Tag Archives: Vineyard Church

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Marvelous Wound

Jesus’ broken body loosed a river of healing, not only for our personal wounds, but also for the massive divides we face as His body, the Church. These divides are many and complicated. Yet how mighty is the flood of blood, water, and Spirit upon broken ones who seek to ‘be brought to complete unity’ (JN 17: 23)!

I share a bit in the wound between Catholics and Protestants. It smarts when I hear either party speak smugly about the error of the other. When I do, I cling to the Crucified and allow a fresh draft of mercy to keep the wound clean. More and more, that burn and that mercy seem to define our Living Waters ministry.

On the eve of our 40-day fast for the Church, I had the privilege of visiting Santiago Chile where Ruth Olave and team have dug a deep well of ‘living water’ in the Vineyard Church there. I originally helped envision them to do Living Waters a decade earlier as a fellow evangelical. Last week I returned as a Catholic.

It is difficult for North Americans to understand the historic wound between Catholics and Protestants in South America. While Catholics continue to be a minority in the diverse religious culture of the USA, Catholics ruled both church and state in the south; in spite of independence from Spanish domain a century ago, the RCC still predominates and has often discriminated against evangelicals. Combine that with ‘born again’ former Catholics who eschew their history as false and serious Catholics who view these ‘sectarian zealots’ as false. Wounded!

In light of our love for each other, the evangelical team of Living Waters leaders in Santiago had concerns about our new ‘whole church’ approach to the program. I entered into our time together not knowing how to answer all their questions, which came fast and hard during meetings in which many leaders expressed concern about Catholic influence, wanting to work with Catholics, etc.

All I could do was hide myself in the wounds of Jesus. That’s where the water is! I can never fully know another’s suffering due to religious conflict but I can feel my own pain and take refuge in His merciful side. Answers flowed from love, however halting and imperfect. By the end of our time, we agreed to walk together in love for any broken person seeking mercy. On Christ, the one foundation (1Cor. 3:11), we will build together. Living Waters alone—His very mercy–makes a way.

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At Peace In War

As ‘gay pride month’, June always provokes a kind of dread in me. This month started out with a bang—a federal appeals court struck down the existing federal law defining marriage solely between a man and woman. Gay pride will swagger throughout the month, amplified by fawning journalists.

Many see the end in sight: finally, our nation is recognizing that homosexuality is a moral good—utterly normal, utterly on par with heterosexuality as solid ground for marriage and family.

Utter nonsense. While praying the other day, God showed me a picture of an oil spill that was spreading out and encasing vulnerable, beautiful creatures. At first the oil had little effect on them. Then it constricted movement, and finally their breathing. I saw a powerful balm being applied to the dying; it alone had power to dissolve the sludge and to restore life. I knew right away it was the blood of the Lamb, the only hope for those encased by ‘gay pride.’

I dread ‘gay pride month’ because it celebrates the slow death of beautiful, vulnerable men and women who believe the lie that homosexuality is their destiny. Unless they repent and receive the blood, they will perish.

31-years-ago this month, my bride and I sped away from our honeymoon suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles. Our exit was blocked on every side by a massive ‘gay pride parade.’ The dreamy nuptials collided with a gender nightmare. We made it out fine, grateful for the blood that redeemed us and made us one.

Last Sunday (June 3rd), our second son Nick was ordained as an Anglican priest. The presiding bishop was an old friend—Dr. Todd Hunter, who decades ago led the Vineyard movement in the USA when Annette and I began to train Vineyard churches to heal their sexually broken.

Nick and Todd are both amazing expressions to us of God’s faithful love—the grace He still extends to us though our beloved Vineyard roots, but most importantly, the faithful love that redeems lives from the pit (Nick had his own sludge to reckon with) and sets their feet upon a rock. Our joy was full as we celebrated this public recognition of God’s favor upon Nick.

Todd commissioned Nick by reminding him how rest and peace are the earmarks of solid Christian leadership. “In repentance and rest will be your salvation; in quietness and trust will be your strength.” (Is. 30:15) In spite of the battle waging outside the church walls, God’s Spirit fell peacefully upon all of us. We sang His praise whole-heartedly.

June is ‘gay pride month’ but it is also the month of my marriage and son’s ordination. This is the day that God has made and has redeemed. I will go forth aware of the sludge but more deeply aware of the power of the blood. I will fight this month in peace.

‘I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.’ (PS 40: 1-3)

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A Severe Mercy, Part 2

During the long drive to the confrontation at hand (see #18), I felt the sentence of death. And yet peace. Something in me was dying but deeper still was the witness of His presence.

My premonition of death was right. The pastor weaseled his way out of my charges on the grounds that he was merely exploring relationships as a single man, and that I was a rigid person whose historic brokenness required boundaries that he did not. The overseer slapped his hand and politely thanked me for my concern.

God met me in His mercy. On the drive home, I felt light. I had done what God wanted and it was no longer my burden to bear. The rest was up to God.

The next week, the pastor removed Annette and me from all leadership in the church (I was a part-time pastor; Annette was a leader in Sunday School). He said we threatened the church with our invasive, religious ways.

The end? We could barely fathom it. We and Desert Stream had known no other church home. We could not imagine life without our beloved community.

One other pastor on staff had been a close friend; we knew he shared our commitment to not partake of another’s naked body until marriage. When even he treated us as a public nuisance, we knew that we had lost our home. (To the senior pastor’s credit, he gave us a couple months with pay and time to relocate our offices as a ministry).

We were grateful to have obeyed God, and devastated by the result. For the first time, we as a ministry and couple were homeless. We lost the unique spiritual protection afforded by a local church: we felt uncovered, as if there was no more ozone layer between our skin and the unrelenting sun. Running into members of our former church chafed our skin all the more.

I entered into a kind of depression I had not known before. Annette wondered what would happen to us. We had three babies and one on the way. We moved our Desert Stream offices into our garage, for storage, and tried to work out of our homes. I perused the paper for sales jobs.

Jonathan Hunter and the Desert Stream staff kept praying. We sought the Lord at John Wimber’s booming Vineyard Church, an hour southeast from Los Angeles. John had since taken over the leadership of the Vineyard movement; he loved Desert Stream, though we had little contact and our offering of Living Waters had yet to be released in his church (then a global center of spiritual renewal.)

The depressive heaviness would lift then descend again. One early cloudy morning I was running and looked up to see one small distinct opening in the sky. God spoke quietly to me through it: ‘I go before you and make a way.’

A month later, I received a phone call from John Wimber’s secretary at Vineyard Anaheim. I returned the call and had a brief chat with John. He had just discovered that I was no longer on staff at the Westside Vineyard, and had been waiting for a chance to work more closely with me. Would I consider becoming a paid missionary to the sexually broken from the Vineyard Anaheim?

Desert Stream became the first non-church organization to be considered a member of the Vineyard’s growing roster of churches.

We remained in Los Angeles where we secured offices for Desert Stream, but considered John’s church our new home.

Three years later, a new group of women came forward and accused my former pastor of the same charges I had made. This time the overseer listened and fired him. Strange justice. Truer 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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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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