of spiritual renewal.)

The depressive heaviness would lift then descend again. One early cloudy morning I was running and looked up to see one small distinct opening in the sky. God spoke quietly to me through it: ‘I go before you and make a way.’

A month later, I received a phone call from John Wimber’s secretary at Vineyard Anaheim. I returned the call and had a brief chat with John. He had just discovered that I was no longer on staff at the Westside Vineyard, and had been waiting for a chance to work more closely with me. Would I consider becoming a paid missionary to the sexually broken from the Vineyard Anaheim?

Desert Stream became the first non-church organization to be considered a member of the Vineyard’s growing roster of churches.

We remained in Los Angeles where we secured offices for Desert Stream, but considered John’s church our new home.

Three years later, a new group of women came forward and accused my former pastor of the same charges I had made. This time the overseer listened and fired him. Strange justice. Truer 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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A Severe Mercy, Part 1

An early lesson we learned in Desert Stream: sexual sin always has consequences. It tears the fabric of individual souls, or relationships, of entire communities. That is why God is serious about the boundaries of His people—He wants us to know the lines that delineate friends from marital lovers, and to live within them.
For the good of all.

Our first pastor, Kenn Gulliksen, upheld these boundaries with integrity. It was not easy. Our church had swelled to 2,000 new believers plucked from the fires of rampant promiscuity. These were creative, coastal immoralists bumping into holiness.

Our worship team included the cream of Hollywood’s studio musicians–sexy, hip, and achingly gifted. Many were only months-old in Christ. When the fair-haired leader (think Peter Frampton) impregnated his fiancé, Kenn lovingly came alongside of them both. He insisted that they make public their sin as the only true reason why they had to step down from leadership.

I will never forget that Sunday morning. Kenn’s version of discipline taught me more about sexual purity and the need to guard it than any sermon ever could. It was humbling and yet dignifying for all concerned. We were babes in holiness– unaccustomed to our new robes of righteousness. God visited us with a holy fear, and mercy for our common weakness

We wept with our two friends, applauded their courage, and later rejoiced in the wedding of the very pregnant duo. We then welcomed them back to lead us in worship some months later.

Kenn moved onto plant Vineyard Churches elsewhere. He was succeeded by a young single man, a brilliant teacher and care-giver. We loved him and gained much from his rich offering to the church.

What we discovered years later was his very confused set of boundaries. He neither grasped the destruction wrought by dabbling physically with many young women in the church nor the abuse of power that intensified sin’s power.

We discovered his offenses via several spurned women in the church. They were ashamed and confused and no longer even certain where to draw the line sexually in relation to men. That is the power of sexual sin in leadership. It infects others with the sickness of sin.

I knew as a pastor on staff that I had to act. I first confronted the pastor with the evidence I had. He denied it then tried to dismiss the offenses as a ‘gray’ area, that I “should not be so heavy about debatable ‘sins’.” For me, there was no debate. I told him that I would give him a month to confess all to his overseer (in a nearby county), and that I would follow up to make sure he did.

All hell broke loose. Two of his ‘girl-friends’ who were on staff discovered the threat I now posed to their ‘man’, and proceeded to make our lives miserable. One of these women slapped me in the face as I sought to enter the church offices; the other labeled Annette ‘a cancer growing in the church’.

Had it not been for Jonathan Hunter and the rest of the Desert Stream staff, we would not have made it. We gathered daily to pray (far from our offices in the church, for obvious reasons). I was ready when the overseer called me and said he wanted a meeting with me and my pastor.

The drive to that meeting was like one long gang-plank. I thought of our 10 years with the Vineyard Westside. I loved that church; it had been the home for our marriage, as well as the cradle and tender parent of Desert Stream. I knew that the meeting threatened the ground we lived on.

Something was coming to an end. I cried our for 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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A Merciful Friend

Digging ditches for God’s mercy to flow into the desert of sexual and relational brokenness—hard work made joyful by amazing workmen.

No-one provoked more joy for Annette and me than partnering in ministry with Jonathan Hunter.

We met Jonathan early on at the Vineyard Westside; he saturated himself with our early expressions of ‘Living Waters.’ As one who came out of homosexuality, Jonathan progressed quickly in holiness.

He then sought to give himself generously to God’s purposes. AIDS became a huge ministry need at Desert Stream. Jonathan said yes to God and to us; he poured himself out to serve those who were at once seeking Jesus in their sexual brokenness, and dying. Jonathan organized teams of volunteers to pray for these ones, to help meet basic life-needs, and to serve the family surrounding them.

Amid it all, Jonathan discovered that years earlier he had been infected by the AIDS virus. The battle for life he was fighting for dozens of men became his own.

I cannot tell you how bravely and honestly faced this challenge. It became one of our most powerful rallying points as a staff—to pray that God in His mercy would sustain Jonathan’s life even as Jono continued to fortify many lives.

Our corporate cry for mercy at Desert Stream began to include those sick in body. We also began to see that sickness and death had a profound emotional component. With Jonathan’s help, we all began to realize that the ‘spirit of death’ sought to lodge itself in all of us through loss and disappointment–the pain and grief we can choose to not feel and express.

God was merciful to us through the gift of Jonathan Hunter.

On a deeply personal note, Jonathan was the first man who came alongside of me in ministry that I trusted completely. That was scary for me. I feared that I might need him too much. I feared that the walls I had maintained to keep me safe from sin and hurt, especially with men, would break. I feared that I would do damage to any man that I loved with my whole broken heart.

I even asked God to call Jonathan to serve elsewhere. God did not answer my prayer. In His mercy, God called me to serve alongside of Jonathan for twenty years. In so doing, I was forced to grow in love with a man—to emerge out of fear and immaturity and into authentic holy brotherhood.

Much has been made of ‘Jonathan and David’ as a model friendship; it has even been perverted by some as a model of biblical homosexuality. (Bleech!) Actually, Jono and I lived out its essence: we persistently strengthened one other to realize God’s best for each of our lives.

Jonathan is still a model of physical health (he will dance on both of our graves, according to Annette), and today pioneers his own ministry for those in any distress who need help ‘embracing life.’ (www.embracinglife.org.)

God’s mercy is embodied in Jonathan Hunter; bless you, merciful friend.

‘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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