Category: Mercy and Healing

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

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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A ‘Fuller’ Mercy

Throughout the eighties, Fuller Theological Seminary helped us to establish a sure foundation for our offering of mercy. (I was a student there studying for a Masters of Divinity, and to become a Marriage and Family Therapist.)

Three recollections: my most demanding and fruitful course, ‘Theological Anthropology’ taught by Dr. Ray Anderson, probed the depth of what it meant to bear God’s image as male and female—it so resonated with my calling to restore that image through the blood of Christ and the love of His community that I broke down during one study session. (Gratefully, I was alone at home.)

Maybe it was the pressure I was under, maybe it was the Spirit, or maybe the convergence of exquisite theology and the profound pastoral needs we faced outside of the classroom. Anyway, I dropped the book I was outlining, fell to my knees, and could not stop sobbing. I knew my calling: to raise high the power of the cross to restore the beauty of God’s image in humanity–man for woman, woman for man.

Such theological and vocational clarity was matched by pervasive unbelief on campus as to whether homosexuals could change. I led with my testimony, which invited arguably the most influential professor on campus to inquire of me (rather snidely) in the hallway one day: ‘When are you going to go back into the gay lifestyle?’

Such comments refined me and made me quick to testify when necessary. Questions of gay ordination and blessing were brewing big time in Protestant denominations, and Fuller, as a ‘progressive’ evangelical institution, was on the front-lines of the debate.

Somehow I knew what was at stake: the biblical witness of God’s image in humanity, and the transforming power of Christ Crucified and Raised. In bowing before gay activists, I knew that Christians ran the risk of losing the Gospel entirely.

One morning while immersed in learning Greek, I overheard a conversation in the next classroom as to whether gays could actually change, and if in fact they were just a different people group, then why should not we give them full rights and privileges in our churches?

I dodged Greek and went next door to listen and to impart the truth of what Jesus can do in the lives of homosexuals (like me!), and why He wants to do it for the sake of His image in humanity and church. No-one said a word. In truth, no-one in that class (Sexual Ethics, I believe) really knew anyone actually facing the conflict of same-sex attraction.

They were being seduced: into a false understanding of homosexuality (an inborn condition, like ethnicity), into a false compassion (we must have mercy on them as an oppressed people group) and into a false justice (we must give them full rights of ordination, marriage, etc.)

I then understood that the healing of the homosexual would always be a central point in illuminating the bigger issue of God’s image, and the power of the merciful Bridegroom and Bride to restore it.

I see clearly God’s hand of mercy in leading me to Fuller. There He equipped and refined me through myriad opportunities to know and live the truth. Without the truth, mercy has no meaning. Only upon the age-old foundations does God pour out His restoring love.

‘The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land, and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins, and raise up the age-old foundations.’ (Is 58: 11, 12)

‘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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Mercy For All

The first few years of Desert Stream had been defined by same-sex strugglers; that began to change as the word got out that men and women were digging a deep well of mercy in West Hollywood.

Three particular groups of people broadened the scope of our offering. The contribution influenced the formation of the ‘Living Waters’ program.

The first group was sexually addicted men. At that point, no one used such language (the term ‘sexual addiction’ was first coined in 1984). Yet so many men in our fellowship and in the greater Los Angeles area were bound to compulsive sexual sin. They could get off drugs and booze in 12-step programs but failed to find a safe context to work out their sexual problems.

They found a safe place with us. And they made the group a lot healthier for the guys who would readily develop immature bonds with other same-sex strugglers. We welcomed traditional idolaters! Their very presence pulled up the dividing wall that created the false categorization of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’; in truth, we were all bearers of God’s image, seeking to overcome barriers to whole heterosexual relating.

The second group was victims of childhood sexual abuse. Annette led the way here. She had been violently abused as a 4-year-old girl. In the first years of our marriage, she realized that she needed some serious healing for its effects.

Through a good therapist and a small prayer team of friends, including myself, Annette experienced significant healing that opened closed doors in her heart—entries to God and the merciful care of others. The healing process was a crucial, life-changing part of her following Jesus.

Our groups began to include the abused. One woman who for years had been molested by a neighbor sat alongside a man who had abused a girl years before; he admitted his sin but downplayed the impact it had on the kids. (He had already served time in prison).

Fighting tears, she turned to him and simply said that he had no idea of the devastation he had wrought. ‘The girl you abused will bear the mark of your perversion all her days’, she said quietly.

The man broke and both perpetrator and victim wept together. She invited the man into a deeper reckoning with his sin; he asked her forgiveness for his dullness. Through His mercy, Jesus removed another layer of shame and perversion from her. God was pulling up dividing walls.

The third group were family and friends of the sexually broken—those devastated by the sin of others. Annette ran a group for wives of sexually-broken men for the first ten years of Desert Stream. As these women began to get the help they needed, it became clear that they had relational problems too, ones that preceded their husband’s infidelity.

Our early versions of ‘Living Waters’ thus began to include men and women in need of personal healing in order to make good their vows to each other.

God was expanding the boundaries of our groups to include the breadth of His broken ones. He longed to extend mercy to all in need.

Mercy flowed from the cross, and established level ground in which ‘gay and straight’, husband and wife, victim and perpetrator, could find healing. Jesus in truth had become ‘our peace, having destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility’ that separated us, so that ‘in this one body He might reconcile both parties to the Father through His merciful work on the cross.’ (Eph. 2: 14-16)

‘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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Eyes of Mercy

Annette is an amazing woman. She partnered with me faithfully in these first years of Desert Stream. She endured the threat of men who shared my vulnerability while imparting wisdom to a fragile new work.

Yet she resented it. Desert Stream was a far cry from the life she had envisioned for herself. She wanted to be married to a basketball player, or if a religious leader, a Presbyterian pastor (her childhood denom.) who had a heart for basketball players. Little consolation I was.

Deeper still, she had been raised in a household where the recurring crisis revolved around her older brother, a practicing homosexual and substance abuser. Her memories of homosexuality were not warmly sentimental.

Some of the men we served at Desert Stream triggered what she had been subject to as a child and teen: crisis phone calls, distraught parents, a much older sib whose immaturity demanded that she become ‘bigger’ than he was.

Her eyes could not help but see some of our members through the lens of her own wounding and resentment.

God did what only He could do through His spirit of mercy. During one meeting, Annette felt unusually cut off: ‘What am I doing here in this gathering of losers?’ She thought. As the men and women recounted their struggles and failures, she secretly prided herself that she had never committed any of their sins, never even come close.

The Holy Spirit of mercy fell on her in the extended time of closing prayer. God instructed her to open her eyes and look carefully at the 11 people gathered around her. ‘Look at their lives, each one of them, and know that the blood I shed for each is the same mercy that I have given you, over and over and over.’

That mercy poured over Annette like rain from a summer storm; eyes closed, she received memories of what God had done for her, a ‘traditional’ sinner. That mercy broke the power of her judgments against the ‘exotic’ ones around her.

When she looked up and out again, she felt a kind of love for those around her that she had never experienced. She saw friends, not clients. Through a revelation of mercy, she began to accept herself as one of these fellow pilgrims, as reliant upon the slain Lamb as they were in order to reach the City of God.

From that point on, Annette began to grow in her understanding and offering of mercy. It staggers me: her eyes can now see others out of a depth of mercy that shames my mild judgments. Glory to the Lamb.

‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ (Lk 6:36, 38)

‘When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’ (Matt. 9:36)

‘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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