Category: Mercy and Healing

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

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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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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