Category: Mercy and Healing

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

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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Merciful Exposure

The Fuller years were demanding and fruitful. We pushed ourselves hard. Departing from ‘student housing’ in Pasadena, Annette and I ventured throughout the Los Angeles area with shovels in hand, digging ditches. We trusted God to fill them with mercy, His streams of healing for a dry and weary land.

On top of our ditch-digging we were on the pastoral team of the Vineyard Westside, and leaders in Exodus International. I was also developing the Living Waters program, and what became my first book, ‘Pursuing Sexual Wholeness.’

Then came the children. Over the course of our time at Fuller, Annette and I had Gregory and Nick, and became pregnant with Katie. I really don’t know how we did it.

A driven man? An amazing wife? A complete lack of judgment? The grace of God? All of the above. Lord, have mercy.

He did, but our action-packed decade was not without negative consequences. Annette and I faced some heavy pressures on our marriage, and I found myself returning to pornography as a way of escaping the pressure. (It was of the mild, non-virtual variety but porn nevertheless.)

Having been clean for years, I was alarmed by the power of its draw. I would cruise the streets for newsstands and liquor stores, any place with magazines. It was shameful and compulsive. Pursuing sexual idols competed with ‘Pursuing Sexual Wholeness…’

Gratefully, Annette and I were part of a ‘covenant group’ with about 8 others, including our pastor, to whom we would pour out our hearts weekly. That was the group instrumental to healing Annette’s abuse. Now I needed healing, but I knew it could only come through being absolutely honest about my bad behavior.

That was humbling. To confess sin once, OK. But over and over? Yet each time I did, I received mercy. And the truthful insight of people who were holy, who had been around the block, and who knew how to wait and listen to what God was saying—wow, I received mercy and it set me free.

God’s mercy set me free through His body. I learned yet again that connecting with God, friends and spouse is vastly superior to relying upon graven images.

The group actually exposed two other important needs. Like any good small group, it had the wisdom to know it could not meet those needs.

The first involved my personal need for in-depth counseling. The weight of my calling, bouts of intense sexual temptation, and unfinished business with my father, necessitated my reliance upon a good Christian therapist.

At first I worked hard to avoid the searchlight of the therapist’s expertise. I finally relented (it’s expensive!), and accepted some core areas of pain, need, and wounding. To this day, I surrender these areas to God and others; I have learned to receive and extend mercy there.

Finally, our small group encouraged Annette and I to get marital therapy. Our lives together were weighty, and we needed to learn how to connect as a couple in light of our ever-changing family. That was good and hard—hard, because I had to face the way I would dodge the truth of Annette’s real need for me, and the way she would allow me to do that!

More exposure, more mercy–more of God’s grace released upon our lives together. He provided for us. What we learned in that season we still practice.

God exposes us to give us mercy. He prefers to give mercy to us in our weakness. Yet we must do our part and offer our weaknesses to Him through His church. When we don’t, we risk the judgment of being exposed in the public square, mercilessly.

‘Confess your sins and faults, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.’
(James 5:16)

‘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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