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Taking the Land for Mercy

We landed in Caracas, Venezuela—the first of many advances in South America. The soil was rich for digging, and God’s merciful ones received us with open arms. Still we faced numerous obstacles to releasing Living Waters there.

Suitcases never arrived; flights were cancelled, and the buses we took instead landed us in the wrong destinations. During our first training, in the jungle above Caracas, I stretched my bed-sheets tight across my frame to prevent the small unidentified creatures scurrying across the floor from scurrying onto me!

These challenges revealed how easily deterred we were from doing our job when facing any number of road bumps. We had to get tougher. When the majority of the team got ill from the food, we had to press through. We had a training to do!

No one was spared from the privilege at hand—equipping the saints to release their fellow strugglers with God’s mercy.

During one conference, I stayed in the home of the host. Next store to his house was a corner vacant lot that was the home of a dozen wild dogs. My host promised me that just around that corner was a road that opened up to a beautiful wilderness and view of the city below.

As a runner, I wanted badly to explore the territory. But the dogs frightened me. Just my walking in and out of the host’s home provoked their fearsome growls. I either had to run through my fear or play it safe inside.

I wanted the beauty of the land! In fear and trembling, I suited up and ran around that corner. Fast. The pack chased me; I felt their breath on my legs. I ran faster, and they eventually gave up. On the way back, I found a stick. I did not intend to hit them but only to show them that I was not scared, and had no intention of altering my plans for them. (The ‘dog whisperer’ I am not…)

I asserted myself; I claimed my right to be there, with a growl and a flick of my ‘sword.’ They barked less and less each time I ran by them. I claimed that land as my own. I endured the threat of attack for advancing into the land.

And what a land—lush foliage, fruit resting upon polished green leaves, a diversity of trees and tropical plants and flowers that invited me deeper into the fragrant wilderness.

God gave us the land that He loved: a people who loved Jesus with their whole hearts and who were ready to go the distance—bearing with one another in love for mercy’s sake.

God changed me through these minor challenges. He was helping me to trust Him, to press through my fears. Beauty awaited me.

‘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 Cup of Cold Water

International travel takes a toll; normally good attitudes threaten to become foul under the strain of disorienting circumstances.

The cry for mercy matters here: ‘O God, show Your infinite patience to this sinner, this grumbler, that I may in turn show some measure of patience and mercy toward the needy in this land.’

He always answers our cry for mercy. It is a prayer that guarantees His gracious response.

I remember an unusually long trip to New Zealand in which we did conferences on both islands, poured ourselves out in a weeklong training then faced a crisis in national leadership toward the end of our time there. I sat with my colleagues in a cold damp motel room and whined.

My good friend comically mocked my grumbling. We laughed, we prayed for mercy; He gave us His power, and helped us to help the New Zealanders sort out the crisis at hand. He gave us mercy

During our first couple of trips to a new nation, our hosts would arrange media events—TV or radio interviews, mostly Christian, mostly annoying. (Keep in mind at this point I am inclined to whine…) These were usually scheduled before our training times—early in the morning or during meals. The scrappy, rather make-shift state of their operations made it worse.

I remember a South African TV interview in which everything went wrong, technically-speaking. It took twice as long, and I thought to myself: ‘What’s the point? We are preaching to the choir here, and a not very vital choir at that—Christian ‘shut-ins’ who are reduced to watching this drivel in the wee hours of the morning. This is a complete waste of time.’

Media darling that I am not, I finished up and forgot about it.

About a year later, I was ministering to a friend back in the USA, a well-known Christian leader who was dying of AIDS. Few knew that was his condition: he had a brief history of bisexual behavior a decade earlier, contacted the virus then, and when it threatened his life, decided to not make public the reason why.

Obviously, he combated significant shame as he fought for his life. He was a fine and virtuous man who so valued the few who knew the truth and who gave him mercy in it.

What he told me that day changed my view of Christian media. It seems that about 6 months earlier he was passing though South Africa on a ministry trip; he began to get ill for the first time, and stayed a couple of nights in an airport hotel to rest before the long flight home.

Apparently, the Christian TV station played my interview over those two days. Each time he saw it, he received a washing of the Lord’s mercy. My televised words gave him grace and courage to cast off shame and prepare for the battle at hand. He thanked me profusely for extending mercy to him in those crucial days.

A grumbling minister hands a fellow struggler a cup of cold water. In spite of the interior attitude of the messenger, the message of mercy goes forth. Our God is gracious, so intent on releasing mercy to His thirsty that He will use anyone to extend it. That’s the mercy of 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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A Global Gift

Toni Dolfo-Smith’s help to me in Germany was but a glimmer of what he offered to the global work of Living Waters. He has since come alongside of me to release Living Waters in humility and power; he is matchless in mercy.

I first met Toni 20 years ago at a Leanne Payne conference in Canada. I was on her team; he was curious. As a man vital in faith who had come out of homosexuality and recently married, he wanted to understand the ministry of ‘Living Waters’ and to benefit from it.

That conveys Toni’s humility. He is infinitely more gifted and well-rounded than me. As a young political activist, he fought apartheid in his native South Africa, then became a doctor of architecture (he taught at University), a seasoned businessman and trained therapist, not to mention a world-class painter, interior designer and florist. My former assistant Char rightly described Toni as a new ‘concept’ in human possibility. I alternate between weariness and envy in considering his many talents.

Try gratitude. Toni is worldly in the truest and best sense. It cost him. Satan led him out to the end of his earth and offered Toni everything. Toni chose the narrow way of Jesus: death unto real life, the kind of influence that only pure mercy can afford one. He makes my heart glad.

He slowly—one by one—released his grip on a variety of enterprises in order to dig ditches of Living Waters in Canada. God increased his measure. He helped me navigate the development of Living Waters in South Africa then took it over. He has come alongside of many to help release Living Waters on every continent; he now oversees the development of Living Waters in Asia.

Toni in his exotic good looks is perfect in appearance for the role. He is the ‘international man of mystery’—as Indonesian as he is Turkish, Mexican, or Brazilian. Airport immigration likes him; they ask him a lot of questions.

In his mercy-giving, Toni combines the wisdom of a learned man, the tenderness of a man humbled by weakness and grateful for healing, the creativity of a fine artist, and the drive of a disciplined achiever. I hope that God used Living Waters to help bring out the best in Toni; certainly He has given His best to Living Waters through Toni.

I do not know of one who had so much to give and yet who came alongside of me to serve and to learn. He worked really hard to trust me, even as I did the same.

I trust Toni. We work out hard things, and they get harder as he steps out more in the authority God has given him to release Living Waters. It is a blessed challenge—it has made me grow. It has made our global offering of mercy grow.

I trust him with the ‘water world’ God has entrusted to me.

Would you please agree with me: ‘Please God, bless Toni Dolfo-Smith (and wife Mardi plus kids Cal, Mackenzie, Dakota, and Garrison) as he has blessed me and countless others with the work of Living Waters. Pour out abundant mercy on them as they have given their lives for the sake of Your 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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Dancing in the Dark

In the expanding world of Living Waters, God’s mercy always took the form of my travelling partners: alongside of men like Kin Lancaster, and women like Sonja Stark (our first international coordinators), we were able to overcome cultural and spiritual hurdles to releasing water from the Rock, Christ’s beautiful, broken bride.

No solo efforts here. We became a united ‘body’ to serve the Body. All over the world.

Jet-lagged, facing crowds for whom our offering was all-new, usually offensive, and always emotionally draining, we relied upon each other. We exposed our own weaknesses to each other, so that God’s power might rest on us. He wanted our ministry of deep healing to be real, not a show; we wanted it too. The church had suffered too long from her unacknowledged sins and wounds.

Sonja came from Germany to help build the international expansion of Living Waters. One of our earliest and longest trips was a three week tour of her native land—from Munich to Hanover. Every day was a different ministry stop; we flew over the autobahn in a van then stopped to release ‘living waters’ in churches throughout the nation. Toni Dolfo-Smith and Susan Highleyman made up our foursome.

Our last stop was a castle in the middle of Germany. Weary yet invigorated by doing two-weeks of intensive ministry, we spent our last week there leading a Living Waters training.

The castle had become the center of an ‘ecumenical’ Christian community; we discovered that meant they believed in everything and nothing. Not helpful. The castle had been a Nazi hospital during WWII, and was perhaps the most spiritually oppressive site I had ever ministered in. I knew that if we did not stand firm in simple, Jesus-centered faith, we would not be able to stand at all (Is. 7:9)

The spirit of death usurped our strength and threatened to flatten our efforts. So we danced. At every worship set (led by the irrepressible Susan Highleyman), we would kick up our heels and overcome the spirit of heaviness with child-like praise and movement. We danced on the ground of oppression. In so doing, we reclaimed that ground for the Kingdom of Christ.

God gave us the grace of David in 2 Samuel 6:20-22 when he danced like a wild-man before the Lord and declared to those who accused him of vulgarity: ‘I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But I will be held in honor…’

We endured the shame for the joy set before us. Our joy? To witness the resurrection of our German friends, still living in the shadow of death. I spied one particularly morose nun looking from the sidelines then joining us in the dance. God turned her mourning into dancing.

We danced, we prayed, we taught, we fought in the Spirit. My beloved friend Toni D. roomed next to me and awoke to hear me screaming in my sleep (I recalled nothing.) Like the amazingly faithful man he was and is, Toni stayed up most of the night outside my door and simply interceded for me. That’s the kind of guy Toni is: an embodiment of God’s mercy.

That’s how we dug ditches of mercy throughout Europe. We did it together.
‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.’ (PS 12:3)

‘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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Finding the Way Home

One of the perils of my long distance running overseas is the threat of getting lost. No idle threat: I have been thoroughly disoriented in the great capitols of Europe (and beyond)–without map, address, or language with which to find a way ‘home’. I now recall amusedly what was then ‘panic in the streets’ of Helsinki, Rotterdam, Milan, Bergen, Munich, Copenhagen, and Brussels, to name a few.

Yet nothing compared to the panic I experienced in the forests of Fountainbleu—the hunting grounds of the French kings outside of Paris.

A little background: I had been invited to speak at the Exodus Europe conference there. I was particularly excited as Desert Stream had received a strong prophesy from a reliable source that ‘Living Waters’ would find its richest expression in the French-speaking world. This was my first ministry trip to France, and so I saw this opportunity as significant.

Before my first address, I became hopelessly lost—clueless—while running in a maze of forests. Quelle Horreur! There were no markers and worst yet, no people–the further I ran, the lonelier the landscape became.

I was terrified. Then I came upon an elderly French couple who were camping in a clearing amid a thick wood. They were startled by me, and I them. But fear gave way to joy as I realized that they might help me. I spoke broken French, they no English. He was a war vet with a wooden leg, she was arthritic and moved very slowly. They were as sweet as could be and volunteered to drive me to my destination whose name I did not know. (We were in a conference site somewhere in the forest…)

Wearing almost nothing, I sat in the back of a tiny, two-seat Citroen as my benefactors patiently traversed road after road with me. No luck. We ended up at a YMCA crammed with Ethiopians. No help. Time was running out for me—I was scheduled to speak in 30 minutes. Yet my friends were patient as could be—genuinely at ease.

Just then a woman walked by the YMCA whom I recognized from our conference. I asked her where it was: she beckoned us to follow here there. I hugged my new French guides as they dropped me off.

My talk that night reflected what God had taught me: we wander far from our spiritual home, so far that we lose peace, hope and even the language that might lead us back. We need guides. These elderly ones represented to me faithful guides in France, those in the church who love Jesus and who will go the distance with prodigals. They just need keys—tools of equipping that might help them help those like me who had been rendered homeless by sin, confusion and rebellion.

France needed ‘Living Waters’. God poured Himself out beautifully upon us in the forests of Fountainbleu. He gave us keys to be better guides for the lost; He gave us wisdom, language, mercy, and patience to help them find their way back home in Christ’s body.

A couple years later, God identified two amazing leaders in Paris for Living Waters: Werner and Charlotte Loertscher, who sponsored a large conference there. Most significant about that initial gathering (at the Church of St. Joan of Arc, no less!) were the dozens of pastors who wanted to know how to best guide the sexually broken in their churches. We gave then ‘Living Waters.’

Through His shepherds, God was answering the cries of the poor and needy for mercy. He was helping them to find the way home.

‘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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