True Endurance

Teenagers are crazy. I’m probably just as crazy to supervise, of my own free will, an all-night lock-in with a few dozen of them. Any youth worker will tell you, the infamous “youth lock-in” is a program from the pits of purgatory to sanctify us and test our endurance.

enduranceTrue Endurance

As Christians, youth worker or not, we all need a lot of endurance. There is so much in our culture, society, and personal lives that tries to pull us down. Maybe we put down our guard for just a second, and all of sudden, we start to believe lies and accusations. Maybe we follow temptation into sin. Even if we are a super-saint, we still can get walloped with external disappointments and setbacks.

When this happens we might question, “Was my breakthrough even real? How can I carry on in victory and not start back from square one?” This is what true endurance is about.  It’s not only about standing tall when the world is pulling you down, but  it’s also about standing up again and again after you’ve landed flat on your back.

My Healing Story

Hebrews 12:3 says, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” For now, let’s just focus on that last line: so you will not grow weary and lose heart.

My own healing story, like most, has turned out to be a lot longer than I expected. I first joined programming at Outpost during my last college semester before going overseas. I figured, “Well, better get this little issue of same-sex attractions (SSA) out of the way before I leave. Three months should be good enough.” It’s been more than three months. I found that SSA was visible on the surface, but like an iceberg, there was so much more underneath. Sometime I have felt like I’m walking in circles, but each time I go deeper—more like a spiral staircase. There were many times I could have said, “I give up. I’m tired of this process.”  But even then, I feel like I have received too much and learned too much to go back.

Fixing My Eyes

The ultimate motivation and inspiration for me in all of this is Jesus. Hebrews 12:2 says,  “. . . Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.” I am learning what it means to fix my eyes on Jesus.  

Just to clarify when I say Jesus, I don’t mean God the Father, I mean God the Son—Jesus, and the entire theology behind His personhood. Hebrews chapters 4 and 5 tell us about how Jesus endured. He was fully human. Scriptures says how He was tempted in all the ways we are. That means He had no advantage. That really is radical, but it makes sense. If anything, He faced more temptations to sin than we ever will. He was tempted in ways we can’t even imagine. When I fast, I might be tempted to eat bread, but I’m never tempted to turn rocks into bread.

Fighting On

When I’m reminded of how Jesus overcame, it encourages and inspires me. Jesus is not this abstract idea, but since He was flesh and blood, He understands what our struggles are like, and He helps us in them.

I absolutely love the song Love is War by Hillsong Worship. It ties into this idea of not growing weary by fixing eyes on Jesus:

I will fight to follow, I will fight for love

Through my life forever, into the triumph of the Son

Your love has won it all, You took the fall to embrace my sorrow

I know You took the fight, You came and died, but the grave was borrowed

I know You stood again so I can stand with a life to follow in the light of Your name

When I see what Jesus did, how He fought on my behalf, how can I not get up and fight on?

Getting Desperate

The very next verse in Hebrews 12:4 says, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” If you can’t holla, “Amen!” holla, “Ouch!”

This verse always gets me every time. It reminds me that I’m not stuck. You’re not stuck. We’re not stuck! Even if we’ve failed, there’s more that I can do, there’s more that you can do. We haven’t resisted to the point of death yet!

This is what true endurance is all about: even after failure, we do whatever it takes to press on and overcome. It’s about getting desperate.

I love that word, because “desperation” is not affected by feelings, it’s fueled by need. I can be passionate about something, and I can lose that passion. Desperation stays consistent. I might go to visit the Sahara Desert because I’m passionate about travel, but if I’m stuck in the middle of the Sahara, I will quickly lose that passion. However, my desperation for water will remain the same.

When I’m desperate about seeking after God, His Kingdom and His righteousness, aware of my incredible need for Him, circumstances won’t change that desperation. If things are going well, I desperately need God; if things are terrible, I still desperately need God. For me, that is the foundation of endurance. It’s the reason why I continue to fight on.

A Great Cloud

Fellowship and community is another reason to push on and endure. Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.”

That last line is absolutely insane: apart from us they would not be made perfect. Just for the sake of context, “they” is referring to the super-heroes-of-faith-hall-of-fame-all-stars of the Bible. We read in Hebrews chapter 11 about all of these amazing people, their lives of faith and how they endured so much. The chapter ends in saying that all of that was just the prelude to what we can now receive.

They are the same “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews chapter 12. And they are not cheering us on with a polite golf-clap. They are screaming and shouting because our freedom is their freedom. We are a part of the fullness of what God had promised to them. They, just like the rest of us, are waiting for the day that the Bride is ready for her marriage and mystical union with Christ. They finished their race, and are eagerly waiting for us to finish ours.

What a privilege and responsibility it is, living on this side of the cross! I still can’t get over how crazy this passage of scripture is and how it inspires me. I read how these heroes of faith “did not receive what was promised” and “saw promises from far away and welcomed them” (Hebrews 11:13). I read on and find out that they committed their lives, even though they saw that the promise was not to happen in their lifetimes. All they saw was a small glimpse of what was to come through Jesus, but that was more than enough. They knew it would be worth it.

Worthy of It All

A glimpse is what they saw, and it was worth it. A glimpse is what we need because Jesus is so worth it!

Jesus is the only reason I would be doing any of this process. There is no other reason besides Jesus to go through the pain and the work to endure. I’ve tasted and seen God’s love that is better than life (Psalm 63:3), and now I’m wrecked for anything else. I don’t mean that in any cute or romanticized way. Our God is an all-consuming fire. When I think I’ve given Him enough, He demands more. Yet because I’ve seen a glimpse of Him, I see how He is worthy of more than I can ever offer. Just like in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they said that even if God did not save them, they would not bow. I can do nothing else but get up, carry on, and pursue God no matter what.

So let’s continue to persevere and never give up. Keep focused on Jesus. We can endure, and we will overcome. He’s worthy of our sacrifice, our struggle and our strength.

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The Road of Faith and Manhood

Basketball Under WaterI was born to parents who were high school teachers who genuinely loved me and imparted good qualities to my sister and me. Our family attended a Presbyterian church for a while, but it was never a big part of our lives. Little by little, we found other things to do on Sunday mornings.

Even though our family lived apart from God, He amazingly pursued me in my childhood. When I was eight years old, I had a dream about Jesus. The dream had a big effect on me, and I told others about it. Billy Graham Crusades, televised during prime time, also impacted me. I learned the sinners’ prayer and prayed it daily.

Broken Reality

When I was 13, life and the forces of darkness took their toll on our family. I was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer and wasn’t expected to survive. Eight months of nauseating chemotherapy and radiation followed. But thankfully God brought me through it, though I lost my right leg through the ordeal.

Also around that time, family problems began to surface. Suddenly we were dealing with fractured relationships and hidden sin. Without the Lord in our lives, none of us knew how to handle it. Wounds and brokenness resulted. (Side note: Outpost’s Living Waters program was a great help to me in processing and praying through wounds from the past.)

Searching for Truth

Having survived cancer and junior high school (not sure which was worse!), I really began searching for truth. In high school, I took lessons in eastern meditation. But my journey to Christ began in the most unlikely place—the local movie theater. Two friends and I went to see The Omen, a Hollywood horror flick based on the emergence of the anti-Christ. We talked into the night about the Bible, even though none of us knew much about it.

Soon after, my friend Mark and I began attending a series on the book of Revelation at a local church. Stories from Revelation left me more afraid than The Omen did. Jesus is coming back, judgment day is approaching, and I knew I wasn’t ready.

Opening the Door

In college, I really started seeking a relationship with Christ but didn’t understand that it began by faith. This difficult season came to a sudden and joyful end when two Christians knocked on my dorm room door sharing a gospel tract. I invited Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior on February 22, 1978.

Wonderful days followed, as I was translated from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God. My life had been turned right-side up, and I was all in. The Lord brought two men into my life to disciple me, and I was baptized that summer.

Off the Rails

Naturally, I thought my same-sex attraction would go away now that I was a Christian. I was wrong. Rather, it was like holding a basketball under water. My gender identity had gone off the rails when I was an early teen, and it was still off the rails. Becoming a Christian didn’t fix it. As author Alan Medinger has said, I had undeveloped masculinity, and the only solution, was, well, development. I needed to resume my journey into manhood.

Same-sex attraction might seem horrible and undesirable to some, but as Proverbs 27:7 says, “to one who is hungry, everything bitter is sweet.”  I longed for manhood—my own manhood, really—and, eventually, the longing became sexual.

After college, I moved to the big city and lived near downtown. Soon, I discovered all of the places to get into trouble. I hated falling into sin but couldn’t resist the draw. Along with the spiritual consequences, there was real physical danger. It was the early 80’s, and AIDS was spreading unknowingly and undetected. Even though I veered into sexual sin, God spared me from that brutal outcome.

But God had a plan. A job opened up in Minneapolis. I packed up a U-Haul and headed north.

Deepened Roots

Many blessings awaited me in Minneapolis, and one of them was Outpost. I contacted the ministry within days of arriving and started meeting with one of the staff members. He also recommended a good church, which I attend to this day.

The following years brought many opportunities for growth. I was in the thick of things at Outpost as a volunteer and participant in Joshua Fellowship. I also deepened my roots at church where I joined a great small group and participated in a church plant in my neighborhood.

At the time, I believed that my efforts to grow spiritually and emotionally would cause my same-sex attraction to go away. Again, I was wrong. I was still falling into sexual sin from time to time, and I longed to be set free. None of my efforts addressed the real underlying issues.

Breakthrough

Though it wasn’t sudden, eventually there was breakthrough. When I focused on developing my wounded gender identity, I began to experience real change—a change that I would have never dreamt possible. I went on men’s weekends, joined a men’s group, read books pertaining to manhood, watched war movies and hung out at Home Depot. I pursued athletics and relished any activity that involved a power saw. Gradually, my identity changed. With masculinity growing in my heart of hearts, temptations lost their power. I didn’t need the masculinity of another; I had my own.

Same-sex attraction isn’t completely gone, but it’s nearly gone. I spent decades believing that this sort of transformation wasn’t possible. Now I can testify that real change awaits the men and women who embark on this journey. It’s been a long haul, and I’m still on the road. The rerouted journey into manhood that I’ve lived just might be more satisfying than if it had never been interrupted at all.

The Psalmist describes me when he writes, “[God] drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure” (Psalm 40:2, ESV). I’ve been rescued from the grip of dangerous sin, deadly disease and much, much more. I owe all to grace.

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Submit, Resist, Fight

Ministering on the front lines, I have learned a thing or two about spiritual warfare. I am in no way an expert, but the Lord has been faithful to “train my hands for war and my fingers for battle” just as He was with King David (Psalm 144:1).

The world is a painful place. Daily we are wounded by the devil’s fiery arrows, the assaults from the world and even our own sinful flesh. When wounding happens, the devil is right there to introduce his narrative: it was all your fault, you deserved it, this happened because you are bad, you may as well quit.         

Submit

The Word of God says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). To SUBMIT to God is first and foremost is to listen for His narrative about the situation. We must train ourselves to, at the point of injury, immediately listen for the healing word the Lord is always speaking. Submission does not end there. We must believe what the Lord is saying and come into agreement with His Word. This establishes a boundary with the enemy. We are essentially saying “no” to His lies and “yes” to the truth that will set us free.

Resist

Unfortunately, the battle doesn’t end there. The devil will put up a fight, and so we must RESIST. To resist is to look to God and hold fast to the Lord’s narrative. We say, “Jesus, You are the only One who gets to interpret my pain and life circumstances.”

Our resisting is not a passive exercise but an active one. We must enter the battle as warriors and fight. We must wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God in our mouths. We pray the Lord’s narrative, and we declare it over ourselves. The truth will prevent strongholds from being erected, and it will tear down ones that already exist. We worship the Lord with hearts full of gratitude for the deliverance that is ours in Jesus—even if we don’t feel it yet.

Fight

This is the most important part: all of this we do UNTIL the devil flees. If we don’t quit, we win. Beloved, like it or not, we have been born into a war. As believers, we must be warfare minded as the Apostle Peter exhorts us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8.) In doing this, we truly can be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

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Temptation Tool Kit

tool boxResisting temptation is a very important topic to me. I’d like to share with you some tools from my own personal tool kit. My old-nature appetites are not in the arena of same-sex attractions, but the principles are the same. In pastoring people, I never give this whole tool kit in one shot, so pull out one or two insights that might help in that day’s battle.

Something Even Deeper

Before I even start though, three things need to be said: First, most of us already know how to resist temptation when we want to. We already know what we “ought” to do. But something in us has been twisted to make us want to sin. Yielding to temptation gives short term, undeniable relief, but it brings worse pain long term. This article won’t help a bit unless there is something even deeper in you that wants to stay free and right with God. God’s Spirit lives in us, once we’ve invited Him in with Jesus. May He have the deepest place in our hearts, the highest place in our affections!

Second, much of what I share here is scripture. God’s Word is Truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32). You probably already know these scriptures, but just knowing the verses won’t help much. The point is not to know the verses but to do what they tell us to do. That is the path to freedom. We have to put into practice what God tells us, just as the wise man built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:24ff).

Third, this is a life-long journey, not fixed in a day or in a single article, but well worth the journey! Please join me!

Satan’s Main Goal

First, some thoughts on our situation. We know too well that there is an enemy of our souls. Satan’s main goal is not just to get us to sin, but to pry us away from God and keep us locked up in shame and bondage. Sin is just the bait he uses because sin separates us from God. Remember Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden in Genesis 3:8? Satan tries to trick us into hiding—staying away from God. But Christ has come to speak reconciliation and forgiveness and set us free.

The first step of “damage control” if we fall (you already know it; do you do it?): confess and return to Christ (1 John 1:8-10). He’s not surprised; He doesn’t love us any less. He already paid for our cleansing. Don’t despise His gift! It is here for us as much after as before a fall into sin. Jesus told the Pharisees that it’s not the healthy who need a doctor. He came for us–sinners (Matt. 9:12-13)! When we run straight back to God after we’ve fallen, we can be forgiven and restored, and so we escape Satan’s main trap.

I don’t dare pass up the forgiveness Christ offers because “I don’t deserve it.” Whoever deserves forgiveness? It is a free gift, already bought and paid for. Don’t be too stuck in self-condemnation to forfeit the cleansing Jesus offers. Every single human being is saved by grace, not by merit! Come back quickly to Jesus. When we fall, we need Him more than ever!

Straight from the Tool Kit

Now for some tools. A huge part of temptation is mental/imagination/fantasy. We imagine the pleasure before we act on it. I often tell myself, “Think about what you’re thinking about.” What we focus on, what we let ourselves think on, is a huge part of our battle. Scripture tells us to “fix our eyes” on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). That includes His character, His words, His ways. He is really good in every way, and to think or meditate on Him is encouraging.

This is not just a religious, spiritual sounding verse to quote. We can actually access or lay hold of God’s presence and power when we do this. We serve a living Savior who is interceding for us right now at the Father’s right hand, and He knows when we’re looking to Him. Remember Peter walking on the water; he was fine until he looked at the waves (Matt. 14:30). The enemy tries to distract us, divert us from our Lifeline. When we fasten our eyes on Jesus, we are much less able to be distracted, and that makes us less vulnerable. It is a skill to be learned and applied, and it can save you from great pain when you learn it.

Consciously remember the deception of the enemy’s offers. When we yield, it never satisfies. We just end up with a “continual lust for more” (Eph. 4:19). Rom. 6:19 expresses the same idea: we are lured into “ever increasing wickedness”. It’s not as if we can give in once and never again. Giving in reinforces addiction to sin patterns. It’s a downward spiral. As with most addictions, what worked to satisfy last week needs a stronger fix to get the same satisfaction now. The enemy is never trying to satisfy our need! He’s trying to draw us in even deeper into the downward spiral. Remembering this fact helps me not even start down that path.

Now for the Eye-Rolling

Now come some verses you’ve heard so often they make you roll your eyes. “Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you” (James 4:7-8).

The key here for me is that these two verses are adjacent in scripture. They should be held adjacent in our warfare for freedom. They must come together for our warfare to be effective. Otherwise, we focus on just the first half—the enemy we’re resisting, instead of focusing on the loving Father who encourages us daily. Looking at some sin I want but can’t have is worse than looking at something I want even more—being right with God. We resist the enemy by drawing near to God.

Ready for another one? “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matt.6.33). This one is huge. Again, the key is that this is not just a verse to know, it is a lifestyle. It is an action step. It is a whole life re-orientation. We do not just seek God first and then go on with our own agenda. Rather, we seek His Kingdom and lordship and presence in our normal, daily life. We look for Jesus in every situation as we walk through our day. This becomes our whole life purpose.

Self-indulgence is wasting time. Self-fulfillment leaves us empty! When we look for Jesus, we will find Him (Matt. 7:7), and we receive more than we can ever give back. Living water overflows from our hearts (John 7:38). This can be real for you, the “new normal”—it really can!

Our Daily Bread Today

Please believe me that I’m not just talking “religion”. I’m talking about real life, here and now. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:10-11). Eternal rewards in heaven, though certain in Christ, are simply beyond my imagination. So for me, they do not help much because life hurts too much here and now. Again, yielding to temptation gives short term relief that I long for (but worse pain long term). If and when I hurt too badly right now, eternity is too unreal to me, too far away to be helpful.

Seeking the Kingdom of God fills us on earth. When we do it, God’s nearness and Spirit kick in with power, and as that happens, the pull of sinful self-indulgence is diminished. When I am actively engaged in advancing the Kingdom of God, I don’t have as much time for my crazy imagination to run down the wrong streets.

This principle even comes with a huge guarantee-promise attached: When we do it, all the other needs we worry about will be taken care of for us by Father God (Matt. 6:33).

There is still more. 2 Peter 1:3-11 speaks of character qualities we are to grow in. It’s worth checking: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love.

These are character qualities that require some effort (v.5) but they should mark our lives, and in increasing measure. When we are consumed by growing in Christ, sin has less opportunity to suggest itself. This is not magic, not foolproof, but it certainly helps us in the battles. When our focus is upward toward Christ, actively seeking first the Kingdom of God, the appeal of the addictions is diminished.

Prayers of the Saints

One last thought: I have people praying for me in the area of my appetite and my imagination. We need each other’s support! I ask God to sanctify my appetite, to sanctify my imagination so that what I am hungry for and what I imagine can come with His blessing.

Without prayer, without effort, our natural mind goes to things that are very worldly, and very often unclean. We were created with natural appetites, which are fine, but after the Fall, the enemy twists them to pull us into things far from God, things that can never satisfy.

If our natural appetites can have an acquired taste for bitter drinks like coffee or beer, just imagine what spiritual nutrients God can make us hungry for! I want to acquire a taste for things of God! What would a sanctified appetite be like? What would a sanctified imagination be like? I want to imagine great things of God, for God. I want to imagine doing and being great for God. Our imaginations, linked to His good intentions, can run free on fabulous pursuits.

This again has to do with mental disciplines, a learned habit. The effect of this learned mental discipline is to keep us on a path of life and godliness instead of sin and self-indulgence and increasing distance from God. It is worth the effort!

This is a lot to read, I know. One article won’t change your life. My hope and prayer for you is that this will be like a tool kit you can go to from time to time, as needed, and that one or another of these thoughts will give you the strength, leverage, or motivation you need for that day. May you be blessed with increasing FREEDOM in Him as you grow in Him.

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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.