Tag Archives: Kenn Gulliksen

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Reduced to Mercy

Kenn Gulliksen, my original pastor and founder of the Vineyard, once said: ‘When you’ve lost mercy, you’ve lost your calling as a Christian.’ He’s right. I tend to assess ‘mercy’ levels in my heart as a gauge of how I am doing as a Christian.

And God is always faithful to reduce me to mercy when I have majored on other things. He does this through suffering, through the slow boil of real life that tends to burn off extraneous things and distill what matters.

In cooking terms, a ‘reduction’ involves the intensifying or thickening of a liquid mixture through boiling it. Some things evaporate, thus concentrating the flavor.

I won’t bore you with details on my ‘boiling points’; we all have them, and they either reduce us to the flavor of Jesus or burn up what is good until all that remains is a bitter, proud survivor. Hurtling oneself through hell into a self-generated resurrection does not interest me!

Survival of the fittest offers no hope for the weak. The survivalist can only advise: ‘Unless you get tough like me, you will perish.’ That’s a gospel of a different sort. I reject self-reliance on the basis of Mercy.

Mercy is God’s heart.

Why else would He pour out His very essence into a young Jewish girl and manifest Himself as a baby? Helpless and naked, God became the most dependent of mammals, subject to despots and debasement of all sorts. He reduced Himself for us in order to show us the little way of Mercy.

He invites us to celebrate our smallness. Humbled by our own helplessness, we worship the Child-King and entrust ourselves to the power reduced into His tiny frame.

Madeline L’Engle says it like this: ‘Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be…to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.’

He invites us to marvel at His Mercy. God reduced to an infant is the essence of Divine Mercy. One Hebrew word for mercy is ‘hesed’, or ‘unfailing love’; it conveys an objective, rather masculine mercy from the God who keeps His covenant with us, even when we disobey Him. Another Hebrew word for mercy is ‘rachamin’, and is feminine, rooted in ‘a mother’s womb’. ‘Rachamin’ is the mercy God feels for His afflicted ones the way a mother aches for her wayward child.

Baby Jesus is the fruit of God’s strong and objective yet deeply caring mercy for us. Jesus is a reduction, a distillation of His all-consuming passion to manifest His love for us.

Similarly, our good and wise God will employ hard things in our lives to reduce us to Himself. He is intent on our becoming like Himself, through the gift of Himself. He may just use suffering to get us there.

Alluding to Simeon’s prophecy about the Virgin Mary (‘and a sword shall pierce your heart’), Christoph Schonburg writes: ‘Mary triumphs through the sword in her heart, not in her hand.’ Similarly, as Christ-bearers, in the spirit of Mary, we are not exempt from the sword that reduces us to Mercy.

Over the last year, I have been pierced in ways that have caused me to cast myself on Him as never before. My prayer: ‘Let Mercy triumph over my judgments!’

Annette and I were sharing with our dear friends, Mike and Diane Nobrega, about our boiling points. Diane wisely responded: ‘God’s Mercy is being distilled in you and Desert Stream. What seems like loss is Him intensifying the anointing.’

“Remember that old praise song, with a chorus that goes: Jesus, reduce me to love?’’ she said, warbling her version of the song ‘Charity’.

You bet we do! ‘Charity’ was the one big fat hit that our pastor Kenn Gulliksen wrote and recorded in the seventies. Stumbling through the lyrics, we four called Kenn via speaker phone and requested some help. He gave us a brave solo version of his one claim to pop fame.

He sang ‘Jesus, reduce me to love’ in a voice trembling from years of piercings and unexpected mercies. Having lived the lyrics, he made it easy to receive them.

May Jesus reduce you to love this Christmas. He reduced Himself to Mercy that we too might be reduced to little else—flavorful, intense, generous Mercy.

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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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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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