Waving the Flag of Surrender

surrenderAs Christians, we sing and talk about surrender all the time. We often forget that surrender is a battle term. It means giving up all rights to the conqueror. When an army surrenders, the victors take complete control over their lives. When we surrender to God, we are declaring that He has won, we have been defeated and subdued, and we give ourselves over to God’s plan for our lives.

I’m a proud person. I’ve always worked hard, and I have always gotten what I’ve wanted. I studied hard and got a good degree and a well-paying job. I work out and eat well so that I have a strong body. I practice so that I can become a better worship leader.

But when it came to my sexual struggles, it was a completely different story. Growing up, I had a perceived lack of masculine affirmation, affection and acknowledgement in my life. When I discovered homosexual pornography, it was the perfect drug. These were men willing and ready to share intimacy and vulnerability with me. I could control these relationships, and there was no risk on my end. What I didn’t realize was that I was training my heart and my head to receive male love through this avenue only.

It took six years of silent struggle and mental torture before I could write these words in my prayer journal, “I am struggling with homosexuality. God, I’m not asking for You to magically make it disappear, but I do want You to help me change my life. I know You have the power to intervene and change me like nothing else can.” That was my first step in surrender.

After that journal entry, it took another three years before I could take the next step of surrender and confess this struggle to another person. Each time I brought it out into the open, it weakened the pull of my addiction and strengthened my bond with another man in a healthy and legitimate way. There was freedom in admitting that I was powerless, that I struggled with same-sex attractions. But just surrendering to the reality that I was powerless over sin and lust and acting out wasn’t enough. I needed help; I needed to surrender to something or someone outside of myself and my own patterns of thinking.

It was terrifying to come to Outpost for the first time. But eventually, this became a safe place for me and a refuge for my soul. There was also great promise and hope here. I saw men fighting in strength, walking in the fullness of their masculinity, and I saw restoration. I liked what I saw, and I wanted it. So I gave myself to this process of recovery. I came every week. I shared during our small groups. I said yes to whatever the leaders challenged us to do.

From that point, this journey has been a series of cliffs for me to jump off. Each time, it has felt like I would drop into oblivion. Each time, I had to surrender another part of my heart that I had been holding on to in defiance. I had to allow that part of my heart to become reconciled to God.

When we were required to have an hour of listening prayer each day, it meant waking up earlier. And if that meant waking up at 4:30am, then I had to surrender my sleep. When I was still struggling with pornography and isolation, I had to surrender my independence and find a roommate. When I started to develop an emotionally dependent relationship with my best friend, I had to surrender that relationship.

When I pursued relationship with a woman, and she broke my heart, I had to surrender my singleness and my loneliness to God. When I moved into my own place again, I knew I couldn’t have internet. I had to surrender my convenience and only use the internet at work

Each step is another terrifying adventure where God asks, “Are you going to trust Me in this?” I have had to come to the end of myself and finally let God have a personal place in my life. And just when I think I’ve already given my all to God, He reveals another part of my heart I’m holding on to with a death grip. He asks me, “How can you receive more from Me when your hands are clenched tightly around this?”

I need to constantly remind myself to trust in God. If I believe that God knows the deepest parts of my heart better than I know myself, then I can trust Him. If I believe that God knows what will truly make me come alive, then I can trust Him.

I had to surrender my sleep for listening prayer, but this discipline has taught me how to hear God and how have intimacy with Him. I had to surrender my independence and live with roommates I couldn’t stand, but with them, I learned about patience. I had to surrender one of my best friends, but it was only in letting go that we could learn to love one another in a healthy way and have God bring a new depth to our friendship.

I had to surrender my singleness and loneliness to God, but after that I began to appreciate being alone, and being alone with God. I had to surrender convenience by not having internet, but I haven’t struggled with pornography or masturbation since moving to my new apartment.

There’s an illustration that has helped me understand surrender: Imagine life as a rollercoaster. There’s going to be a big drop and bunch of twists and turns. I can try to hold onto the handle bars and clench my teeth, or I can raise my hands and feel the rush. Either way, I’m still going to drop, and I’m still going to be held in. So why not just enjoy the ride?

There can be so much death in surrendering and letting go. But there can also be so much peace and life when we finally give God space in our hearts.

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Drinking the Cup of Life

Silver Cup

The Cup. It’s a universal symbol. It’s not just something humans use to drink. Many cups speak of victory—soccer cups, football cups. These cups speak of bravery, fame, and great power. Many cups also speak of death. The cups in Isaiah and Jeremiah are the cups of God’s wrath and destruction. Then there is Jesus’ cup, a symbol of life filled with sorrows and joys that we can hold, lift, and drink.

Nine years ago, I was sitting at a local coffee shop, terrified to tell the first person about my struggle with same-sex-attractions. While waiting for my friend, I sat sipping my coffee, reading Luke 22:24 about 100 times before he showed up, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (NIV).

Jesus was willing to drink the cup; I wanted nothing to do with the cup I had been given. I had no idea what was even in my cup. I was comfortable, living a life of fantasy and addiction, and I had no idea what my reality was. I couldn’t feel anything. I came to Outpost six years later. As I shared my story with leaders for the first time and heard their stories, I began to confront the very things I had vowed I wouldn’t talk about again.

Drinking the cup we’ve been given, however, is much more than gulping down whatever happens to be in there. In our American way, we want the quickest possible result, but the Holy Spirit is in for the process of holiness. 

Holding the Cup. Well-renowned priest and author Henri Nouwen writes, “Holding the cup of life is a way of looking critically at who we really are, accepting our various skills, inadequacies and differences from others, and rejoicing in our radical singularity.”

I recently visited a vineyard and took an informal class on drinking wine. The sommelier taught us how to properly hold a wine glass, how to smell the aroma, how to cleanse the palate, and how to best taste the wine presented and enjoy the full experience. It takes all five senses to fully enjoy a good glass of wine. You have to know what you’re drinking, and you have to be able to talk about it.

Holding the cup of life means looking critically at the lives we are living. Just living our lives is not enough. We have to process, reflect, contemplate, discuss, and form opinions about it, just like wine tasting. This is living: looking deeply into our lives at the things that make us human—a living, breathing being with a body, soul, and spirit, in all our uniqueness and imperfections.

It takes great courage and can be terrifying. But don’t run, as this will be your first inclination. Confront it. Hold the cup. Ask Christ for more revelation, more truth, and more resolve.

The Cup of Sorrow. Some of us are all too familiar with the cup of sorrow. We have all experienced sadness, pain, grief, and hardship. Before coming to Outpost, though, I had hidden my sorrow in years of fantasy and addiction. All of the things I did to avoid the pain hurt me much more than actually feeling the pain would have.

I have now experienced deep sorrow over my struggle and for not owning my story for so long. I’ve had to mourn the lost years of my adolescence and young adult years. Even now, it is still painful that God has not quickly given me what I have most desired: complete freedom from same-sex attractions, addiction, and comparison. In embracing my pain, however, I’ve discovered my desire to have deep, healthy intimacy. The unfulfilled needs for affirmation remain alive in me.

Is there pain you’re running from? What are the ugliest parts of your soul, the things that cause the most shame? What are the things you have vowed that you’d never speak of to anyone?

Pain is not a mistake to hide or fix, it’s a traveling professor. When pain knocks on the door, wise ones breathe deep and say, “Come in. Sit down with me. And don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.” Pain is not something to run from. Rather, we need to run to it because that’s where healing happens. The discomfort is purposeful: it is there to teach us what we need to know so we can become who we were meant to be.

Before His crucifixion, Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus felt like he couldn’t drink the cup filled to the brim with sorrow and pain. But Jesus had a bond with the One He called “Abba”. Jesus didn’t drink the cup out of will power, determination, or great heroism. He possessed with Abba a trust beyond betrayal, a surrender beyond despair, and a love beyond all fears.

After Jesus’ prayer, Luke mentions, “Then an angel appeared to him, coming from heaven to give him strength” (22:43). In times of deep pain and sorrow, we have access to this strength. Dare I say the cup of sorrow, as extremely difficult as it seems, also leads to the cup of joy. Only when we discover this in our own lives an we consider drinking it.

The Cup of Joy. For anyone who has the courage to enter deeply into our human sorrows, there is a revelation of joy. Jesus’ life is not one of only sorrow that ended in his crucifixion. His beautiful life with sacred wounds continues in His glory and the glory of His Father.

The risen Lord invites all people into his new and eternal life. Jesus, who cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” also said in total surrender, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus, who participated fully in all of our pain on the cross, wants us to participate fully in His joy. He wants us to be a people of joy! Jesus’ “yes” while he was in the Garden was one of unconditional trust in His Father. It gave Him the ability to drink His cup, not in passivity or spite, but with the full knowledge that the hour of His death would also be the hour of His glory.

Lifting the Cup. Henri Nouwen defines lifting the cup as “an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together. It means joining in community and sharing our cravings, our fantasies, our shame or vulnerabilities and giving others permission to do likewise in a spirit of blessing, of giving thanks.”1 When each of us can hold firm our own cup, claiming it as our own, it is then that we can lift it up for others to see.

When we lift our cup together in community, it is a way to celebrate the truth that we all carry wounds. In a place of mature, safe community, these wounds become areas of healing. Lifting our cup is a gesture of hope.

I am a fiercely independent person, but I’m also a fiercely relational person. In our “I can do it myself” society, I hid my need of relationship in fear and shame. It wasn’t until I understood vulnerability, until I trusted my brothers and lifted my cup, allowing them to see me, that relationship happened. Grace and mercy happened. I learned that we are wired for struggle, but we are also worthy of love and belonging.

You are a good gift. Life is not something to be ashamed of, but it is a gift to be shared with others. The cup filled with sorrow and joy, when lifted for others to see, can become the cup of life.

 Drinking the Cup. Henri Nouwen says, “Drinking the cup of life is fully appropriating and internalizing our own unique existence, with all its sorrows and joys. It’s a challenge to forthrightly acknowledge who we are, to forsake the entrapments of our addictions, compulsions, and sins and to be fully trusting in God and Jesus who, in a spirit of unconditional love, accepted his ministry with all its consequences.”1

Drinking the cup makes us own everything we are living. This isn’t “making the best of it” or “dealing with the cards you’ve been dealt”. It’s agreeing, “This is my life, and dare I say, with all of the sorrow and joys, I want this to be my life.”

When we do not drink our cup, avoiding the sorrows and joys of life, our lives become inauthentic, insincere, superficial, and boring. We are like puppets controlled by the world surrounding us. We remain victims of other people. Drinking our cup is a hopeful, courageous, grace-filled way of living. It is standing in the world, solidly rooted in the knowledge of our true identity in Christ, still becoming who we were created to be.

 Drinking to the Bottom. In Matthew 20:20-23, the mother of James and John asked Jesus if He would grant her sons to sit next to Him in His kingdom. Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” James and John responded, “We can.” They had no idea what they were saying yes to. They had no idea that Jesus would be tortured and killed on a cross. They had no idea how easy it would be to say “yes” initially and that the subsequent “yeses” would become increasingly difficult. All they knew was that they had been deeply touched by the man Christ Jesus.

Jesus’ invitation to us to drink the cup without offering the reward we expect is the great challenge of the spiritual life. It turns our hope of a comfortable, predictable future upside down. It calls for radical trust in God, the same trust that made Jesus drink the cup to the bottom.

We have to drink our cup slowly, embracing all of the joys and sorrows, drinking all the way to the bottom, as Christ did. As we drink it, writes Nouwen, we will realize that the One who has called us “The Beloved,” even before we were born, is filling it with everlasting life.

1Nouwen, H. (n.d.). Henri Nouwen’s Intimate Letters Shed Light on his ‘Theology of the Heart’. Retrieved from http://henrinouwen.org/henri-nouwens-intimate-letters-shed-light-theology-heart/

Power Perfected

power weaknessWhile same-sex attraction (SSA) has been present for all of human history, how it is viewed has changed over time. It wasn’t long ago that SSA was rarely discussed and viewed by some as the worst sin imaginable. In recent years, it is celebrated—demonstrated by massive parades in major cities around the world—and considered to be a source of pride.

Ask our participants to describe their experience of unwanted SSA, however, and you will hear words like painful, suffering, and weakness. (Do marchers in the gay pride parades experience the same pain? Perhaps, but that is a topic for another time.) It is a unique brand of unseen pain. We know that we are different than about 98% of the population and that life has sent us on a strange, unasked-for trajectory. Relationships with the same sex are difficult and can be confusing. Relationships with the opposite sex are not what they should be, and we know it. We wonder what the future holds. Joys that are routine and second nature to the general population seem far off. This isn’t the life that we had in mind for ourselves.

At Outpost, we are accustomed to hearing these stories of weakness, pain, and struggle on a regular basis. Indeed, we know that every time the telephone rings, there may be a caller on the other end of the line in pain, sharing her story for the first time, and there may be tears before the call is over.

For those of us afflicted with SSA, how are we to view this unexpected, unwanted turn of events? There are all sorts of responses ranging from anger to hopelessness, to blaming others, to rebellion. We’ve seen all of these responses, and many of us have dealt with them in our own hearts. But for followers of Christ, is there any instruction in God’s Word that will help us rightly view this weakness that has overtaken us?

The Apostle Paul deals with weakness squarely in 2 Corinthians 12. Afflicted with his own “thorn in the flesh”, he says “I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (v. 8–10, ESV).

The Lord did not take away Paul’s affliction. Instead, he gave Paul something better.

I’ve heard many testimonies from those with unwanted SSA, and it is not uncommon to hear believers say that this unique affliction led them to Christ. If life had been all good and hadn’t been made messy by SSA, they would have never known their need for a Savior and entered into a life-changing, joy-producing relationship with Him. It’s true for me as well. It has been a rough and painful road, but SSA was the street that led me to Christ as a lost 18 year-

old. And not only did it lead me to Him initially, but it has also led me to His throne of grace day after day ever since. Thankfully, He has never failed to meet me there.

Jason Meyer, Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, shared in a sermon, “God’s solution for earthly suffering is not to take away the pain and the problems and make earth a paradise. His solution is to give us more of Himself so that we have enough to make it through our struggles and our trials” (“Boasting Like a Weakling,” May 30, 2015.) If you have been afflicted with SSA, it is true that you’ve been dealt a tough hand. But if it leads you to Jesus, you have the very best that life has to offer—the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in a field. “Every heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee,” according to Augustine in his Confessions, and you have found the rest in Christ that every heart longs for. He is with you continually. He has paid for every sin you’ve committed. He hears every cry of your heart.

The long haul of SSA also gives one power. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” Jesus spoke to Paul, leading him to a 180 degree turn on his view of the thorn in his flesh. “I am content with weaknesses . . . for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). Through this affliction, we have come to know a victory that, in our own strength, we never would have won. Christ is in the process of transforming us, making us strong in the broken places, not strong in the strong places. As Pastor Meyer put it, “Paul is pleased with being a weak canvas because weak canvases are the only ones that Christ will paint upon” (“When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong,” June 6, 2015.)

This wonderful truth frees us from self-pity. Yes, the experience of SSA is a profound challenge, but God is setting us up for profound strength. The strongest people on the planet have been saddled with the most challenging circumstances. SSA is preparing us to join them. Why? Because “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).

So if you are dealing with your own issues of unwanted same-sex attraction, take heart. The piercing arrow of SSA need not penetrate your armor. Pick it up and put it in your quiver. It carries grace and power and is making you into mighty men and women of God. He is giving you more of Himself, and He is preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Millennials and Eternity

Man Carrying Cross GraphicI recently met with a young man struggling to find hope. Struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) is hard; struggling with SSA in

our society is even harder. My heart breaks for these young ones desperately trying to obey Jesus in a culture which tells them that the way to fulfillment and joy is to embrace their flesh. Much of the Church is saying the same thing.

Jesus’ message has never changed. In order to find what we are looking for, we must first deny our flesh and take up our cross. This is the first step in following King Jesus. There is simply no other way.

This can be a hard word for millennials. Growing up with the world at their fingertips has had its downside. Suffering isn’t sexy or glamorous, and what’s more, it hurts. So what will motivate the next generation through trial and tribulation? What will cause their hearts to persevere?

The answer is this: eternal rewards. This is how Jesus motivates the Church in the book of Revelation. To him who overcomes, He says,

  • I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (2:7, NKJV).
  • I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it (2:17).
  • I will give power over the nations (2:26).
  • I will give him the morning star (2:28).
  • I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (3:21).

There are those in Christendom who want their best life now. I, on the other hand, am living for another age. This is how we need to be envisioning the next generation. We are but pilgrims in this land; this world is not our home. Jesus has gone to prepare an amazing, eternal dwelling place for the saints, and we will live there with Him FOREVER. Until then, we can echo the words of Paul from 2 Corinthians 4:17: For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

I long for the next generation to walk in glory forever. That is one of the primary reasons I do what I do. Thanks for your support as we at Outpost continue to partner with the Holy Spirit in raising up a generation in God’s love and power!

Heroes

heroesDo you have heroes? If you don’t, you should—it’s important to look up to somebody. I have heroes of my own. As it happens, my case is a little special because some of my heroes are the young men who come to us for help.

One of the hats I wear at Outpost Ministries involves giving leadership to weekly programming called Joshua Fellowship. It’s a group of guys who grew up as Christians, for the most part, but then—frequently to their shock and dismay—found themselves experiencing same-sex attractions.

These guys spring from a variety of backstories. Some have never ceased to fight against what they regard as temptation and sinful behavior; others were out and proud for years until Jesus got in their face.  Some already have a great deal of inner-healing under their belts; others don’t yet know what that is. Some are respected professionals—dentists, architects, etc., while others are broke college students.

But there are a couple of common denominators; one is that they are all faithful men of God, indeed. You and I, my friend, could stand to learn a thing or two from the kind of stubborn dedication to Christ which these young men live out every day. And the other is that they have each survived a bloody battlefield to get here.

There’s a quote I like to use from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: “All of us sought an easier, softer way, but it availed us nothing!” Does that sound like real life? Well, it rings true for these guys too. There’s a story I like to tell them, and it’s remarkable how often it hits home. It goes, with variations, like this:

Adolescent Boy begins to discover his sexuality, but to his surprise, along with that comes same-sex attractions. Well, at that point, what should he do? He should probably tell somebody; he should get some help, right? But sadly, that’s the one thing which almost never happens. Why? Because the young man lives in a Christian world, and the last thing he wants is for his struggle to become known. So, he keeps it a secret and struggles on alone, often frightened and certainly confused, frustrated and ashamed. He’s a Christian, you see, and he believes embracing his same-sex attractions is wrong, and so he tries hard to change, without success.

So he resorts to religion and gets involved in church: he volunteers, leads, mentors. His parents are proud, and the community is impressed. But his secret is still there and still bites.

So he goes away to Bible school because, he reasons, what he really needs is to immerse himself even more deeply in the things of God. That will kill this struggle. But it doesn’t.

So he goes on to seminary because, after all, professional Christians could not possibly struggle with something like same-sex attractions. And then, when that doesn’t work either, he begins to realize that he’s out of options.

Except that he remembers some time ago somebody mentioned a place called Outpost. And so, in pure desperation, he finally picks up the phone.

Of course this is only a story, but when I tell it, there tend to be sheepish grins here and there in the room. And I’ve told this story to you to illustrate that favorite quote of mine: all of us try an easier, softer way, but it avails us nothing. On that level, these guys are no different from you and me.

What does set them apart, though, is that they didn’t give up. Faced with a relentless enemy, defeating them at every turn, surrounded by a public discourse which pronounces the utter hopelessness of their cause, they did not cease to seek a way to lay their sexuality at the feet of Jesus. Whatever solutions they had tried first, in the end it was their saving faith which brought them, finally, to Outpost.

That’s the kind of guys I get to work with. They’re heroes before they ever come to us. If the Church were composed of such, our enemy would have far less freedom of movement, and the world would be a different place than it is now.

They don’t see it that way, of course. They don’t call themselves heroes. They come broken, confused, angry, dispirited, disillusioned, desperate and in pain. And my role, then, is to labor to point them to the only pathway to healing that’s left to try: the genuine love of Jesus.

And so together we get to work, and we spend time talking, teaching, exposing lies, taking risks, getting honest. Sometimes, as we do those things, the time comes—not right away, as it takes a lot of work—when I am granted a very special privilege. I get to be present when something happens, and they begin to engage in real time with the real love of a real God who really is there and, as it turns out, has not forgotten them after all.

It’s like—well, the best way I can describe it is that it’s like watching the sun come up. Of course, they’re not finished; there’s lots of work ahead for them. But it does mean once that miracle happens, the playing field has changed. They are no longer smoldering wicks whose best hope was to stubbornly refuse to go out. Now they have tasted fire. They have a new capacity for desire. They’ve moved beyond mere desperation and are motivated now by a ravenous hunger for the genuine presence of Jesus. We call it “turning the corner,” and it’s when the fun really starts.

What’s a hero? A hero is someone who, faced with impossible odds, shouted down by every voice, nevertheless sticks to his guns and refuses to give up. We think of heroes as winners, but what really makes a hero is the courage it takes to refuse to lose, no matter what the odds or how long it takes or how much it hurts.

The Bible promises victory to the faithful. Victory is a marvelous thing; it is a time to rejoice and celebrate the victor. But never forget that victory comes always after faithfulness. And faithfulness is no picnic because it happens in the trenches where winning seems a happy but remote dream and defeat would be oh, so much easier.

Faithfulness is never a mountaintop experience; if you’re a Christian, you know that.

The guys and I have a name for the place where faith happens. We call it the Valley of the Shadow of Death because in that place, the enemy is all around us, and darkness and defeat sometimes overshadow us. The only way out is through, and the only way through is to follow Jesus—no matter how rocky, confusing or unexpected the path is upon which He leads us.

Are my guys heroes? You do the math.

Lessons from Orlando

We as staff at Outpost Ministries are incredibly grieved over the heinus shootings that took place on the morning of June 11 at the gay night club Pulse in Orlando.  Our hearts are broken for the victims–dead and surviving, their families and friends.  The reality is that at one point, some among us—past and present staff, colleagues in sister ministries, participants in our programming—have been at the gay bars and clubs, the parades, the bath houses, even the escort services.  It’s only with much humility that we acknowledge we were washed, sanctified, and “were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinth. 6:11).  If this tragedy had occurred at a different time and place, the victims could have easily been one of us or a dearly loved one.

We recognize that we have delayed on weighing in on this tragic event.  It hasn’t been without much consideration and emotion.  I have personally wept over this situation.  We have proceeded with caution because we want our voice to be clear, not muddied by the hateful, unbiblical soundbites from a small minority who claim to follow Christ and the angry backlash that has ensued. Current events are shifting quickly; several tragedies have occurred nationally and around the globe since Orlando. Hopefully, our opportunity to speak into this event has not passed.

I believe that this tragedy is a significant wake-up call to the Church to some critical realities that beg from us, not only a response, but action.  First, the LGBT community is hurting deeply, and we have an incredible opportunity to show the Father’s tangible love and compassion to individuals.  This tragedy has obviously been particularly frightening and painful for them.  Many of them have deep wounds of feeling rejected at various levels—abuse, bullying, family divisions, disenfranchisement from the Church.  Unhealed wounds are only exacerbated by further rejection; to murder someone is the ultimate form of rejection.  Individuals have been reeling with the question, “How could someone hate me—or someone like me—to the point of wanting me dead?”  The shootings—and the hateful, unbiblical rhetoric—have reopened old wounds and left hurting people raw and exposed.

How can we practice love and compassion?  We can take risks and engage in relationship with them, have real conversations and build trust.  Ask them about their stories, about their longings and disappointments, even how the shootings have impacted them personally.  We can show hospitality.  Remember, Jesus dined with sinners!  He didn’t wait until they stopped sinning until He reached out to them.  We can love extravagantly through acts of service.  We can even seek to understand our own past woundings and resulting sexual and relational brokenness and seek healing at the cross.  We don’t have to do any of this perfectly.  We don’t need to be ashamed of walking out both grace and truth, but we do need to walk them out in humility.  The key is to put aside fear and intimidation of the gay agenda and of the fear of man and reach out to lost, broken and desperately hurting people.

Do you know any same-sex strugglers on the journey of healing and wholeness?  Do you know any family members struggling to maintain relationships with their gay-identified loved ones?  They have been shaken by this event too.  In this cultural climate, their journeys are not easy ones.  Make a point to encourage them often.  Become community for them.

Second, we as humans have a real enemy, and we are in a real war, though we ”do not wrestle against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12).  A friend of mine posted on social media after the shootings, “The issue here is not about gun control.  It’s not about homosexuality.  It’s not about Islam.  It’s not about America.  It’s about evil.  Humanity suffers today because evil is real.”  God’s enemy Satan—and therefore our enemy—is the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).  That is exactly what he did in Orlando.

Darkness is increasing in our nation.  Division is abounding at every level; violence is escalating at an alarming rate.  Before Orlando, mass shootings were occurring with such frequency that they were getting less media coverage and less of our time.  This act of violence, however, caught our attention.  Not only was it the worst mass shooting in America’s history and the deadliest act of terror in our country since 9/11, but the nature of the act was especially dark.

As the Church our response must be, in the spirit of Joel 2, to return to the Lord with all our hearts “with fasting and weeping and mourning” for our nation (v. 12).  What darker evil needs to befall us before we begin to weep before porch and altar and cry out, “Spare Your people, O Lord!”  Many of us are familiar with the Lord’s response to Solomon as he dedicated the completed temple, “’If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’” (2 Chron. 7:14).  Are we doing this, Church?  We don’t do it just once; our intercession is an ongoing necessity.

I am also reminded of the letters to the seven churches in the beginning of Revelation.  I encourage you to read and meditate on Revelation 2-3.  If there is any question, Jesus is very clear about what we as the Body of Christ need to repent of:  having lukewarm hearts, finding satisfaction in our wealth instead of in God, tolerating wickedness and various sins and losing sight of our First Love. Pretty much every church representation—what we consider “liberal” and “conservative”—seems to be covered.  Christians are quick to point a finger at which denomination, church or individual’s sins are greater and who needs to do the repenting.  But humility begins with me.  Prayer and seeking God begin with me.  Confession and repentance begin with me.

Third, persecution of the Church in our nation is coming quickly.  The Orlando shootings have a particularly double-edged sword because, based on media-generated discussion that followed, the event has the potential to fuel and accelerate the persecution of the Church.  The world doesn’t acknowledge a spiritual enemy, and it is looking for someone to blame.  Christ-followers who stand for obedience to God’s Word and His transforming power are being equated with radical Islamic terrorists.  The good news is that in God’s reality, persecution of the Church results in the advancement of His Kingdom.  History tells us that persecution can be the match to the wildfire of the spreading of His Word.

Are we ready for this, Church?  To be honest, I’m not sure that I am—who wants to be persecuted?—but I want to be ready.  We can prepare by filling our lamps with oil (Matt. 25:1-13) and spending time growing in intimacy with the man Christ Jesus.  Jesus also directly offers encouragement to the suffering Church in Revelation 2-3.  We must daily set our gaze on Him and set our hearts to persevere so that we will not be offended in the time of testing.

Beloved, let us allow the tragedy in Orlando to awaken us and sober us.  We must be moved to new levels of love and compassion, humility and repentance, intimacy and perseverance.  Our Bridegroom is coming.  We must make ourselves ready.

Learning to Trust: A Wife’s Journey

wedding ringsI am the wife of a man who struggled with same-sex attractions in isolation for more than 25 years of our marriage.

I am also a sister, niece, godmother, aunt and neighbor to individuals who have identified as gay. The Lord has wanted me to deal with the issue of homosexuality and to experience the pain He feels for His children at a deeper level than most people. But the Lord first had lessons to teach me and wounds to heal in me before that could take place. Two of those areas in my life were in trust and forgiveness.

My husband Dave and I were high school sweethearts. He was gentle and kind, and I fell in love with him on the very first date. He was safe! I needed someone who was safe after being sexually abused by my grandfather for two years as a child. I needed someone I could trust, and I could trust Dave!

However, one month before we were to be married, Dave came to me and told me that he dealt with same-sex attractions and had also contracted an STD from a man. He expected that I would call off the wedding. I did not! I was naïve, and I loved him too much to let him go. We both assumed marriage would change him.  But my trust in him was broken.

I resorted to trusting in alcohol to kill my pain. I began parking outside gay bars because I was paranoid about what Dave was doing. Six years into our marriage, Jesus came in and, as our Lord and Savior, took over both of our lives. I had to learn to trust the Lord, and He gave me the ability to completely trust Dave again and no longer doubt his fidelity.

I needed to trust God after eight years of marriage and no children. We then adopted the first of our two sons—a special needs child with hydrocephalus, a son given a prognosis of severe retardation. I had to trust God for what He was going to do in my son’s life, if anything!

I had to trust God when, after 10 years of marriage, He blessed me by allowing me to become pregnant—telling me in prayer “this child is sanctified by Me”—only to take that child away by miscarriage the very next day. I cried out to God because I could not understand why. Then a dear friend told me ‘sanctified’ means, ‘taken from the world and given back to God.’ I had to forgive God for not giving me what I wanted. Then in my arrogance, He humbled me to ask for forgiveness for not trusting that He knew what was best for me.

In the two years following, I had to trust God when my son went through brain surgery and when the Lord took two more children away through miscarriage. Dave, with the stress and pain he felt at home, decided to get away and think about whether or not he should end the marriage and go into the gay life.

It hurt too much to keep this secret anymore. I confided in a man who was mentoring Dave that he had left. I also told Dave he had to confide in his mentor about his struggle before he even thought about coming home. I put all my trust in God that He would work this out in Dave. He did! Dave’s love of God and love for his family was strong!

He came back and said that he was ‘in it for the long haul.’ He started his long healing journey of being ‘called out’ of homosexuality. I was able to forgive him and trust in Jesus.

In 1997, Dave asked if he could go to Outpost. Within a few months, I joined him at what were at that time open meetings, and I gained such a love and respect for all the men there. After a few months, Outpost leaders asked us to give our testimony at an open meeting. Five days before we were to give our testimony, Dave said we should discuss what the other was going to say so there would be no surprises! That was when I found out about David’s numerous anonymous homosexual encounters for almost 27 years of our marriage. He assumed I knew and asked for my forgiveness. The day had come when I would need to forgive the most! The first words out of my mouth were, “I can’t!” Then God gave me another lesson in forgiveness: He showed me all the times that my Lord had forgiven me. Within 30 seconds, I told Dave, “I have to forgive you!” It was an act of my will. I did not feel like forgiving, but I put my trust in God, and I did.

The next few days were the most intimate times with God I have encountered in my life. With my extending forgiveness to Dave, Jesus could start healing the pain and grief I was experiencing. I cried out to God with my feelings of anger and betrayal, but my times with Him ended in love. He brought me to Colossians 3:14 in Dave’s Promise Keepers Bible, “Love is more important than anything else; it is what ties everything completely together.” I screamed at God, “Why didn’t you let me know this so I could help him?!” Jesus gave me parts of Psalm 91, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust.’” Then He changed the next part for me, “’Because (she) loves Me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue (her); I will protect (her), for (she) acknowledges My name.’” Then the room filled with the sweet presence of God, and I heard his voice saying, “I kept this knowledge from you for your own protection and for David’s. Your trust had to remain high. The decisions were David’s to make until My healing was complete. Your trust must still be strong. The old man has gone away and a new creation stands before you. Look not to the past but to the road I have laid before you both! Keep your eyes on Me!” Little did I know what that meant!

The Lord had us go through the Living Waters Program, where I learned to forgive my childhood abuser. He led us to start our own ministry, Simon Ministries for married couples, attend Living Waters Leadership Training, and begin leading the program in our own church for eight years.

The Lord has allowed me to share with those who have been sexually abused, those who have gone through infertility, miscarriages, adoption, those working with special needs children and now with wives whose husbands are struggling with same-sex attractions. Since Dave has been ‘called out’ of homosexuality and daily walking out his healing with Jesus, the Lord has taken us from coast to coast to share our testimony.

We closed Simon Ministries in 2010 and joined forces with Outpost where our healing first began. Dave still works with men dealing with SSA in the group CalebSpirit. I am working with wives struggling with forgiveness and trust in their marriages in our group Simon Refuge. I enjoy watching Jesus at work!

As a side note, we adopted a second son, Paul, who is a joy to us. But our first severely retarded son, Luke (we gave him a physician’s name), graduated from a Christian high school with a 3.0 GPA, has a college degree from University of Northwestern—St. Paul, worked for Billy Graham at Amsterdam 2000 and was just married on May 6th. His doctor stated that she had never seen a child reach normal let alone surpass it! To her, Luke is a miracle!

The Lord has loved me so much He has given me walking miracles in my house. I especially thank Jesus everyday for the gift of David as my husband. Last September we celebrated 45 years of marriage, and I would not change one minute of it. I have learned trust, forgiveness, and unconditional love and we have brought each other closer to God.

Tales of a Former Prodigal

lost sheepIn 2008, I began my journey out of a lesbian relationship.  God had been deeply convicting me that my partner had taken His rightful place in my heart and that I needed to decide who was Lord in my life.  God, in His mercy, made it easier for me by having my partner leave me.  In that place of abandonment, I had to decide.  Do I look for another partner, or do I choose God?  I chose God.  Now the work would begin of renewing my mind from the previous seven years of lies from the devil and the world about my identity.  Who was I?  I didn’t know anymore.  My identity was a mystery to me.

Although I felt like an outsider, I had never stopped going to church.  As I carefully tried to be part of the Body of Christ again and shared bits of my story, fellow believers asked, “How did this happen to you?”  I couldn’t explain it.  I didn’t understand how I had come to be in the condition I was in.  I knew the journey of my life events, but I didn’t understand the psychological or emotional undercurrents of those events that had brought me to this point in my life.

I began seeing a Christian counselor, and I attended Leanne Payne’s Pastoral Care Ministry Conferences, but the most helpful resource turned out to be a program called Living WatersLiving Waters is a 20-week inner-healing program for the sexually and relationally broken.  In Living Waters, I learned about events in my early childhood—nothing earth shaking, just subtle things—that set me up to hunger for feminine touch and connection.  You see, I was the middle child in my family. Psychologists sometimes refer to the middle child as “the lost child” where no one pays much attention to you.  It plays out that as your legitimate need for love from your same-sex parent doesn’t get met, you seek other ways to meet the need yourself.  You become needy, like you want to be the center of attention.  This was me to a “T”.  People thought I was fine because I was popular and loud and was the center of conversations, but the source of that striving was a lost, hurting heart.

I hid my pain and tried to push it down for years until, in my late 30’s, the pain resurfaced.  At the same time, the pro-gay movement was gaining momentum. I began to entertain the thought of being close to a woman.  Cognitively, I was in a battle with myself thinking it was a bad idea, but my emotions were driving me in this direction.

Fast forward to my partner leaving me.  I entered the Living Waters Program, and through the large group teachings accompanied by healing prayer in my small group, God Himself met me and filled the void in my heart with His love.  I couldn’t go back and relive the early years of my life, but God is all-sufficient for the needs we have.  When we ask Him, He comes and fills every gap, every hole, and all of the pain He takes away and sends to the cross.  No longer in pain, I could then begin to love myself and discover who I was, my true identity.

Today I help others find healing and reconnect to God through the ministry of Outpost.  I lead a group called Elijah Company, a group for parents and friends who have loved ones identifying as gay or struggling with same sex-attractions.  When parents first come, they feel shame and fear, not knowing who they can talk to about their situation.  They are grieving because of the loss they feel as their loved ones have distanced themselves from them.  When they come to Elijah Company, they find a safe place to talk about their pain and receive comfort from the group.  They share their stories with each other and encourage one another to trust Jesus with their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

After being in Elijah Company, most parents testify that their faith has grown exponentially as a result of their crying out to God and seeking His face daily for their loved one.  What at first seemed like a painful and hopeless situation slowly turns into faith and trust that we have a loving Father.  We have been together for so long now that some of our original parents are now sharing in their churches what God has done for their families.  They are giving hope to others in their churches and offering a safe place to come.

I chuckle when I think of one of my grandsons: he insists on learning the hard way.  He reminds me of myself!  Having been a prodigal daughter, I can testify to the goodness and faithfulness of God.  He has led me faithfully on this journey of the restoration of my heart.

How to Pray Like Jesus for Family and Friends

Have you ever struggled to pray regularly for the people God has placed in your life?  I know I have. Like many people, for years I used a prayer list of all my family and friends as a helpful place to begin. But even then I often had difficulty staying focused and praying meaningful, confident prayers for many of them. Invariably I would gravitate merely to a rote recitation of their names as I moved down the list.

It was not, however, until I discovered a Biblical, tried and true way to effectively pray for them that a new focus and faith began to energize my prayers.

There is one chapter in the Bible that is dedicated entirely to a verbatim prayer recited by Jesus. That chapter is John 17, and it is considered to be one of the great treasures in all of scripture because it preserves for posterity an entire prayer, prayed by the greatest pray-er who ever lived! Some have called it Jesus’ great High Priestly Prayer. In this chapter Jesus is praying for those the Father had committed to His care.

Apart from the first verse which says “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed,” everything that follows is in red letters. These are the words of Jesus as He prays to the Father for a very specific group of people: “for all those you have given me” (vs. 2; 6) and for “those who will believe in me through their message” (vs. 20). In fact, Jesus specifically narrows the field by saying, “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me.”

Who then is this select group for whom Jesus was praying? They were His apostles and disciples.  Interestingly this included His friends such as Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha; as well as His family – mother, brothers, sisters, and cousins.

The John 17 prayer of Jesus is therefore the best model ever given for our use in praying for those whom God has placed in our lives. A study of the prayer reveals that there are seven specific ways in which Jesus prayed for His loved ones.

These seven prayers lend a Biblical specificity to our prayers and These seven prayers lend a Biblical specificity to our prayers and inspire confidence and faith as we pray because we are praying the same words Jesus prayed.

Praying Scripture has always been a sure-fire way to pray effectively, and to me this way of praying for friends and family is as exciting and powerful as it gets. This is so because “this is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14 NIV).

Here are seven prayers you can use to pray following in Jesus’ footsteps: “Father… 

  1. GLORIFY Jesus through their lives by having them do the work you’ve given them to do. – “Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (vs. 1b). “I brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do” (vs. 4). Give them a clear sense of your calling and purpose that they might dedicate their lives to living for and glorifying you. 
  1. FORTIFY and protect them from the evil one and keep them safe in Jesus name. – “Protect them from the evil one” (vs. 15). Let no weapon formed against them prosper (Isaiah 54:17). May they put on the full armor of God to take their stand against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:10-18). 
  1. UNIFY them and make them one with you and with one another. – “…that all of them may be one” (vs. 21). Where there are broken relationships, release a spirit of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation (Ephesians 4:32). 
  1. SANCTIFY them in the truth of your Word. – Set them apart for you, and make them holy. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (vs. 17). Give them a hunger for your word, that they might make it their daily meditation and guide for all they do, as they walk in obedience to you (Psalm 119:105). 
  1. MULTIPLY them by sending them into the world with your message. – “I have sent them into the world . . . so that the world may believe” (vs. 18; 21). May they live their lives as your witnesses sharing your love and your truth. 
  1. FILL them with your Joy. – “…so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (vs. 13). May your joy be their strength imparting peace, faith, and generosity (Nehemiah 8:10; Romans 15:13; 2 Corinthians 9:7). 
  1. REVEAL your Presence and Glory to them. – “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory” (vs. 24). Be present in their lives releasing “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that [they] might know [Jesus] better” (Ephesians 1:17 NIV).

 As you consider all the precious people God has placed in your life, why not pray the prayer Jesus prayed for them?

For further meditation and application: The next time you pray through your prayer list of family, relatives, and friends, consider using these seven prayers from John 17. As you pray for each person, pause and select the appropriate prayer(s) that is applicable to their situation and your burden for them. Pray for them using the same words and phrases that Jesus used in praying for those the Father had given him. Expect a quickening of your faith, and renewed confidence as you pray, that God is hearing and answering your prayers.

Igniting an Impassioned Prayer LifeThis post is a chapter taken from Tom Stuart’s recently published book Igniting an Impassioned Prayer Life – How to Develop the Energized, Extended, and Sustainable Life of Prayer You’ve Always Wanted. It is available for purchase on Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Copies are also available directly from the author for $10. Go to tomstuart.org and order a copy via the contact form.

 

 

The Seven-Year-Old Boy

It was a cold, crisp New Year’s Day. Two young brothers, ages 7 and 10, were in their room playing, jumping on their beds, laughing and having fun as brothers often do. Suddenly they heard a loud thud coming from downstairs. The younger brother ran to see what the commotion was about, opened the door to his parent’s bedroom and discovered his daddy, laying in a pool of his own blood, and the gun he used to shoot himself laying beside him.

This unspeakable tragedy and the wounds this produced turned the little boy’s life upside down. Why did his daddy want to leave him? Wasn’t he a good enough son to make his daddy want to live? The pain and turmoil in the family was intense, and no one knew how to comfort them. Everyone was left in the darkness of their own silence, confusion and pain.

It didn’t seem life could get any harder for that family, but it did. On the day of his daddy’s funeral, the boy’s mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She had to leave the family to go to New York for cancer treatment. The little boy and his brothers and sisters were separated and sent to stay with family members. This sad, lonely little boy was left uncomforted, confused and desperately trying to deal with his pain. Those events sent that child on a search for a father, a search that  would last for almost 40 years.

The little boy started to think maybe it was his fault that all those bad things had happened. He began to take on the pain of the rest of the family. He tried to “make it right” for everyone else. That made him feel even more angry and alone because, no matter what he did, he couldn’t fix it. More and more, every day, his feelings of rejection, abandonment, pain and rage grew.

If his daddy loved him, why did he do this? If God was real why did he let this happen? The little boy began to feel very sorry for himself. Rage grew and grew as he thought, “Why is life treating me so unfairly?” The incredible pain from these wounds caused him to look for comfort anywhere he could find it, because pain always seeks to be comforted!

At a very early age, someone introduced him to masturbation and pornography which he used to try to comfort the pain and confusion in his life. Later in life he became a sexual addict, always looking for love and comfort in the wrong places. He suffered from guilt, shame, rejection and a lack of self-worth so deep he sometimes wished he were dead, like his father, and then hating himself more for even thinking such thoughts.

The boy became a young man and discovered that if he could perform well enough in sports that people would accept him and give him some of the love he craved for so desperately. He became a very good athlete, a competitor, because if he “hit the ball right” his coach would give him words of acceptance and affirmation. Even that was not enough to heal the pain in his heart, and he turned to drugs, alcohol, pornography and sex to try to comfort his pain. Those things did make him feel better for a little while, but then the pain came back, worse than ever, because now it was mixed with shame, condemnation, and intense feelings of self-hatred.

When this boy was 16-years-old, he came to Christ, but the shame, fear and rejection didn’t go away. He had a really hard time seeing God as his Father because his experience with a father only represented pain and abandonment. He always felt like an outsider, looking in, trying to be good enough to receive Father God’s love but always missing the mark. Then, when he would inevitably fail, he would become even more angry, lonely, and filled with rage.

That young man grew up, married, had a son and daughter of his own and became a pastor, but the wounds of his childhood were still there, buried deeply. Much of his life was still rooted in fear, shame and rejection. Even as a pastor he struggled with rage, lustful temptations and incredibly low self-worth.

Many years passed, and the man’s own little boy grew up. He was attending Bible school when a phone call came that again would change this family’s life forever. The son of this man had tried to take his own life. The pattern was repeating itself—but this time, the ending would be different. This man finally felt pain so intense that he had no choice but to change. He finally let some of his walls of self-defense down and let God touch his pain, the pain that had been bottled up for so many years.

Father God, the Father this man had been searching for almost 40 years, came in and began to pour comfort and healing into the wounds of this man’s broken heart. He began to see God as the loving Father who would never leave him. He began to allow Father to heal him and his family. He began to realize that God was a Father to the fatherless, and it was only in His arms that he would find true comfort and healing for his wounds.

That little boy, that young man, that father, that pastor, is me. I’ve finally found the Father I’ve been looking for all my life. He wants to comfort you, to heal your pain the same way He healed mine. He is your Father, the perfect Dad you’ve been looking for all your life!

Register now for the Power of the Father’s Love Conference February 19 & 20, 2016 or visit our Events page for more info.