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.’