Merciful Dad

At the core of my same-sex attraction was the struggle to find a father, and so discover my own masculine power and purpose.

I had a father alright, and a pretty good one: Thomas Augustus Comiskey. But for most of my life I could not apprehend that goodness, much less take it on as my own.

In a language familiar to any desert creature in need of living water, I detached from him early on in my life. My own rebellion, coupled with his relational faults, inspired a wall. Behind that wall, I identified myself as ‘other’ than him. I thought myself to be superior to him.

In truth I became blind to my own weaknesses and the strengths he possessed.

In the last several years of his life, God in His mercy prompted me to press into relationship with him. My father and I forged a bond. Our focused times together inspired a genuine affection and appreciation toward him; my aggravation and petty judgments began to fall away. Like Jericho, the wall crumbled, and I could welcome this man into my life.

For the first time, I could see and respect his prophetic heart. His personality was wired toward the truth. His face like flint, he was unrelenting toward those who opposed his views on education or politics.

And like the prophets of old, he championed the underdog. He hated how the rich often used their privilege to devalue poor ones. He despised hierarchy and subordination, especially those ‘powers’ that he felt were cruel and arbitrary.

He was a rebel. Raised by a single mother and responsible for making his own way from the start, he worked hard for everything. He persisted stubbornly though life without blaming anyone but himself.

He struggled to apprehend mercy. Once he recounted to me his resume of hard knocks then concluded: ‘That’s why I could never depend on your God.’ What he meant to say: ‘How can I surrender after all these years of self-reliance?’

Two things that prepared his heart for mercy: first, my mother. His steely agnosticism was no match for her Christ-inspired devotion to him. When my sibs and I would grow frustrated at his refusal to pray ‘the sinner’s prayer’, he would remark, his eyes misting: ‘But your mother, she is the best Christian.’ St. Paul said it best: the believing spouse truly does sanctify the one who does not believe. (1Cor. 7:14)

The second ‘tenderizer’? Suffering unto death. My father’s last days were filled with physical pain. He wanted to jump out of his skin. In the midnight hour, my mother gently coaxed him to open himself up to the God of mercy, the God who saves.

My brother Joel cinched the deal by praying with him as he surrendered to Jesus in his last few lucid hours. Twice-born, filled with unfailing love, Thomas Augustus Comiskey exclaimed, ‘I should have done this a long time ago.’

‘The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome with trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord: ‘O Lord, save me!’ The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, He saved me.
Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.’ (PS 116: 3-7)

The Lord had mercy on Thomas Augustus Comiskey. And on his son, who has never been more proud to bear him in his own manhood.

My father is gone, but I shall seek to represent him well in how I live today. I will seek to extend the mercy our Heavenly Father has shown us both.

‘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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The Mercy of Marriage

Since our transition to Kansas City, God has provided two men who have stood with me in prayerful friendship: Mike and Morgan. I am not sure I could have stayed true to the Lord without them. When I have been discouraged, they speak God’s truth to me; when unsure, they speak wisdom.

They have helped me close the gap between things we aspire to in faith and the uneven ground our feet trod on this earth.

Most practically, we help each other to love our wives and kids well. We have a commitment to the whole of each other’s lives. The main goal of our bearing with one another? That each of us might be a good offering to our families, without compromise.

Each of us knows the real threat of compromise. It is not a distinctly ‘homosexual’ or ‘heterosexual’ threat; it is a human threat, the temptation to idolatry, to cast off the restraints of commitment and to offer oneself to the sensual gods and goddesses.

That threat in no way casts doubt on the restoration we have experienced in Christ, or the beauty of our marriages—it is a humble acknowledgement of our still fallen humanity and the idols that surround it. Such humility is key. The greatest danger is not a specific idol but rather the pride that insists one is not even remotely interested in Satan’s offer of the world and its lures.

All three of us possess histories of idolatry; Mike and Morgan can attest to the ways that their marriages were almost ruined by compromise. All the more can we witness of the greater grace that has commanded repentance and rebuilt trust in our marriages.

Mike and Morgan are now models of integrity where they live. In their own recovery and service of others, they have dug deep wells of mercy and truth from which hundreds have received ‘living water.’ Their very lives raise the bar as to what one’s community of faith can and should be—a place of powerful mercy where those humbled by sin get raised up to testify of the greater grace.

That grace has freed us to partake fully of the good gift God has given us in our marriages. We have been freed from compulsive sin and freed for the satisfying love we experience with our wives.

Not long ago, the six of us (Mike, Morgan, me and our wives) vacationed together on the Central Coast of CA. We thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of its vineyards and rolling hills of oak. For Annette and I it was familiar—we had spent ample time there as a young family at her parents’ home.

For me, the context still had that slight edge of CA idolatry—the wine, the sun, the body beautiful–the tendency to cast off restraint in what can readily become a kind of pagan paradise.

Yet greater still was our celebration of our holy, earthy and still passionate marriages! We all readily agreed that God had in truth shown mercy to us through the resilient gift of the other.

Solomon still says it best: ‘Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public square? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth…may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.’ (Pro. 5:15-19)

How merciful of God to restore us unto the fountain of marital 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 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.’

Mercy for the Bride, from the Bride

While en route to a Living Waters Leadership gathering in Europe, I was moved deeply by God’s heart for His European bride. The church there has played such a foundational role in western culture; from her has come our art, our music, our philosophy, and our ethics. In spite of her many faults and divisions, she continues to bear fruit that remains. She is the apple of God’s eye.

I thought of our small band of wounded healers gathered in Holland from all over Europe—faithfully washing the feet of Jesus’ body in our groups. What a privilege to serve those who help prepare the bride for Christ’s return.

Before our gathering, I had a day in Amsterdam. As usual, the city’s native beauty was marred by all manner of false freedoms— legal drugs and prostitution, porn around every corner, gender-bending of every kind. My experience was thus mixed. On the one hand, I marveled at her charm and historic treasures; on the other, I was troubled and vaguely tempted by her idols.

God is faithful to me, an often troubled and tempted expression of His bride. While wandering the State Art Museum, I encountered ‘The Jewish Bride’, Rembrandt’s exquisite rendering of a bridegroom’s love for His bride. Its truth is immediate and profound: he looks on her with ardent respect; she responds with peaceful love to his hand on her heart.

While reflecting on the huge canvas, I felt several things at once: God’s steadfast seal of mercy upon me, my ardor for Annette, His passion and (to a lesser degree mine) for His bride in Europe. The painting conveyed an all-encompassing truth that centered me as I gazed upon it.

I walked back to the hotel and called Annette, so grateful to God and her for marital love—His, mine, ours. He loves us into expressions of human love that ennoble all involved; His faithfulness makes us faithful and true. In His steadfast love, we become good gifts to each other, in spite of our temptations.

It was a joy to serve the Europeans at our gathering. They were His beautiful
bride, easy to love. They gave me back more than what was required of me.

Filled with fresh mercies, content in love, I boarded the plane for home. I sat next to a young man, a Spaniard, who had just spend the weekend partying in Amsterdam, and was heading to the USA for another week of partying. He was seductive, probably still high, and intent on more bodies and chemicals to come.

He made it clear who he was, a gay man, and his interest in me. I was interested in him too. I wanted him to know Jesus and the authentic life Jesus affords those who bow down before Him.

First, a boundary. We had 9 more hours together, sitting one-inch away from each other. I sleep further away from my wife! So I told him about her, my kids, and how Jesus changed my life from a wandering gay dude to one very content in marriage. He could not believe it! His father had been a Catholic and an adulterer, something that turned him off to ‘religion’ and toward whatever he wanted sexually.

He wryly told me that he slept with a lot of married men. And I told him how short-sighted and destructive that was to everyone: especially wives and kids like himself who unwittingly had been subject to infidelity. That shut down the conversation for a moment.

But I spoke it in love, and assured him that God was merciful and kind to all who call on His name. He admitted he prayed the rosary every time his plane took off and landed. I encouraged him to keep praying, only to do it always, calling out for mercy in every area of life, including the relational and sexual.

Another pregnant pause. In the end, he let me pray for him. I urged him onward in truth and mercy, assuring him that a real-live relationship with Jesus is so much better than another party.

I pray still that he will be among those who are ready to see Him face-to-face, the bride who has made herself ready, without spot or wrinkle.

‘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.’

Mercy for the Whole Image

After Massachusetts adopted ‘gay marriage’, we as a ministry sought to understand and pray for what was at stake for a nation that elevated the status of homosexual unions to those of heterosexuals.

We prayed for mercy, not judgment, for this ultimate expression of idolatry—the creature shaking its fist at the Creator and declaring that (s)he would image herself anyway (s)he wanted.

Yet we had a small emerging hope: we as a nation could turn back before it was too late. God might relent and have mercy.

Of course we knew that ‘gay marriage’ was simply the logical conclusion to the desecration of marriage itself; we had already burned her boundaries and assaulted her integrity with no-fault divorce and all manner of sexual abuse, including adultery, premarital sex, and porn addiction.

For all of these sins, we sought to offer hope and healing pastorally. Still we prayed for what was at stake for our nation. We positioned ourselves, not before legislatures, but on our knees. We chose not to be a political ministry; we believed we should offer to Caesar what was rightfully his. Marriage was different—it originated in God’s heart. We chose to fight prayerfully and give God what was rightfully His.

Toward that end, we began to wonder if our home at the Vineyard in Southern California was right for us. The Vineyard’s emphasis on worship and compassion was and is our foundation at DSM. But we needed a community that incorporated more fully the prophetic and intercessory prayer.

After much travail, we decided to move to Kansas City and work in tandem with Mike Bickle and the International House of Prayer.

What a shift—it rocked all of our worlds, reduced our staff (most stayed in CA), and simply marked the biggest change DSM had ever endured.

Poised in the middle of the nation, we were in some ways starting all over again. We renewed our emphasis on equipping the saints to do the work of pastoral ministry. And we prayed, a lot.

Inspired by IHOP, I did my first 40-day water fast and majored on prayer for mercy to overcome the idolatry in the land. It was life-changing. And timely. The battle for marriage was heating up in our country. Activists targeted states with weak judicial and legislative arms that could be swayed to redefine marriage. As we became aware of these targets, we would pray for them, and alert as many as we could to do the same.

We fought on two levels for the ‘whole image’—both the pastoral and prophetic. We would minister to the broken marriages in our community then pray for the integrity of marriage overall in our land.

It was important for us to stay tuned to the source of the problem—the flames of sin and the cultural winds that fanned them. Humbled (and singed) by the nearness of the problem, we could then pray for marriage in our land with a more tempered authority.

Our strategy became all the more focused for Prop. 8 in CA. The State Supreme Court overturned the will of the people (they had already voted to define marriage as heterosexual) and redefined marriage to include gays. Prop. 8 was conceived by the people and for the people–citizens wanted the right to define marriage for themselves. It became the biggest battle any state-wide proposition has ever faced in the history of the USA.

We majored on prayer for that fight, and won. (Its fate now rests with a federal judge; ultimately, Prop. 8 will be decided by the National Supreme Court. For this we pray daily!)

We have since battled on our knees for many states that have been targeted by activists. So far, in 2010, no state in the USA has voted for ‘gay marriage.’ Given a choice, the people have always decided to uphold the true definition of marriage.

For that we are grateful, and will continue to fight. Today we center on Latin America where the ‘gay marriage’ wars are just beginning. We pray for mercy on our land, that we might have authority to extend that mercy to other 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 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.’

Roused By Mercy

At the dawn of the new millennium, I noticed a growing darkness in the area of gender and sexuality. Powerless to overcome perversion, western culture used its power to justify all manner of sexual expression.

Around that time, I had a dream about a group of young people who were confused and seeking answers to their sexual identity questions. They were on a secular college campus. Older gay mentors began to confirm them as bona-fide gays and lesbians; as they laid hands on these young ones, the latter began to morph–their beings changed into an image that distorted their real humanity.

When I woke up, I began to pray that God would rouse us and make us like a warrior’s sword (Zech. 9:13); I prayed for a merciful authority with which to cut through lies that bound young people to false images and relationships. I prayed for the power to convey what the Heavenly Father had in store for them.

We trained our people to start running CrossCurrent groups—a shorter version of Living Waters aimed at encountering those in the valley of decision. Sure enough, God sent men and women to us who loved Jesus and yet were on the brink of leaving marriages, Christian colleges, and their own value systems for sexy new partnerships.

We functioned like a net: catching some and helping them resist the draw of the world by shoring up their real selves in Christ.

Not helping were two cultural phenomena. The first was the ordination of a gay bishop in the Episcopal Church USA. Having left his wife to explore homosexuality, W. Gene Robinson became the symbol of an apostate branch of the Church of Jesus Christ. The watered-down, worldly Gospel of liberal Protestantism concluded that Jesus wanted nothing more than to bless people in their sexual brokenness.

At that time, Jonathan Hunter had a dream of a large church in which a woman went up to the altar. Around the altar were large screens on which homosexual acts were being committed; on another, ‘gay marriages’ were being performed. She gasped and thought: ‘What is happening to my church?’ What had been a refuge for her became a nightmare. Disoriented, she walked out of the church.

The church that no longer believes in the transformational power of her Savior will fail to offer the sexually broken what they need: the love of Jesus’ body, repentance and a track for healing and restoration. The worldly church will give the broken what they want—the privileges accorded to responsible heterosexuals, like ordination, marriage, and kids.

The Episcopalians did just that. They made perversion ‘Christian’, their Savior, a toothless old father who winks at the rebellion of his children. When the Body loses her Head, she makes a way for all manner of evil in the land.

Is it any wonder that soon after Robinson’s ordination, the state of Massachusetts became the first state to legalize ‘gay marriage’? In the first few days of 2003 when we were all sleeping, the Mass. Supreme Court decided to redefine marriage, the first state in our union to do so.

God roused me that morning as one called to battle. I knew that our merciful authority would need to be expended in two directions: to rouse the Church to hold fast to the truth of Jesus’ transforming love for the broken, and for the Church to arise on behalf of marriage and to refuse its redefinition in the land.

In both cases–the restoring of the broken, and the upholding of marriage–nothing less than the image of God was at stake.

‘Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others, show mercy, mixed with fear, hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.’ (Jude 22, 23)

‘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.’

Mercy From Rome

While doing a conference in Denver many years ago, a vigorous young man introduced himself to me as Christopher West; he was then the ‘marriage and family’ guy for the Archdiocese of Denver. He loved our emphases on healing through the cross and community. And he wanted me to have a copy of John Paul II’s book: The Theology of the Body, the late great pope’s sweeping take on human sexuality.

Wow. What a meal. For the next couple of years I slowly ate what I now regard as perhaps the most thorough and profound theological work on sexuality. It is a large meal, but not inaccessible. It undergirds the pope’s native compassion with truth: the truth of what our sexuality is for, not just what we should flee, and the deeper meaning of masculine and feminine communion in the divine plan.

Brilliant and relevant, prophetic and yet deeply, richly human; it reinforced what I knew but deepened and expanded the truths already gleaned from Ray Anderson, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner. On planes and trains I would read a section and take notes on it. I would then meditate on the notes before tackling another section.

It prepared me for the battle at hand, the fight for God’s image in humanity being waged on every continent. In that battle, I needed reinforcement.

Frankly, I was disappointed by my Protestant brothers and sisters who held to the truth of God’s plan for human sexuality but often failed to uphold it in their dealings with those bound by sin. In essence, I witnessed many capitulating to the culture in the name of ‘compassion.’

Seeking to include all, their salt loses its savor. Yet what meaning does mercy have unless we can name our sin? What meaning does ‘life’ have when we can no longer feel the sting of the culture of death? No-where is that loss of clarity and conscience more apparent than in the realm of sexuality.

John Paul shamed death by upholding a powerfully biblical and communal vision of life in the body—yours, mine, ours. He sanctified that desire to offer ourselves to others, while wrestling with the challenge to do so in our fallen ‘frames’.

Such vision and foresight is why the Roman Catholic Church is the major force to be reckoned with in our world of abortion, ‘gay marriage’ and adoptions, and no-fault divorce. Catholic thinkers have continued to sharpen their moral and theological sword and have aimed it at forces seeking to diminish God’s image in humanity. They know they have a responsibility to God’s whole creation; Rome takes that task seriously.

And that is why an Archbishop can take this stand with integrity, as one did recently in a dispute concerning the rights of two lesbians and their adopted child:

‘The Church does not claim that people with a homosexual orientation are bad or that their children are less loved by God. Quite the opposite. But what the Church does teach is that sexual intimacy by anyone outside of marriage is wrong; that marriage is a sacramental covenant; and that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman…The Church cannot change these teachings because they are the teachings of Jesus Christ.’

Powerful. Clear. Upholding the dignity of all, regardless of their choices, yet unbending in regards to what is true and right for all.

Many years after first meeting Christopher West, I had the privilege of attending one of his seminars in which he exposits with flair the teachings of John Paul II. (West is actually the guy who has helped fan into flame the pope’s work on sexuality for today’s Roman Church.) I loved the entire week.

Buoyed by the expansive truths at hand—a renewed vision of man for woman, woman for man, Jesus for Church, Church for her Bridegroom King, I dreamed heavenly dreams for about two weeks after West’s class. The Spirit of truth and grace at the core of ‘Theology of the Body’ brooded over me, and granted me rest.

God gives us mercy through His Roman Church. She arms us to do His will.
‘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.’

Dying to Release Mercy

‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed.
But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ (John 12:23)

Among the most bittersweet realities of ‘Living Waters’ around the world is the surrender of one’s leadership when his/her part has been played. That surrender may be for many reasons—a moral failure, a call to another type of ministry, or handing over the task to one better suited to take it the next step.

Regardless of the reason, the leader in transition usually experiences a kind of death: (s)he loses position and a certain place among the wounded healers that comprise global ‘Living Waters.’

In this grief, I also witness a sovereign aspect of God’s hand. Under His care, the ex-leader is actually allowing the ‘husk’ of one’s ministry to be broken, thus releasing more ‘seed’ for God’s mercy to be released.

It takes courage to do this. To surrender one’s leadership is actually among the most selfless acts of all—it means denying one’s need for significance and security in order that more ‘living water’ might be released in a nation under another’s lead. I have seen this happen over and over—one dies to position in order to release more souls unto life.

I met Klara Steineman in Hawaii while teaching for YWAM. She responded deeply to the truths at hand, and after an internship with us, returned to her native Switzerland where she began to gather the broken in churches throughout the land. She was intrepid in her commitment.

She laid the groundwork for the Living Waters manual to be translated into German and Italian. She sponsored our first Swiss training, complete with French translation, thereby training our first French group leaders. Klara would drive throughout her mountainous country, and plant the seeds for ‘Living Waters’ wherever a church opened the door.
She served the Church brilliantly. Yet it became apparent after about 15 years that her time was up—others needed to take the ministry further than she could. It was painful, utterly, and yet necessary for the waters to flow onward.

That happened over and over: Wayne Bowman of New Zealand and Ian Lind of Australia labored strenuously to dig the first ditches for Living Waters in their lands. Yet for different reasons, both realized they needed to pass the shovel: Wayne passed it to Cam Rimmer who dug tirelessly for years then just recently passed it to Helen Harris; Ian to Ron and Ruth Brookman who have dug trenches throughout their vast continent over the last decade.

In the USA, Helen Bach knew her time was up; this amazing ‘mother of the faith’ had built up the work considerably. It required nothing short of a death in order for her to place the work in the hands of Dean Greer. She did it for love—realizing her priorities as well as Dean’s readiness to take the work in new directions.

I will never forget our first training in South Africa. Duncan Bower had coordinated the effort and at the very end of our week declared that he needed to let go of the work because of some other priorities. That meant no-one was in place to supervise those freshly trained! We scrambled for a solution.

Blessed Ruth McGlaughlin agreed to take Living Waters the next step for a short season (she then passed it to Johann who later handed it to Craig…). I will never forget the wide-eyed look on her face (panic-stricken may better describe it) as the non-African team drove off from the site, leaving her with a stack of leaders’ evaluations and a desperate cry in her heart: ‘What did I just sign up for?’

The point is: we are each called to do our part. That’s all. We experience the normal human tendency to cling to a call but God in His mercy pries it loose from us. He takes it back and teaches us once more that actually it is all about Him.
In our surrender, the husk breaks, thus releasing more mercy to the land.

‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ (Lk 17:10)
‘Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes plants grow.’ (1Cor 3:7)

‘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.’

Dunking the River Goddess

I hate idolatry. The worship of false gods turns humans into animals. While worship of the one true God humbles and exalts what is best in humanity, idolatry enslaves us.

No-where is this more evident to me than in Thailand–the first nation I served that had no Judeo-Christian foundation. Through the veneer of Thai women dressed as dainty goddesses and orange-clad monks bending incessantly to Buddha, sexual immorality reaches new lows. The devotion to myriad gods and goddesses of their own design renders the Thais subject to multiple partnerships, the sex-trafficking of children, and other vile perversions.

False spirituality is a set-up for sexual immorality. Yet how much more beautiful is the hunger of those whose eyes have been opened to Jesus Christ, and who, out of worship of the One, long to be set free from the sexual ties that have bound them? And the gender confusion that has blinded them?

No-where on earth have I seen such a pure hunger for holiness than in Thailand. The tiny minority of Thai Christians knows its need for Jesus in body and soul.
Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

I will never forget our first conference in Bangkok; it was nearly an afterthought, at the end of a rather thankless series of gatherings in a very ‘religious’ Asian nation. There we worked hard for little, incurring more resistance to ‘living water’ than the release of it.

The biggest enemy of mercy is not idolatry but uptight religion.

Exhausted and discouraged upon entering Thailand, we were amazed to find 400 young adults eagerly awaiting us at the conference. (Thanks in no small degree to the intrepid Sue Hunt!)

God moved mightily through our weakness; it was the first wave of ‘living waters’ in Thailand, with many more to come.

Our next gathering was in Chang Mai, in the north. We arrived on the eve of ‘The Festival of the River Goddess.’ Idolatry had reached a fever pitch in streets rife with sexual immorality. Gay couples mingled with drugged out ‘Anglos’ on the prowl for partners of every age and gender. Most evident was the massive amount of gender confusion. On floats commemorating the ‘river goddess’, dozens of petit Thai princesses preened for the public; the majority were young men whose femininity had been cultivated by a culture unaware of other alternatives.

Whoever thinks Buddhism is a sweet peaceful discipline needs to think again.

I sought refuge downstream in a quiet spot on the river’s edge. Before I could whisper a prayer, a man came up to me with two small children and offered them to me for a price. I became indignant. I made the sign of the cross and told him in no uncertain terms that his children needed his protection. I gave him all the money I had to delay the inevitable. I wept.

And got fired up. Our conference was held in a small church overshadowed by a large Buddhist monastery, one notorious for homosexual practice among the monks. The spiritual atmosphere was quite heavy. More powerful still was the mercy of God setting people free. The testimonies of the Thais who had entered into the river of blood and water sent demons to flight; they paved a sure path to the cross for their countrymen.

Idolatry dulls and divides the heart; Jesus awakens and unifies it. Thank God for His mercy. He alone gives us authority to dunk the river goddess and arise in new life. The old idolater dies, but a new man or woman arises out of the cleansing flood.

‘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.’

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.’

Merciful Rest

Running hard in the jungles of Venezuela or on the pampas of Argentina (or crazy lost anywhere in Europe) may sound fun but actually it is exhausting. And so I was upon returning home after a particularly arduous trip.

Annette and I took a few days off—no release; I increased my sleep each night—no release. Everything seemed hard and a hassle; even normal sources of connection and renewal seemed more a drain than a gift. I was approaching burn-out (the experts call it ‘pre burn-out’), and it scared me.

I went back into counseling with a trusted Christian and began to see that my works for Jesus were overtaking my devotion to Him. Slowly, steadily, I was spending less time in His Presence and more time tending to the needs of my large family and the growing global family of ‘Living Waters’ ministers.

The Lord turned and looked at me the way He did Peter after the apostle’s third denial. Like Peter, I wept bitterly. (Lk 22:62) I had made a vow to the Lord years earlier that nothing would come between us, that I would wake up every day and seek His face, regardless of other demands. I denied Him that. My works for Him had overtaken my devotion to Him.

I had to return to Him. That began a rather long process of exploring fresh ways to pray. I discovered contemplative prayer, the quiet prayer in which one simply rests in His Presence, calling to mind and heart only His unfailing love. In that way, God works His way in us, without a lot of words, as we seek only to rest in Him.

I spent anywhere from 30 minutes to 60 minutes each morning just gazing on His goodness. (Meditating on the cross and a few choice scriptures helped out here.)

To be honest, I was so tired that’s all I could do—no interceding for the ‘10-40 window’ or racing through the Old Testament for this haggard saint!

I re-entered the rest of what He had done for me. I fulfilled the exhortation ‘to make every effort to enter the rest’ (Heb. 4:9-11), and discovered there was a Sabbath rest for me. If I did not draw constantly from that merciful stream, then I risked ‘falling into disobedience’ (v.11).

That disobedience involved my works outpacing my devotion to Him, and could disqualify me from God’s call—to grow in strength and wisdom as I keep digging ditches around the globe.

I found rest as I sent down my roots into this mercy stream. I could draw from it at the beginning of the day, and throughout the day, as I paused to consider what He had done for me.

He restored my soul. The water levels rose as I made the little daily effort to be still and receive His grace.

‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me besides quiet waters;
He restores my soul.’ (PS 23: 2, 3)

‘In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.’
(Is. 30:15)

‘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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