I’m Invited to a Same-Sex Wedding. Yes or No?

Same-Sex WeddingLet each be fully persuaded in his own mind. —Romans 13:5

There’s an ongoing buzz in the Christian community over whether or not believers should attend same-sex weddings. As buzz goes, this one’s awfully relevant, as more of us are facing this dilemma. Do I accept the invitation, even though I don’t believe in same sex marriage, or decline and risk alienating someone I deeply love?

As the old song goes, “Everybody’s talkin’.” Stephen Arterburn of New Life Ministries blogged at the Huffington Post that Jesus would definitely say yes to such an event, so we should go and do likewise. John Shore over at Crosswalk.com seems to agree, comparing refusal to attend a gay wedding to the sin of having a Pharisee’s attitude. Free Bible Study Lessons.com likewise says that we should accept the invitation, unless one or both of the partners getting married claims to be a Christian, in which case we should decline, while Candice Watters at Boundless.org gives the whole thing a thumbs down, claiming it’s unloving to condone what God condemns. Got Questions.org takes the same position as Watters: yes on loving gay friends and family; no on going to their weddings.

To cut to the chase, let me say that’s my position as well. A few years ago I wrote an article for The Christian Research Journal titled “Should Christians Attend Same-Sex Weddings?” (Click here to order the issue.) In this two-part piece, Rev. Michael F. Ross, an ordained minister with the Presbyterian Church of America, took the “pro” position, arguing that he would attend a gay wedding provided both parties knew where he stood Biblically on homosexuality, as a show of love and respect. For my part, I voted “con,” contending that attendance at a wedding is a conscious and intentional act of celebration, not just a show of support, and therefore not a legitimate option unless you believe the wedding itself is a good thing. The article showed, along with those mentioned above, that even conservative believers are divided on this question. So I’d like to take some space today to better explain where I stand, and why.

Let’s do so by looking at the issue through the eyes of those getting married, then through the eyes of the believer, then the eyes of God, whose perspective trumps all else.

TRY TO SEE IT THEIR WAY

One of my favorite lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” In other words, a person can joke about something he’s never experienced, showing a huge lack of respect or empathy. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to make light of someone else’s feelings, whether I agree with them or not, and that’s doubly true if I have to make decisions they might find to be hurtful. And clearly, the decision not to attend a loved one’s wedding qualifies as one of those tough ones.

Try looking at it from the couple’s perspective. They’re no doubt in a relationship that’s very serious, very committed. Before deciding on marriage, they’ve thought the issue through, considered the way they feel about each other, weighed the nature and value of their relationship, and decided to form a union they hope will last a lifetime.

Yes, by Biblical standards, they’re wrong; the wedding itself is a ceremony solemnizing something that in God’s sight cannot be called a marriage. But to the couple involved (and to your loved one in particular, be that loved one a child, sibling, cousin or even parent) it’s dead serious, a joyful milestone they’re anticipating and wanting to share with the people they love the most.

They probably know you are a Bible-believing Christian who doesn’t condone homosexuality. But they’re also hoping you’ll put that aside for the sake of sharing their joy, supporting them in love, and being there for them because of who they are to you, despite what you believe. For them, this is a life changing event, one of their most significant moments, and having you there would mean so much.

A “Sorry, Cannot Attend” RSVP will almost certainly be hurtful, possibly devastating, and may in fact sound a death knell to your relationship with this person. Don’t underestimate that when considering how you’re going to respond.

SO WHY NOT ‘YES’?

Let’s look first at the believer’s relationship to either non-believers or to believers involved in ongoing, deliberate, significant sin.

Regarding non-believers, there’s nothing in Scripture indicating we shouldn’t have relationships with them. Jesus associated freely and notoriously with people of all sorts—notorious sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors included—showing no compunction about enjoying their company and being among them. (See for example Matthew 9:9-12; Matthew 11:19; Mark 2:16-17; Luke 15: 1-2; Luke 19:7.)

The question, then, is not whether we should have good relations with gay or lesbian family members. We can, should, and probably will. What’s at issue here is attendance at a wedding ceremony, ostensibly approved of and rejoiced over by those who come to it. Attendance means, to my thinking, more than loving support for the person(s) involved. It also means an offer of approval and blessing.

There’s the catch, and it’s not minor. Celebrating a loved one’s sin is a serious matter, no matter how deep the love or how important the loved one. To attend a wedding is to offer explicit support for the event itself, and that would constitute violation of Paul’s clear instructions to the Ephesians to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11), and his advice to Timothy to “neither be partakers of other men’s sins.” (1 Timothy 5:22)

Paul’s choice of wording here is not accidental. A “partaker,” according to the Strong’s translation of the Greek term involved, is “one who shares, partners, or comes into association with another’s activities.” And that makes attending a wedding you don’t really believe in very problematic indeed.

The question, then, boils down to this: Can I attend a homosexual wedding without making a clear statement of support, not only for the people involved, but for their union itself? Does my attendance constitute friendship and love only, or does it not also testify to approval and outright celebration?

I’d say it expresses approval, not just love. That’s what I believe attendance at a wedding always does, making it impossible for me to in good conscience show up.

For most other events involving a homosexual family member, showing up is an option. If there’s a party my family member comes to, my attendance is a statement of my love for him and others, not one of approval for this one part of his life. If we get together under virtually any other circumstances, I see no conflict with scripture or conscience. But to attend his ceremony would be to say, by my very presence, “I bless and support not only these people, but this event.” And that’s just too much.

It would also be too much if a Christian friend of mine asked me to attend his wedding if he united with a non-believer, in clear violation of 2 Corinthians 6:14. To be there would be tantamount to saying “I bless this” when, in fact, I couldn’t. Nor could I show up for the wedding of a Christian friend who dumped his wife for totally unscriptural reasons, then latched onto a younger model. Because an event is involved at which attendance equals approval. I see no way around this. If a thing is wrong, no matter how deeply bonded I am to the person involved, then while I’m allowed to love and interact with him, I cannot participate in anything expressing approval or support of the wrongdoing itself.

Some have raised the question of attending a wedding for two people who lived together prior to marrying, but that’s not a good comparison to make, since the wedding would be a correction, not a continuation, of the problem.

Others have suggested that if we attend non-believer’s weddings we’re condoning something that’s not Christ-centered, so why not attend a gay wedding as well?

Because the thing itself—a marriage between man and woman—is still inherently good, and worth celebrating. After all, I would gladly attend the commencement ceremony of a non-Christian college graduate because, even if he’s not living a Christ-centered life, his achievement is a good thing in and of itself. The same cannot be said for a marriage which is, in form and practice, clearly outside God’s will. So as hard as it may be to refuse, I still believe it reasonable to simply say, “I would never ask you to do something you don’t believe in, nor would I make that a litmus test of your love for me. So please don’t make this a litmus test of my love for you, either. We have a relationship; let’s keep it and respect our differences.”

BUT WHERE’S THE LOVE?

Despite all this some Christians feel it’s better to attend and maintain the bond, than to refuse coming and jeopardize a family relationship. I’m sympathetic to that viewpoint. If there’s any way to avoid a breach in the family, without violating our own conscience, then I’m all for it.

But in this case I just don’t see any wiggle room. Jesus’ own reference to marriage was unequivocal: “Have you not read that He who made them from the beginning made them male and female? For this cause man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4)

The standard is clear: He who made them from the beginning created the martial bond to be independent, permanent and heterosexual. Removing the complimentary nature of it makes it something else—a committed relationship, perhaps, and one in which both parties love each other deeply. But not, per Biblical standards, a marriage. I simply can’t shake the conviction that attendance at a ceremony attempting to revise this standard is complicity in the revision itself, qualifying for the warning God issued through Jeremiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

That’s why I could not attend a same-sex wedding. If I were invited, I would probably say, feeling both sadness and conviction:

I would never ask you to do something which would violate your conscience. Please don’t ask me to violate mine. We have differences, but I hope and pray those differences won’t come between us as people, and that we can both respect each other enough to allow each other’s need to follow our conscience and principles.

So for what it’s worth, that’s where I’ve landed and, as Paul recommended in the verse from Romans quoted above, I’m fully persuaded, so that’s where I’ll stay.

This article was originally posted at joedallas.com and was reposted by permission. Copyright by Joe Dallas.

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Gender, Confusion, and Conversation Part 3

ConversationSo far in this discussion, we have laid a foundation for understanding biblical gender and God’s creative intent for men and women as His image-bearers. We have pinpointed the confusing messages the world proclaims about gender and sexuality and presented the contrasting truth of God’s design. We have also given tools to bless and affirm the God-given gender identity of the children and youth within our families and churches. Now we will consider how to have life-giving conversations with our friends and individuals in our lives who live out of a place of confusion about their own gender and sexuality.

Looking to Balance

To have these life-giving conversations, we look to the balance of compassion and truth. We must always act in love, while continuing to stand for the truth of God’s Word and His design for men and women. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all way to be in conversation with the people in our lives. Each person has different hurts and needs, and each situation carries different levels of risk and consequence. Thus, it is imperative that we listen to God’s leading in each situation and have our conversations in the context of ongoing relationships with people.

The Ministry of Listening

The first way to demonstrate compassion and love to others is to listen, listen, listen. We listen in order to understand those who believe differently and those who are struggling. We listen to people’s stories, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain. We ask questions to hear the depths of people’s hearts. As trust is built, we can also ask questions to give friends the opportunity to give deeper thought to the experiences and pain that led to their confusion.

After listening, we affirm their openness and honesty. We acknowledge their pain, and we grieve with them over their hurts. All ongoing relationships are built on the sharing of ourselves. In listening, we communicate the message, You are worthwhile, and your story is important. In this world of confusion and destructive voices, this message is a healing balm to the soul.

Sharing Your Story

As we grieve with others, we can also ask permission to share our own story. Share your story of struggle—whatever the struggle—and how God intervened and brought healing and hope. All of us have struggled at some point with whether or not to believe what the world says about us or to choose to believe what God says. Your story of choosing to believe God is your testimony of healing. Always, though, be ready to listen first, and speak later.

Loving through Action

The second way to act in love is to serve, serve, serve. Practice the art of service. All of us are longing for love and acceptance, and God will not take away a legitimate need for love. Instead, God wants to show all people how to truly have that need met. We can begin to meet those needs for love by serving people. Take a meal, share vegetables from your garden, babysit, help with a home improvement project, and so on. Show love through action.

Keep in Mind

Of course, while we are actively showing love, we can also draw boundaries so as to not participate in advancing the confusion. For example, have a weekly coffee date with your gender-confused friend, but explain that you cannot help take him to doctor visits for his transition surgery. In these cases, we must remember it is not loving to encourage friends to continue down a path that will lead to more hurt and confusion or that will take them further from God’s design and plan for their lives.

We must also keep in mind that the people we interact with are not the enemy. Rather, they are confused and deceived by our real enemy, Satan. Our response to a confused individual can further the deception or shine a light into their lives. Our goal in all our interactions is to speak life so that others may know the love of God.

Walt’s Story

Walt Heyer, a former transgender with a powerful testimony of Christ’s redemption in his life, recently shared his own experience with us. Years after his own transition surgery, Walt, living as a woman, began seeking God and answers for his personal life. He began to look for a church. The pastor of the first church he visited told him, “We don’t want your kind here.” As you can imagine, Walt was devastated—but still, he tried again. Before attending the second church, he met privately with the pastor. Walt explained his situation. “You won’t try to change me, will you?”

The pastor thoughtfully responded, “No, Walt. I won’t try to change you.  My job is to love you.  It’s God’s job to change you, and don’t be surprised if He does.” That pastor had Walt write down his prayer requests every week so that the church elders and leaders could consistently pray for him. The church walked closely in relationship with Walt as he continued to seek God and work through personal issues in intense therapy. Walt eventually de-transitioned and has been walking out his God-given gender identity as a man for over 20 years.

Walt’s story could have easily turned out differently, but this church was committed to engaging in life-giving relationship with him as he sought after God. We want people to be drawn into relationship with their Creator so they may ultimately discover who God created them to be.

First Guiding Principle

To listen and serve is to show love and compassion for individuals in our lives. As we act in love, we also continue to stand for truth. Our first guiding principle in standing for truth is to remember that language matters. We want to always default to the biblical language of sex and gender when we speak to others. It is important to have a basic understanding of the world’s terms, but we want to remember to use the life-giving language of God’s design. Occasionally, we may also need to speak in the world’s terms, especially if our listener isn’t yet able to hear the fullness of truth. Listen to God’s leading in these areas, especially in the area of pronoun use, with a goal of continued conversation.

Second Guiding Principle

The second guiding principle we use is that safety for all is our goal. This is how we can approach all issues surrounding bathroom and locker room use, sex-specific sports and activities, and the like. We want everyone to be and feel safe in their environment. We want to stand for policies that protect all people, and we want to engage in conversation to ensure understanding. Male and female bodies are different, and intense hormone use doesn’t necessarily change those differences. We can encourage safety for all and work towards policies that support that goal.

Acting in love while standing for truth is a delicate balance, but it is necessary in our confused and fallen world. It is not compromising to show love to an individual while opposing a policy. And it is not unloving to stand for a policy that protects truth while serving someone who disagrees with a particular policy.

 Offering Refuge

Many struggling with gender confusion are struggling with a sense of belonging. Many are struggling because they have been so deeply hurt that they want to be someone else in order to let go of the pain. These individuals need our compassion and our unconditional love. We desire to be a place of safety and refuge, that they may be able to find a way to face the hurts, bring their pain to Jesus, and find full healing at the Cross. Remember, it is our job to love people. It is God’s job to change people. Prayerfully be expectant that He can and that, in time, He will.

Speaking Life

Having life-giving conversations with anyone takes time. We need to be prepared to spend the time to speak life into to the lives of those  around us. We must be ready to invest our time and resources into the lives of those who struggle. Our ability to listen and serve and our capacity to sow life-giving truth and grace-filled words bring the hope and healing of Jesus to those we meet. May we be available and ready when God calls us to speak life.

This article is the third in a three-part series. Part 1 covers biblical gender; Part 2 addresses gender confusion and ways to have life-giving conversations within families and churchesPart 3 covers how to have life-giving conversations with friends and individuals in your communities.

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Loving Your (LGBTQ) Neighbor as Yourself

serving

I am often asked at speaking engagements how to share the gospel with the LGBTQ community. My answer: the same way you would share with anyone else. One of the best ways to win souls in the LGBTQ community is to first build relationship with them and then pray for opportunities to share your faith.

Four Truths for Engagement

Here are four truths to help you engage with LGBTQ individuals:

  • Loving does not meaning condoning. Serving someone in love does not mean that you are in agreement with every area of their life.
  • It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin, not yours. (What a relief!) Your job is simply to introduce them to Jesus and let the Holy Spirit do what He loves to do—conform us to the image of Christ.
  • Gay people need Jesus way more than they need heterosexuality. Remember, it is only in relationship with Jesus that we are changed from the inside out.
  • Serve others. The most powerful thing I have found in reaching out to the LGBTQ community is service—being Jesus to them with skin on.
Four Practical Ideas for Loving

Here are four practical ways to love your LGBTQ neighbors:

  • Buy your gay co-worker a coffee on your way to work. (I actually know a story of a lesbian who was brought into the Kingdom because her Christian co-worker brought her a latte.)
  • Invite your gay neighbor over for dinner or bake them cookies.
  • Write out an encouraging note and give it to this person. (Make sure to listen to the Holy Spirit as you write. God will give you His heart for this person!)
  • Shovel their sidewalk! (Or, if you live in a more temperate climate, help them out with yard work.)

There are many ways to reach out to those who need Jesus. I pray you are inspired to generously love the LGBTQ people around you. Love wins souls!

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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.