Category: Sexual Brokenness

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Mercy for the Sinner

I met Benjie Cruz at the onset of our first trip to the Philippines. Virmi, our gracious host, had arranged for him to be our liaison as we prepared for our first conference in Manila.

Like our advances in any new country, particularly those lands where ‘religion’ tends to be very popular, I knew that the church establishment would applaud our efforts. From a distance.

Most church leaders would encourage obviously ‘broken ones’ to attend but would steer clear of our gathering themselves—they simply would not want to be identified as ‘sinners.’ They had too much at stake. The social benefits–a paid position and the respect for being a professional ‘holy one’–were not worth risking.

The truth was: many of the leaders were deeply divided due to adultery or porn addiction or same-sex attraction. But they were not ready to endure the shame for the joy set before them. Other leaders may not have been bound by obvious sin but rather by pride; they nourished a kind of self-satisfaction over their holiness—a recipe for pastoral disaster when it comes to tending to ‘real sinners’ in the local church.

Benjie was different. He led out with his weakness and sin.

He came and met us at the hotel. We as a team did what we normally do when we start the day together—we confessed our sin. Inevitably, a new environment and time-change is all the devil needs to stir up the flesh. I for one am all too quick to oblige him.

So we started with our offering of sin so we could end the prayer with gratitude for His amazing mercy towards us, we ‘the worst of sinners, in whom Jesus Christ displays His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and have eternal life.’ (1 Tim.1:16)

Benjie joined right in and offered God the substantial gift of his sin. He did so in our presence. He endured the shame for the sake of the truth: he knew that God was not surprised by his unconfessed sin. If we were, then so be it. He was in conflict, and he knew that the conflict would only be resolved through reckoning with the truth of sin, so that the greater truth of God’s mercy might rest upon him.

Benjie was still young in his process of restoration as a sexual sinner. He was still making some hard choices about how and with whom to work out a long history of homosexuality. A real sinner was in our midst seeking real mercy for the burden of sin.

He did not try to look good. He wanted to be good. He endured the threat of our rejection in order to repent unto Jesus, to be made ready by mercy to serve us.

‘To some who were confident their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Lk 18: 9-14)

During that first conference, God gave me a glimpse that one day Benjie would be the lead ‘ditch digger’ for Living Waters in his nation. He did an internship with us in CA a couple of years later. Along with his wife and son, Benjie is now the leader of Living Waters in the Philippines.

‘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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Opening Doors and Floodgates

London, where the waters of mercy had sprung up for me years earlier, became deep ground for Living Waters. Jonathan Hunter and I took one of our first international ministry trips there: we teamed up with new friends Reverend Christopher and Lisa Guinness who eventually became the Living Waters leaders for the UK. We met with other pastors, and took prayer walks throughout the city. (Two years later, London hosted the first Living Waters training outside the USA.)

We had received a word that God was going to open ancient doors for us in the UK; our prayer became: ‘King of Glory, manifest Yourself in Your English Church as the Healer of the sexually broken.’ (PS 24:7) ‘Lift up your heads!’ rang in our hearts as we entered St. Paul’s Cathedral at the center London.

While exploring the church, I spoke with one of the vicars of the pastoral work Jonathan and I were doing with the sexually broken, the HIV-infected, etc. A few minutes later, he took me by the hand and led me to a narrow spiral of stairs ascending to the preacher’s podium. He instructed me quietly to please lead the church in the noon prayer time.

I did as I was told. From another corner of the church, Jonathan ‘lifted up his head’, saw me, and almost blew a gasket. I gesticulated my bewilderment to him, and found my voice long enough to stammer a very ‘California’ prayer: ‘We love You Lord; we just want to thank you God for Your mercy today God…’

God was opening doors in His church. He was commissioning ‘ditch-diggers’ like Jonathan and I to find great people like the Guinness’ who might dig with us. God was intent on making a clear way for broken ones to be set free from bondage, for the healing of others.

Our next stop was Amsterdam. Our first host in Holland was YWAM, a young adult mission group centered in the Red Light District of that city. I was amazed by this land reclaimed from the sea, and its complex network of canals, dikes, and dams.

The city was a marvel of engineering, and a magnet for those intent on diminishing God’s image in humanity through all manner of perversion. It was clear to me that we were asking God to engineer a marvel of His cleansing love–right there in the city, where it was most needed.

I recall a deep weariness during one of the 5 trips I made to Amsterdam in that early season of digging. The charm of old Europe had morphed into a grimy bulwark of unbelief. I did not feel ’marvelous’, just tired of the perversion on every side–the depth of wounding and ‘darkness’ all around me–even in the Christians we were equipping.

I would go running in the dark every morning along the canals and other waterworks. On one such morning, I felt especially hopeless, seized with the immensity of the task and my own limits as a weak man.

An old man, a sailor, came out from nowhere and began to run slightly ahead of me, laughing and urging me onward. I picked up the pace but could not match his; he laughed a bit more, reached back and gently touched my shoulder then disappeared in front of me. I kept running, thoroughly renewed by my strange running partner.

An angel? Or a mere man disappearing into the fog? No matter: God was helping us to go the distance—to open ancient doors and release floodgates of His merciful, cleansing love.

‘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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Desert Stream

Every Wednesday night for two years, we met in the home of a well-known interior designer. Charlie, along with many of his friends, was riding the first popular wave of gay activity on the West Coast. But after the disco and drug-induced orgies, these men and women cried out for mercy.

Our pastor, Kenn, had introduced us to Charlie, a new convert at our burgeoning Vineyard Church. Annette and I would drive down Wilshire in her Voyager, with varying degrees of tension between us; we were as anxious each week as we were expectant of the Kingdom.

In Charlies’ exquisite home, we would worship Jesus with simple songs, explore the truth of Jesus’ good will and purpose for the sexually-broken, and pray for each other, that God’s merciful Kingdom would come to each as (s)he had need.

God’s healing presence became greater than our shame and addictions.
Together, we discovered mercy: the transforming power of Jesus loosed through the advocacy of His community.

As He did to the Samaritan woman, Jesus met each one with ‘living water’. He challenged our defenses and fear of real intimacy. He freed us to confess our sin, the truth that in grasping after others we had forsaken Him, the spring of living water, and had dug our own wells, broken wells unable to hold water. (Jer. 2:13)

He began to heal us; we agreed with Him that we were valuable men and women whom He had created to contain and manifest His goodness. We were vessels of honor who He taught to honor one another genuinely, with our clothes on, our hearts intent on growing into maturity. Annette and I married after the first year of this group, and many in our large wedding party were its members.

We did not know in 1980 that the HIV virus was prowling through parties and discos, seeking to devour the unrestrained. AIDS had no name then; it succeeded to destroy many, including Charlie. He died with dignity: sober, sanctified, ready for home.

God wanted mercy, not judgment. (James 2:13) He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ez. 18: 32), and so He liberated ‘living water’ from the desert ground of a people intent on their own destruction.

He suffered and died to lay claim to that desert. He rose again to transform that desert into a place of life, health, and peace for them.

The ‘living water’ we discovered in the desert of West Hollywood is the essence of Christ Crucified and Raised—the river that makes all things new. ‘Where that river flows, everything shall live…’ (Ex. 47:9)

What a privilege to gather in West Hollywood at the onset of Desert Stream Ministries and what became the Living Waters program. What a privilege to be one of Jesus’ answers to the cry for mercy.

‘The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.’
(Is. 41:17, 18)

‘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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Reflection 3

What is your desert? It could be several things: harsh and severe circumstances, or personal distress–physical, emotional, or moral. Maybe you are wrestling with heightened sexual temptation, or the temptation to hate yourself or another due to a conflicted relationship.

You are probably discovering that there is a link between external hardships and personal distress. In other words, fragile areas in the soul get inflamed by severe circumstances outside of you.

That can also occur when we, Lenten-style, give up certain things that have satisfied or diverted us. Some of you may be hungry due to a food fast of some kind; others may be a bit agitated by letting go of some media-fix. Without your computer or favorite show, you may feel empty, at a loss.

Whether the weakness is native to our humanity or imposed, we may find ourselves this Lent more vulnerable to the hardships outside of us, and thus more vulnerable to temptation.

Name your desert. We all face familiar weakness that can become the ground of the enemy’s temptation. Maybe his voice goes something like this: ‘God isn’t healing you; worship me and sexy idols instead!’

The good news about the desert areas of our lives? God has gone before us. According to Scripture, Jesus faced and refused the seductions of the enemy. In so doing, He sent the evil one out of the desert. He made the burning sand a pool of mercy.

He in His humanity showed weak ones like us the way in which we can endure and overcome temptation, without sin! He gives us His mercy and His truth as the basis for our life in the desert. That must involve looking to Him in our desert moments.

Self-denial means not denying the struggle but rather in the struggle looking to Him and saying: ‘He has gone before us; let us look only to Him who has vanquished the evil one. Right here, right now, He has made a way in this wilderness and released water in this desert!’

That means thriving in, not merely surviving our often complex pairing of severe circumstance and inner weakness. In that way, we can say that Jesus has sanctified the desert; He has made it holy. He has turned the burning valley into a place of cool, pure water.

We are changed as we look to Him and find Him in our deserts.

A few years ago, my then 8-year-old son Sam and I went for a hike in the Mojave Desert. Our destination was ‘Angel Falls’, a small oasis two thousand feet up a rocky desert mountain. What we had not counted on was the trek through ‘Devil’s Canyon’ before the ascent.

The signs warned us: one urged us to carry 2 gallons of water (we had 8oz.), the other alerted us to the threat of mountain lions. Sam’s eyes were like saucers in a face increasingly red and troubled by the blistering sun. I urged him onward, secretly praying I was not endangering him!

We hiked for a good hour in the valley, our uneasy silence broken only by my faltering assurance that it was going to get better. At the end of the canyon were a series of huge boulders. They provided a good challenge for us both, as they had to be climbed to reach the falls! We began to scale the rocks with fresh enthusiasm. We noticed a few patches of green then some wildflowers.

We began to hear the sound of water. Now there was no stopping us. We climbed for another hour or so until we saw a miracle in the desert: a genuine oasis. The falls created a pool of water that fed a lush grove of palms and other desert fruit trees. We raced to the pool, threw ourselves in and just enjoyed the cool water and shade. We had not endured ‘Devil’s Canyon’ for nothing. We endured for the beauty of life in the desert.

Jesus makes the burning sand a spring of water. He endured the desert for the joy set before Him, a foretaste of the death He would die unto resurrection. So too we can take courage as we endure our small temptations, our little crosses. We too persevere for the joy set before us. He intends to lead us into the greater life He has claimed for us in the desert.

‘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 Cesaer what is Cesaer’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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Reflection 2

Jesus’ 40 days in the desert came immediately after His baptism. Filled with the Spirit, just named by the Father as His beloved Son, Jesus was ready to endure the weakness of fasting. Taken his advantage, as he always does with the weak, Satan made three efforts to tempt Jesus into satisfying His hunger falsely.

Jesus faced two hardships–weakness from hunger and the impact of a severe environment. The desert can be cruel. It offers little respite from heat and thirst. Jesus’ hunger and thirst, combined with the severity of desert solitude, intensified His weakness.

Yet the Son remained spiritually acute and clear. He allowed the empty stomach and barren landscape to tune his spiritual eyes and ears. Jesus partook of the Father’s Word. Alive to unseen realities, Jesus might have heard the underground stream and waited for its surfacing. Already He was expecting the burning sand to become a pool. Jesus was ready for temptation.

No respecter of persons, Satan preyed upon Jesus’ perceived weakness three times. The first two temptations had to do with the enemy luring Jesus into proving Himself, the first by turning the desert stones into bread. That of course hooked into Jesus’ physical hunger.

Jesus responded by naming His main gluten-free meal—the Father’s Word. Alive to that Word which both confirms and feeds His personhood, Jesus busted the enemy’s scheme wide open. It’s as if He said: ‘Only the Father can feed me with food that lasts; only His Word validates me as the Beloved.’

Jesus knew the power of the Father’s validating Word over any miracle or meal. Similarly, He refused the second temptation to hurl Himself down and stay intact as the basis for His divinity. Again, Jesus knew such a test was wrong; His divinity needed no such validation. He had it, the Father confirmed it, and that was that.

Against the barren desert wilderness, the enemy offered Jesus his sexy kingdom—a world splendid and exotic, sensual, visually-stunning, enticing—a world married to man’s pride and vanity. (1Jn 2:16)

All Satan wanted in exchange for his realm was a little worship. Jesus knew the cost of such idolatry. He knew that friendship with sexy idols meant hatred toward God the Father. (James 4:4) Even in weakness, Jesus’ devotion was sure—He bowed only to the Father who loved Him.

Declaring that worship and service belong solely to the living God, Jesus sends the deceiver away.

In so doing, Jesus clears a path in our deserts. We follow Him, as we are still learning to be sons and daughters who listen first and foremost to the Father’s validation. Especially in times of weakness and distress, when our worlds seem more barren than fruitful, we are subject to the desert, and its temptations.

Sadly, we in our weakness have often agreed with the enemy’s deception there.

How many times have we demanded that God perform a miracle and give us what we hunger for now, when He is simply asking us to hold fast to His Word that feeds us more profoundly than any other meal? How many times have in our insecurity compromised our worship to the One just to be stroked for a few moments by a sexy idol?

Truly we are the weak and hungry and poor, those still driven and derided by the enemy who claims to validate our souls only to curse them. Like our Savior who goes before us in the desert of temptation, we must learn to respond to God’s truth and so spring the trap set for us there.

More than anything, this is about listening to the truth and upholding the Father’s sure Word to us. Perhaps He would say to us this Lent: ‘Listen to my voice; in your hunger eat my Word, let me confirm your insecure humanity. And where you in your pride and vanity have bowed down to sexy idols, let me lift you up. Let me wash you clean and set you free from the ties that have bound you to evil.’

At times we have failed the test in our deserts. Greater still is His mercy.
Let Jesus make the burning sand in your life 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 Cesaer what is Cesaer’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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