A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

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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Reflection 1

Lent prepares us for Easter by leading us to the cross: 40 days, 40 steps to Calvary. It is the downward ascent to God’s mercy.

Lent break ground in us for fresh mercies. It exposes what in us is merciless–stingy, resistant to grace. Lent is the desert in which we in our hunger and thirst are tempted to forsake the Source for pretty poisons.

Lent is the desert in which we can discover the stream that rumbles beneath the valley of death, ready to surface and transform the burning sand into a pool.
(Is. 35:7)

Lent is a severe hope; it points always and only to the God-man agonizing on the cross, forsaken yet certain of the glory-to-come.

Lent asks us to reflect upon the ways that we in our constant scheming to resurrect ourselves might surrender afresh to the Crucified Christ.

Lent asks us to die once more in order to be raised with Him all the more.
In so doing, Lent prepares us for the only hope worth dying for.

Lent is 40 days with Christ in the desert of His fast and His temptation. Filled with life, full of the Spirit, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the place of death, a land of dark spirits which prey upon weak and hungry ones.
(Matt. 4:1-12; Mk 1: 12, 13; Lk 4: 1-13)

Jesus chose the way of weakness and hunger in those 40 days; Lent invites us to do the same. We let go of familiar props and meals in order to rely upon Him alone.

Jesus invites us in to the desert of our own heightened hunger and thirst in order to meet us—to become for us the bread and water of Life. His days in the desert become ours.

We shall discover together how our valleys of death—inside of us, all around us—may actually be better candidates for living water than well-watered gardens.

In these 40 days, I shall be reflecting on our 30 years of ‘Desert Stream’: an extended time with Jesus in the heat of ministry. I hope to convey 40 ways in which His mercy made the burning sand a place of pools.

We shall follow every reflection with a particular plea: that God would have mercy on the USA and use for His glory the current battle for marriage still raging in CA (Court case Perry vs. Schwarzenegger challenging Prop. 8; closing arguments will be made during Lent with Judge Walker’s decision soon to follow).

‘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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Together, We Discovered Mercy

30-years ago, ‘Living Waters’ surfaced in West Hollywood. The burning ground of lust and sexual confusion became a pool of God’s mercy.

Every Wednesday night for two years, we met in the home of a well-known interior designer. Charlie, along with many of his friends, was riding the first popular wave of gay activity on the West Coast. But after the disco and drug-induced orgies, these men and women cried out for mercy.

The Vineyard Christian Fellowship had just sprung up on the west-side of town. Annette and I began to date while attending that church. At the urging of our pastor, who introduced us to Charlie, we began to gather in his home—worshipping Jesus with simple songs, exploring the truth of Jesus’ good will and purpose for the sexually-broken, and praying for each other.

God’s healing presence became greater than our shame and addictions.

Together, we discovered mercy: the transforming power of Jesus loosed through the advocacy of His community.

As He did to the Samaritan woman, Jesus met each one with ‘living water’. He challenged our defenses and fear of real intimacy. He freed us to confess our sin, the truth that in grasping after others we had forsaken Him, the spring of living water, and had dug our own wells, broken wells unable to hold water. (Jer. 2:13)

He began to heal us; we agreed with Him that we were valuable men and women whom He had created to contain and manifest His goodness. We were vessels of honor who He taught to honor one another genuinely, with our clothes on, our hearts intent on growing into maturity. Annette and I married after the first year of this group, and many in our large wedding party were its members.

We did not know in 1980 that the HIV virus was prowling through parties and discos, seeking to devour the unrestrained. AIDS had no name then; it succeeded to destroy many, including Charlie. He died with dignity: sober, sanctified, ready for home.

God wanted mercy, not judgment. (James 2:13) He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ez. 18: 32), and so He liberated ‘living water’ from the desert ground of a people intent on their own destruction.

He suffered and died to lay claim to that desert. He rose again to transform that desert into a place of life, health, and peace for them.

Living Waters is the essence of Christ Crucified and Raised—the river that makes all things new. ‘Where that river flows, everything shall live…’ (Ex. 47:9)

What a privilege to gather in West Hollywood at the onset of Desert Stream Ministries and what became the Living Waters program. What a privilege to be one of Jesus’ answers to the cry for mercy.

‘The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.’

(Is. 41:17, 18)

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Unholy Week? Crucifying Christ Afresh through ‘ Gay Marriage ’

On the week that centers on Christ Crucified for millions around the globe, the USA has acted in a most unholy manner. Palm Sunday to Good Friday was marked by daily advances of ‘gay marriage’ forces in our land. Our Bridegroom King, whose very image is manifest in male and female, and who is returning for a Bride, spotless and true, is being crucified afresh.

Consider this:

I read on Palm Sunday that Iowa’s unanimous Supreme Court decision to legalize ‘gay marriage’ deliberately excluded any ‘religious’ interference. According to the justice who wrote the Iowa decision, the Judeo-Christian structures on which our entire judicial system is built should no longer inform marriage. Left in the hands of secular servants, marriage mutates.
We crucify Christ afresh.

On Monday, Rick Warren, arguably the most influential Christian leader in the USA, said on national TV that he never really supported a ban on ‘gay marriage’ in CA. (He clearly had and did.) He claims that he called all of his gay friends and apologized for any perceived support of the ban, underscoring that he has ‘never been and never will be an anti-gay marriage activist.’ Deceiving, confusing, political back-pedaling: Warren is rewriting history and has bought the lie that to support marriage is ‘ant-gay’. And he is backing off entirely from standing for marriage when it is most in peril.
We crucify Christ afresh.

On Tuesday, Vermont became the first state in the union to allow same-sex marriage through legislative action instead of a court ruling. That empowers nine other legislatures that are considering marriage measures this year, including New York, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire. Activists in New England are unashamed to admit that they are choosing states where organized religious opposition is the weakest. We are now aware and without excuse: there is a systematic, targeted effort to establish a same-sex marriage stronghold in the Northeast.
We crucify Christ afresh.

On Wednesday, I read of Obama’s appointment of a gay political activist and ‘Christian’ to his advisory board for ‘Faith-based Partnerships.’ The appointee, Harry Knox, was previously head of Religion and Faith for the biggest gay advocacy group in the nation (the Human Rights Campaign), and has been instrumental in reinterpreting scripture in a gay-affirming manner for churches throughout the USA.
We crucify Christ afresh.

By Maundy Thursday, I was beat up. I needed my feet washed from the idolatrous ground of my nation; I was hungry for Jesus and I partook of Him heartily at the communion table that night.

As we gathered for Good Friday as a church, I looked around the body and saw Gideon’s army, a humble band of men and women whom the Crucified has rescued from the idolatry of this world: husbands and wives, singles, old and young, heterosexually and homosexually broken and yet being made new, ‘an army whose weaknesses are being turned to strength and who are becoming powerful in battle, able to route foreign armies.’ (Heb. 11: 34)

I felt hope. Isn’t that what Good Friday is all about? In the darkest hour, at the time when men extinguish the light, God prepares the most glorious expression of His light. N.T. Wright says: ‘The cross is not the world’s victory over Jesus, but Jesus’ victory over the world.’

Jesus death is the ground on which resurrection power is manifest. So is our surrender to His purposes. Let man’s efforts to crucify Christ afresh through ‘gay marriage’ have its perfect work. Raise from the dead a Gideon’s army, O God. Let a repentant, empowered people arise.

Let us arise out of fear or intimidation of the dark powers. Let us hold fast to Him as the One who makes a way for us to make Him known. We do so by upholding His image in humanity and by refusing all efforts, however winsome, to distort that image.

Marriage matters. It represents Christ on earth more clearly than any other relationship. While we have the light, let us live with integrity what it means to bear His image and insist on its clear representation in the land. We cannot afford to be unclear or uncommitted towards marriage in this perilous hour.

We do so in and through Him, His resurrection power rooted in our very weakness. May we emerge out of this dismal winter of ‘gay marriage’ advances and into the spring of upholding God’s design for all. Consider man for woman, woman for man—the awesome dance of masculine strength and feminine beauty. It’s worth fighting for.

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