Category: Mercy and Healing

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Mercy Street

Although most of the healing and care-giving we did was behind closed doors, the waters levels rose and poured out onto the streets.

The mercy could not be limited to the church; as Ezekiel prophesied (Ez. 47), the temple waters rose from our church, the Vineyard Westside and flowed eastward onto Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, the center of the gay scene in LA.

Charlie’s house, where our first group met for a couple of years, was right off the Blvd. It was thus an easy point of departure for evangelism. My main comrade in such ‘water-bearing’ was Jim, a group member who had been the manager of Studio One—the most upscale gay bar on the Boulevard.

Jesus had captured Jim’s heart; having lost his job, he wanted only to spend his time helping others discover the power of mercy over idolatry. What a friend we had found in Jesus; what a gift to now partner together to bring Jesus to the Samaritans on the street who had ears to hear.

To be honest, most did not. The streets were full of people who had come from conservative parts of the country to cast off restraint in this pagan wonderland. They were there to worship sexy idols or to be the object of that worship themselves.

Hearts darkened by sin usually do not respond kindly to reminders of the religion they left behind.

Jim and I got used to hostile responses. The sleek and the strong tended to have their reward on the Blvd, so we would look for those on the outside, peering in but not finding a place there.

One young man had ears to hear. He had run away from the Midwest a year before, and was soon addicted to drugs and the prostitution his habit demanded. He was used up–genuinely hungry and thirsty. As we told him of the real drink and real meal Jesus had shown us in our brokenness, he wept.

He prayed to receive the God he remembered as a child but needed to know now—the God who rescues us from the mess we made as adults, far from home.

After an hour or so of praying and talking, we felt at a loss. Where then? The streets would soon swallow up the victory our new friend was seeking in Christ. I remembered a Christian half-way house for runaways somewhere off Hollywood Blvd.; we thus walked a few blocks in search of it.

We found it, and our friend was readily admitted. At midnight! He continued there until he was strong enough to take another step in his recovery elsewhere.

God reminded Jim and me that He had rescued us for a reason—to participate in the rescue of other lives, and to help set their feet on solid ground.

‘And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it…But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.’ (Is. 35:8-10)

‘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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Messy Mercy

Annette and I did not quite know what we had signed up for in those first two years at Desert Stream at Charlie’s. We were willing, and naïve. The saints and saints-to-be were often as willing as they were rebellious and overwhelmingly needy.

Mercy took on new meaning in the desert where we were digging for water.

I remember one man, a friend of Charlie’s, who came to the meeting wearing nothing more than a pair of tight leather pants. At the break, I asked him kindly if he might put on a shirt for the rest of the meeting. Offended, he raced out of the house, and was promptly followed by a band of codependent attendees who tried to assuage his hurt feelings. We lost several men that night when I informed them that this was a meeting designed to overcome same-sex attraction, not fuel it.

Boundaries became a big issue. One day, just before Annette and I were married, I dropped in on a man I was grooming for leadership. He did not answer the door. I let myself in, only to discover him sleeping in bed with an attendee! Shocked, I roused them both and confronted them. The ‘leader-to-be’ was genuinely surprised at my concern: ‘We weren’t doing anything, just holding each other…’

Perhaps you could say he needed a little more training.

God gave us mercy to establish boundaries and to persevere until a handful were willing to abide by them. That gave us a little team that we could work with; we needed a team because of the profound needs in the group.

One woman, a runaway in Hollywood, was just recovering from a drug addiction that led to prostitution. She was as sweet as she was unstable. One meeting she came with her arm in a cast and said she had hurt it. The next day, she called me and confessed that actually she had shot peanut butter into arm in a desperate bid for a ‘high’, and that her arm ‘looked funny, was turning brownish green.’

Mobilizing a friend from the group, we rushed her to UCLA Medical Center where they diagnosed her arm as nearly dead, in danger of amputation. I had to use my insurance coverage to get her into the system. More than that, I was in finals and had to forego my study schedule to help get her settled in the hospital. Her arm was saved. We learned something about the cost of mercy.

Juan was among the Mexican-Americans to join us in West Hollywood. He lived in East Los Angeles and grew up with older brothers in gangs. He was the youngest and smallest (he was small-built to begin with) of a large family; one older gang member repeatedly sought Juan out for sex. The last time it happened, the abuser knifed Juan within minutes of his life. The demoniac saw in Juan a reflection of his own shame and tried to rid himself of shame by killing Juan.

By God’s mercy, Juan survived; our group helped him recover and start a new life.

Ricardo had attempted suicide as a result of feeling that he was a girl trapped in a man’s body. A Christian psychiatrist who was treating him called us and asked if we could help him. What could we do? All we had was a merciful community, and truth (we loved him as Ricardo, not his female persona). He had never really accepted or loved by any group. He became a Christian, laid down his plans to become a woman, and decided to grow in Christ with us.

God entrusted us with His mercy. In the desert of sexual and relational brokenness, we dug a little deeper with each one God entrusted to us. God brought the increase, making the burning sand 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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Currents of Mercy

Three persons—three distinct currents of mercy—poured into Annette and I and became foundational to how we loved and served. Without them, our offering of mercy would not have been realized. Period. Each of us depends on human sources of God’s mercy to find life in the desert. These ones were Jesus’ agents for us. They helped transform our burning sand into pools.

John Wimber was a pastor, church planter, and founder of the Vineyard Church Movement. God gifted him to release His Kingdom. That meant helping others to discover the rule and reign of God in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. He did so in a low-key manner, humbly, as if we all could invite others into God’s rule and reign.

We followed his example. Annette and I began to listen to God and prayerfully did what He asked us to do on behalf of hurting people. But first we needed to receive that Kingdom service.

Annette was hurting. She had a chronic skin problem, one exacerbated by stress. Our pastor Kenn had invited John to do some weekly healing services in Los Angeles; we had heard through the grapevine that John had requested an ‘Annette’ to receive healing at one such service. (Obviously, we weren’t there.)

Annette did not want to go to the special service. Together, we were getting our feet wet in the sweet mercy of the first Vineyard church that Kenn had started. Annette could handle its mild charismatic flow—she resisted getting dunked in some Pentecostal spectacle. I urged her to go, and she relented with many reservations. We drove in silent tension to the meeting.

Santa Monica Blvd. was crowded—no parking for Annette’s ’72 Plymouth Voyager. In frustration, I swerved into a lot going the wrong way; its spikes punctured two tires, and Annette burst into tears. Gratefully, a friend was walking by to go to the service. She led my sobbing beauty into the service.

While I managed to get the car to the gas station (don’t ask me how), John reiterated his word for an ‘Annette’ and her skin condition; she sheepishly went forward, the Holy Spirit fell on her as several prayed, and she was healed.

God’s powerful mercy made her a believer in the Kingdom.

Around this time, I discovered Leanne Payne and her second book, The Broken Image. It changed my life. Leanne took the power of God’s Kingdom—His healing presence—and applied it to the deep divides within the human soul, especially fractures related to gender and sexuality. She thus made healing prayer normative for the sexually broken—she released mercy into the nuances of our disordered affections. Annette and I began an enduring relationship with Leanne that will always be seminal to how we understand the mercy of God.

Yet neither expression of mercy—John’s nor Leanne’s—would have been able to anchor itself in our lives and service had it not been for Kenn Gulliksen and his wife Joannie. They came to Los Angeles to plant a church that welcomed outcasts and the power of mercy to restore them. As both pastored us in the first few years of our lives together, Annette and I were equipped and envisioned to administer mercy to the sexually broken.

Their church become ours, and could not have been a more solid context in which to welcome John’s witness of powerful mercy, and apply that mercy, as Leanne taught us, to wounded lives. Keen asked me to share my story before the church, which had mushroomed to 2,000 people–most new converts with a lot of sexual baggage.

Mercy flowed from my story and the healing prayers that followed. At Kenn’s urging, Annette and I determined to start a group in nearby West Hollywood. Desert Stream was born.

‘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 Intimacy

Around this time I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean. Amid a winter storm, my pastor dunked me into the waters, and counted the old man dead. I arose with Christ into new life.

It was timely. I needed to know that something really had changed beyond my subjective experience—how what Jesus did in entering those waters Himself and emerging out of them as the Beloved Son had relevance to me.

Jesus’ baptism was unto death; His dunking foreshadowed Crucifixion. Similarly, His emergence into the fullness of the Father’s blessing—the confirmation of His Sonship through the infilling of the Holy Spirit—foresaw His Resurrection.

He invites us to follow His lead. Our own baptism liberates us to surrender the old self unto death and to live out of the Father’s favor. It is the objective basis for our freedom to declare: I am no longer mastered by sin but by the Father’s blessing upon the good son He sees in me.

Through baptism, I began to realize that the power of righteousness had become greater in me than the power of sin! His Spirit reminded me of that constantly. Out of the true self, I could decisively say ‘no’ to sin. Sin ceased to be my center; the Father’s favor upon me was.

You know what that meant? I was good! Mercy had broken the grip of living out of the grasping, readily deceived old self. United with Christ, following His example, I thus had authority to refuse the enemy’s temptations in the desert.

More than that, I had water to give others. I had a gift to give out of my goodness as a man. Around this time, I discovered more of what this goodness was.

While still a student, I started working at a Christian bookstore that emphasized theological study. I discovered the great Dr. Karl Barth there, and his emphasis on what it means to be made in God’s image: male and female. It gave form and depth to my understanding that I was in truth a part of God’s heterosexual creation (with some peculiar flaws, of course!).

More than that, I was under the Father’s favor and mandate to work out my salvation in relation to women—not as mere ‘buddies’ but in the tension and attraction of our differences from each other.

I had to learn to offer myself emotionally to His daughters, and maybe, if it be His will, to one in the form of an exclusive union. That’s what it meant to be true to the Father. And that was possible because sin was no longer my center. I had heterosexual goodness to give. And out of that goodness, I could face my weaknesses without being mastered by them.

His favor on my life freed me to believe for more. I was a good gift. I began to desire to offer that very imperfect gift to a woman.

This seemed to be a dangerous mercy—full of threats and uncertainties. Was I deceiving myself? The woman who trained me for the bookstore job wanted to know. We became good friends on the job, and I really liked her. She was smart, fun, and began to become more and more attractive to me.

We talked about our broken pasts and the false selves we had invested in. We gave a lot of mercy to each other. We saw something in one another that was greater than our shameful confessions. We fell in love with one another’s true self, gracefully revealed. That woman is now my wife of 29 years, Annette.

We continue daily to extend mercy to one another. The Father showed us His favor and still delights in the love we extend to one another. For both of us, marital love is the first-fruit of His mercy toward us. We endure the desert portions of our lives together. What a gift.

‘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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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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