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.’

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.’

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.’

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.’

Merciful Intimacy

Around this time I was baptized in the Pacific Ocean. Amid a winter storm, my pastor dunked me into the waters, and counted the old man dead. I arose with Christ into new life.

It was timely. I needed to know that something really had changed beyond my subjective experience—how what Jesus did in entering those waters Himself and emerging out of them as the Beloved Son had relevance to me.

Jesus’ baptism was unto death; His dunking foreshadowed Crucifixion. Similarly, His emergence into the fullness of the Father’s blessing—the confirmation of His Sonship through the infilling of the Holy Spirit—foresaw His Resurrection.

He invites us to follow His lead. Our own baptism liberates us to surrender the old self unto death and to live out of the Father’s favor. It is the objective basis for our freedom to declare: I am no longer mastered by sin but by the Father’s blessing upon the good son He sees in me.

Through baptism, I began to realize that the power of righteousness had become greater in me than the power of sin! His Spirit reminded me of that constantly. Out of the true self, I could decisively say ‘no’ to sin. Sin ceased to be my center; the Father’s favor upon me was.

You know what that meant? I was good! Mercy had broken the grip of living out of the grasping, readily deceived old self. United with Christ, following His example, I thus had authority to refuse the enemy’s temptations in the desert.

More than that, I had water to give others. I had a gift to give out of my goodness as a man. Around this time, I discovered more of what this goodness was.

While still a student, I started working at a Christian bookstore that emphasized theological study. I discovered the great Dr. Karl Barth there, and his emphasis on what it means to be made in God’s image: male and female. It gave form and depth to my understanding that I was in truth a part of God’s heterosexual creation (with some peculiar flaws, of course!).

More than that, I was under the Father’s favor and mandate to work out my salvation in relation to women—not as mere ‘buddies’ but in the tension and attraction of our differences from each other.

I had to learn to offer myself emotionally to His daughters, and maybe, if it be His will, to one in the form of an exclusive union. That’s what it meant to be true to the Father. And that was possible because sin was no longer my center. I had heterosexual goodness to give. And out of that goodness, I could face my weaknesses without being mastered by them.

His favor on my life freed me to believe for more. I was a good gift. I began to desire to offer that very imperfect gift to a woman.

This seemed to be a dangerous mercy—full of threats and uncertainties. Was I deceiving myself? The woman who trained me for the bookstore job wanted to know. We became good friends on the job, and I really liked her. She was smart, fun, and began to become more and more attractive to me.

We talked about our broken pasts and the false selves we had invested in. We gave a lot of mercy to each other. We saw something in one another that was greater than our shameful confessions. We fell in love with one another’s true self, gracefully revealed. That woman is now my wife of 29 years, Annette.

We continue daily to extend mercy to one another. The Father showed us His favor and still delights in the love we extend to one another. For both of us, marital love is the first-fruit of His mercy toward us. We endure the desert portions of our lives together. What a gift.

‘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.’

Clean Water

The temptation to fall with other men sexually increased after I first proclaimed healing from homosexuality. The word of my testimony, through which one triumphs over evil (Rev. 12:11), seemed to invite the evil one to nail me!

Now I see clearly, then I did not. I had become known (In a limited way) as one who had overcome the ‘gay self’. That declaration need to be refined. So God allowed some desert heat to test me. Would I stay true to Him even if offered a chance to realize a more alluring brand of homosexuality than I had known in my hometown?

In a manner I had not experienced in my Christian life up until that point (and have since to experience), three distinct opportunities arose in which I was tempted to have sex. I had made many friends on the UCLA campus; several were active homosexuals who were used to sleeping with ‘friends.’ These were smart, handsome guys who were going places.

I came close to crossing lines with them. I was aware of mutual attraction and could have signaled that I wanted more. All I can say is that God in His mercy gave me some restraint, some unexpected gift of self-control. I exercised that gift. Before thoughts became action, I was able to testify to each one who I actually was as a Christian man who wanted Jesus more than gay sex.

Those testimonies mattered more than the one I gave the summer before. In the heat of the moment, when the mirage shimmers like a dream come true–that is when the word of our testimony matters most.

It was pretty simple. Mercy met me in the desert of temptation and allowed me to define myself and my boundaries to these guys. One remained a friend, but with a solid line between us.

Simple is not the same as easy. I struggled hard. Against the sexy Westside backdrop, flanked by Bel-Air and Brentwood, exploring my homosexuality seemed right, naturally-speaking. It was as if Satan led me out to the intersection of Wilshire and Westwood and said: ‘This could be yours…’

God’s mercy was greater still. He made Himself known to me as the One I wanted in the desert of temptation. I wanted His Presence; and I wanted male friendships free from body fluids and distorted emotions.

God wanted that too. He also wanted me to be a pure drink to others, not an offering polluted by sensual motives. Others were beginning to ask me the reasons for my hope in Christ. I wanted to give an answer with a clean heart.

To achieve that, God led me into the desert. I had to be tested. He asked me to give three testimonies behind the scenes. He had His way. He refined my offering of hope to others. Mercy triumphed over judgment.

‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world but to lose his very self?’ (Lk 9: 23-25)

‘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.’

Drinking Water

After Europe, I moved into a UCLA fraternity house crammed with conservative Christian men. They were Republicans, I was the on the lunatic fringe of the Democratic party, as was my hair, which resembled a Benjamin Franklin fright wig; their crew cuts and manner were clipped and practical while I was emotional and spontaneous (remember, I used to be fun), tending toward the absurd.

A match made in heaven? Precisely. I needed the limits imposed by a tight community of guys who loved me in spite of our differences. We were one people in our love for Jesus and in our desire to make Him known.

Living there identified the desert of my detachment from regular guys and from the regular guy I was. I aimed awkwardly to explain who I was as a Christian seeking to overcome homosexuality. I tried to convey my commitment to holiness while still confessing my weakness and need for their support; what many heard was that I was still in sin.

Ah well…Semantics matter, and I was still trying to find the words. Yet beyond words, these guys loved me. I drank in their acceptance, which freed me to accept my own masculinity in some new ways. Mercy flowed out from most of the guys and satisfied my soul in a way that gay relationships never did.

That next summer, I joined an outreach project aimed at reaching a beach town in Southern California for Christ. We sought to extend mercy to the unsaved yet learned more about mercy in our team relationships than in evangelism.

There I grew in trusting people, both leaders and peers. One of our assignments was to share our testimony before a large outreach meeting. I asked God throughout that summer to distill what I had learned thus far in my journey out of homosexuality. By the time I shared, I was ready: clear, unashamed, grateful for the mercy that had become my freedom.

I was amazed at what happened next. Team members came to me in quiet, like Nicodemus, asking for hope and help in deep areas of personal brokenness. (Not homosexual per se; most were good old idolaters of the traditional kind.) They were hurting, locked in shame. Mercy alone drew them out of the desert.

Having drunk deep of mercy through Christ’s body, I had merely held out a cup of cold water to them. They wanted more. They needed more in order to go further up and into Christ’s purposes for their lives. Throughout that summer and into the next year, I continued to receive requests for help as a result of that one testimony.

That summer confirmed my calling to release living water to those in the desert of sexual and relational sin. God was multiplying my little offering of mercy. Desert Stream had informally begun.

‘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.’

The Pool at Piccadilly Circus

Soon after the French party, I moved home and determined to grow with the Christian friends I had. Fun or not, they were my people.

My parents asked me if I wanted to save my shekels and go with them on a short trip to Europe the next summer. I did and I went.

London was a blast. I loved the roar of it. I would find a busy street and get lost for hours in the waves of people pouring like currents from every square, park, and avenue.

I met a smart young coupled from Manchester who like me were walking quickly through the City of London Museum. We spent the afternoon together, and shared with some depth about our lives, after which they kind of prophesied over me. They predicted that I would write and speak about social matters related to my Christian spirituality. Their words rang true.

Later that night, my search for companionship took an ugly turn as I walked through garish Piccadilly Circus (London’s version of Time Square). I found a disco there (I used to be, well, fun…) and started dancing in a big group of people. It was ugly—yes, the hair and fashions of course—but mostly the spirit of the place. These people were not my people.

After such a life-giving day, I found myself in a self-absorbed, seductive world that was choking the life out of me. I knew if I did not leave right away, I would bow down to the evil one and his sexy idols.

Surfacing from the underground, smoky club, I gasped for air then called upon Jesus. He met me faster than the oxygen. He filled me with His Spirit and freed me from the ‘desert’ disco. I remembered mercy; I wanted Him, and He wanted me.

I turned a corner to exit the Circus where a young man was waiting for a sexual pick-up. He motioned to me; I walked on but as I did I thought, “He needs ‘living water’ as much as I do…” The Spirit came upon me and gave me unusual boldness.

I turned back and met up with the guy, telling him that I did not want sex but would love to talk with him over coffee. He agreed, and I shared my whole story, even the escape from ‘disco inferno.’

He related, he was amused, and he needed Jesus. We prayed together and committed to keeping in touch with each other. We wrote back and forth for over a year until he left London for University. I do not know what happened to him next. But I know that he encountered Jesus in the desert of his homosexuality. He discovered the God who turns the burning sand into 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.’

The French Lesson

My first desert experience occurred shortly after I became a Christian. Having moved back to my parent’s home from the gay ghetto of Long Beach, I grew bored. Fast. So I moved back to the beach, only this time to a family of French folks who were renting out a tiny 20’ by 8’ room in the back of their large home.

Not a good idea. My motives were impure—I wanted to have fun again, and the peculiar Christians I had met were not fun. Needless to say, I immediately returned to my old habits. Only this time it was not fun. I found myself guilty, ill at ease with new ‘friends’, feeling and acting false. I was not being true to the stream of new life coursing through me. I had to stifle the Spirit in me to dance with other spirits.

I loved the French family. But they did not know what to do with me. What must they have thought: Was I gay? A member of some fanatical American cult? They were typically liberal, with many gay friends and relatives. I partied with them; I amused and confused them, and failed to give a clear account of who I was.

In this desert, I was only confused.

Desert life was awful. I remember one day I asked the Lord to leave. I pleaded with Him to remove the life-spring inside me.

The day went from bad to worse. I worked with mentally challenged kids (fitting for one morally challenged!) and the entire classroom broke out into sustained chaos. On the bike ride home, it poured rain. My tiny room had neither kitchen nor heat; I sat there, a wet, hungry lump. There was a knock on the door: my beautiful friend Ted, the only Christian I knew in the area, had come to just encourage me. God had not answered my prayer for Him to vacate.

‘Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.’
(PS 139: 8, 9)

Things started to change. Ted was my real friend. Jesus was the real Source. I found I could summon the ‘waters’ by hanging out with Ted, by singing the dumb songs we learned in Church, by reading Scripture. I began to realize that I was not genetically ‘gay’, just foolish and addicted and lonely, and that my choices could help determine my destiny. I had purpose.

At my next (and last) French party, I was sober, clear, and grateful for these wonderful people who had accepted me in all my confusion. The sister of the owner, unusually sophisticated and sharp-tongued, asked me what I was about.

At first I gave her the usual Christian schtick. She was unimpressed, certain that I was in a cult. Then I told her how Jesus was actually helping me to overcome a lot of destructive things tied to my homosexuality. He was giving me an identity that surpassed the old gay self.

Her eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t believe it. ‘He helps you with that?’ I explained more. She took me down the hall and confided in me that her son was gay, and troubled—in and out of mental health clinics. I promised to talk with him if he wanted to. (Although he did not, his older lover, a Catholic, did. I encouraged him in the Lord; we prayed together and agreed that Jesus is the answer.)

Jesus met me in the desert of my wandering and proved Himself to me as the Source. He even used me to release water there to others. He makes 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.’

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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