Tag Archives: San Francisco

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Just and True

Justice means we give others what is due them. Disagreement need not skew a reasonable evaluation of others; justice demands we strive for objectivity so we can honor what is honorable in our fellow humanity.

Justice has stumbled in the streets, as mobs morph from demanding fair treatment of African Americans to destroying honorable signposts of our history.

On this Feast Day of St. Junipero Serra—the Apostle of California—I just witnessed his statue being lassoed, toppled, and smashed by protesters in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Not only have the bullied become the bullies, they now seek to edit American history by destroying any symbol that disturbs them.

We must insist on justice. Irrational and ignorant vandalism have no place in a just culture. Justice demands we give our forefathers their due, whether we agree with their legacy or not.

The mob ruled Franciscan Serra a bigot for bringing Christianity to California in the mid-18th century. He trekked on foot from Mexico City to San Francisco and established missions along the way to serve the native peoples. (Many of the missions are still active churches where I have fasted and prayed for California.) Over 6000 persons were baptized into the Church through his efforts. Did he enslave native Americans of the West Coast, as the mob insists?

Absolutely not. Though no-one today would advocate for the two-pronged advance of evangelization and Spanish political conquest, Serra disdained the latter. Backbreaking travel and labor—supported by an ulcerated leg—were eclipsed by his biggest conflict, the interference by the Spanish military state on his efforts to convert and disciple native peoples.

Various biographies clarify: the sword that pierced Serra’s heart was military cruelty of his sheep. Like a good shepherd, he constantly fought Spanish officials for freedom from arbitrary and cruel acts upon his people. He succeeded at ensuring that the presidios, or military barracks, were stationed as far from the missions as possible.

To be sure, he labored in a flawed system that lanced him more deeply than any cross-cultural challenge. Pierced, he loved his people well, pouring out the heart of Jesus for California. Perhaps many oppose him because they at core oppose the Gospel. But one cannot dispute his heroic sacrifice, and how his self-giving laid the basis for California’s thriving, diverse Christian culture.

To deface him is to act as unjustly as the arbitrary violence imposed on native Californians by the Spanish military in Serra’s day.

Frank, Thanks

Last Saturday in San Rafael CA, I was privileged to be among those who memorialized Frank Worthen, father of ministries like Desert Stream.

“Frank possessed a profoundly Christian heart—as the Hebrews understood ‘heart.’ His good mind could apprehend the meaning of things, and his love laid hold of what is best and true about God’s creation. Frank fused wisdom and compassion; he gave us a glimpse of Jesus’ heart.

Frank loved California; he honored her history–some of it Christian (Mission San Rafael!), and all of it about people leaving their old lives and taking up a new vision or job or self. While others waited for California to quake and fall into the sea, he cherished CA, and believed that Jesus could shine through created things like the Palace of Fine Arts. To Frank, beauty conveyed an aspect of Jesus’ truth. So Frank’s heart never closed to San Francisco. He still believed for her.

Frank loved people, especially people with gender identity issues. Yes the Bay Area led the world in misinterpreting same-sex attraction and in creating over 50 ungodly gender selves, and yes, Frank always held out hope in the Bay Area for the real self in every LGBT-whatever pilgrim. Frank knew only Jesus could summon that self from the slumber of sin.

You see, Jesus did that for him, thoroughly. Jesus woke him up from his sleep unto death. Jesus made him alive through this Church of the Open Door, one of the brave churches that sprouted up along the CA coast like wildflowers in the ‘Jesus-people’ revival. Jesus made Frank new, and his youthful vision for how Jesus can make anyone new never dimmed. It grew more clear and merciful over time. He gathered a remnant from around the world, grateful faces that enhanced his vision; and his sight was refined by the rebellious majority who tried to gouge his eyes out, including former spiritual sons and daughters.

Jesus gave Frank a share in His heart. He faced resistance peacefully, aware that he battled for souls. God gave him spiritual sight about this battle. While Exodus was dying and Frank and Stephen Black and Anne Paulk started Restored Hope Network, Frank prayed to Jesus for direction and received an awesome vision of St. Michael the archangel –warrior prince of the heavenly host—who upon a huge steed plunged a lance through the devil in the form of a dragon.

Rev.12: 1-12 shows us what Frank saw: St. Michael leading the host of heaven to combat a furious Satan intent on destroying Mary, Jesus and all who would be saved by Him. This vision of a violent unseen battle being waged for souls reveals Frank’s mission. It highlights the enemy who employs gender identity confusion to divide and disrupt the saints, the tyrant who vents his rage by scrambling the Church’s witness of Jesus’ love for persons enslaved to lies about their gender.

That vision of St. Michael also points to Frank’s witness of transformation for persons with SSA. Rev. 12: 11 declares that the dragon is overcome by the ‘blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.’ Jesus entrusted this simple revolutionary plan to Frank. Others were called to do so in that same season; only Frank endured the necessary testing, took up the sword in the Spirit of St. Michael, and plunged it in the enemy’s side by declaring that the problem of homosexuality was no match for the saving love of Jesus.

God calls us to continue that battle—to push back the devourer by declaring the sufficiency of Jesus’ blood through the word of our testimonies. We are wise to honor the one who came before us. We express thanks by continuing the fight.

I close today by drawing a parallel between Frank and another angel, the angel Gabriel who announced to Mary that God had chosen to dwell with man through her womb, a plan unlike any other, which required her consent. Today, Sat. March 25, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates this feast of the Annunciation. I want to honor Frank for the Mary-like role he played in saying ‘yes’ to Gabriel and to God. Against all odds. He endured shame for the joy set before Him. As Mary became the human hinge for our salvation, we honor Frank today as the flesh and blood guy who first declared for us freedom from SSA, freedom for a life full of Jesus. Frank said ‘yes’, and that has made all the difference.”

Best for Last

Around the same time (mid-seventies) and place (San Francisco) that Harvey Milk aspired to become the first openly gay politician in history and firebrand for ‘gays’ as a protected ethnic group, God plucked another brand out of the fire. Frank Worthen repented of an adulthood defined by homosexual pursuits and turned toward Jesus as the basis for a new life. Sourced in the deep well of his ‘Jesus-people’ community in Marin County, Frank began to minister to men and women who needed help bridging the gap between the ‘gay’ community and the Church.

‘Love-in-Action’ was born, the first formal ministry ever to expressly bridge such a gap. It was truthful, Spirit-inspired, and hammered by demonized Pharisees and immoralists ever since.

I first met Frank in the early eighties when I was at Fuller Seminary; he sought me out to give practical steps to his people on how to progress into healthy opposite-sex relating. Annette and I drove up from LA to his ranch in the bay area where we met him and his roommate/best friend, a longtime business partner who shared Frank’s sexual background but only marginally his faith. ‘No wonder he is asking me to teach THIS lesson,’ I thought as I considered what could be an impasse in Frank’s path to whole relating with women.

Don’t get me wrong. Frank was morally clear but still in process. Soon after, a prophetic friend challenged Frank: ‘You need to be open to all that God has in store for you!’ Anita was right around the corner.

The two first met at a conference in Oregon where Frank taught steps out of homosexuality and Anita, an earthy and fun single mom, wondered how she might best care for her ‘gay’-identified son. Like the clash of many strong-willed people, they liked each other as much as they did not. Through the sparks they fell in love, married.

I tracked with them only a little since that time. I simply know our efforts at Desert Stream draw life and strength from Frank’s faithfulness. The Worthens went ahead of us and a host of others to blaze a trail of hope throughout the world for persons impacted by SSA; they did so graciously while enduring more attacks than an entire book could contain.

Yet for me, ministry is not their main legacy. It is their love for each other.

Last year, I caught up with the Worthens in their ranch above Sacramento after Frank had a serious heart attack. It was beautiful to witness how a crisis could distill their devotion to each other, reveal its essence. While Frank napped, Anita confided in tears that her only desire was to give this man the full honor he deserved. Weakened by the prospect of loss, she feared her adequacy to give him his due. To honor him in life and in his passing impassioned Anita.

Frank recovered only to discover less than a year later that cancer was spreading throughout his body. Nothing could be done, so the two determined to enjoy their lives together on the ranch. I recently visited them again and when Anita left the room, Frank confided in me that his one desire was to leave Anita as financially secure and settled on the ranch as possible. While that desire tempted him with fear that he might fail her, it also motivated him to act and to succeed, one task at a time, to make a way for her future. He welcomes heaven, while laboring in love for his beloved. Not much else matters to Frank.

Frank’s days are in God’s hands. By the report of both Frank and Anita, these days together are their best ones. Peace prevails, and invites them to reflect on a life together that has created thousands of spiritual sons and daughters.

friend john by andrew comiskey untrained eye

Friend John

How do you love someone whose self has become a defense? My friend John found it easier to present outrageous escapades than the longings of his heart. At times we wondered: are gay sex and drugs really that important to him? We needed mercy to remind ourselves that the real John was much more than both.

I first met John 35 years ago, before AIDS even had a name. He then lived in West Hollywood from which he bounced to San Francisco then back, a ricochet driven by failed attempts at rehab and happiness. Read more »

A Deeper Well, Waters Rising

The move to Anaheim was a shakedown. Everything that could be shaken was—from our relationship with our previous church to the still reverberating effects of our sexual abuse crisis.

God was merciful. He used both earthquakes to level us. He was preparing us for a new season of growth founded on simple trust in His goodness towards us. We sent our roots down a little deeper in the Source, and ceased to be so readily dismayed by hardship.

God demonstrated that goodness through the advocacy of John Wimber. As head of the Vineyard movement, a pastor of pastors, John had navigated dozens of sexual messes created by unhealed churchmen and women. He knew the need for safe and powerful places in the church for getting real and getting healed. He loved our main offering– ‘Living Waters’–and insisted it become a primary offering in his church and beyond.

Strength in weakness: could our little band of wounded healers step up and quicken our training of lay persons to make their churches such a merciful haven for the sexually broken? John said yes; DSM prayed: ‘Lord have mercy.’

God had mercy and insisted we do it His way. John featured me in one of the annual conferences sponsored by the Vineyard Anaheim. This 5-day conference sold out and so another was slated for the next week: total conferees over two weeks? 10,000 people! (Desert Stream did daily workshops for hundreds and I was scheduled to address the large group a couple times each week.)

Like every novice given such an opportunity, one tends to over-function, jamming a brief talk with every sparkling insight ever mined. Not helpful. God knows this. After laboring over ‘the talk above all talks’, He made it clear to me that my efforts were unacceptable. (A few hours before?!)

He led me to preach on PS 103:6: a simple word on how God works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed, those like me who had been damaged by sexual sin.

I essentially shared my story. I left my impeccably prepared teaching on my seat, and mounted the podium with a few notes jotted on scrap paper. I taught for 20 minutes and prayed over the people for 40.

God poured out His mercy in a manner I had never seen before, or since. This ‘mercy surge’ lanced the shame and pain of a Christian people who had little experience in bringing their sexual brokenness into the light of Christ’s merciful body. The screams and agonizing sobs sounded like hell breaking loose but actually it was Heaven freeing captives.

Pastors took note of the healing available for their people if the church would take up her responsibility. Desert Stream began to flow with a new force and freedom throughout the USA and beyond.

Our strategy was to train a group of lay leaders to do ‘Living Waters’ in a church; then, when locals were digging a good well of healing for their people, we would come and stir up the waters a bit in order to bring people into ‘Living Waters.’

Around this time, I recall fondly a conference we did in the heart of San Francisco.

That Vineyard Church happened to be on Folsom Street in the middle of the city’s notorious sadomasochism district; and our conference happened to coincide with the weekend of their annual ‘Leather Festival’. It was hard to bear the oppression of the enslaved. How much more heartening to watch over 400 Christians of every ethnicity pouring out of the church and bearing powerful mercy for the sexually broken!

The Kingdom of mercy is more potent than the rule of any perversion.

We were in the right place at the right time. The Vineyard Anaheim had become the hub of an international network of churches and Desert Stream benefited. Following the Vineyard model, we began to plan an international strategy for identifying and raising nationals to dig deep wells of Living Waters in their lands.

We were digging a network of wells vigorously. The waters of mercy were rising and beginning to pour out to the nations.
‘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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