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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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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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.

Living Waters

Living Waters

Photo from Free Images

It is with joy and thankfulness that I am reporting on the conclusion of our 2015-16 Living Waters Program at the end of March.  Living Waters is an in-depth healing and discipleship group for any Christian seeking healing in areas of sexual and relational brokenness.  Living Waters is for EVERYONE!  Each one of us is a good gift from God; most of us are broken in our ability to love others well.  Living Waters lays a biblical foundation for sexual and relational wholeness in our lives.

After 21 weeks of intense worship, teaching and small group prayer, our participants testified to the change that had taken place as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. With their permission, here are their testimonies:

Through Living Waters, God showed me that at a deep level I had, in my woundedness, despised and rejected my gender and therefore, myself.  I learned so much through the truths expressed in the beautifully articulated, biblical and comprehensive Living Waters textbook about how Christ’s work on the cross can bring deep healing.  Through the teachings aided by the caring ministry and prayers of others, God’s Spirit gently enabled me to begin to accept the self that He made me to be.  This ‘real me’ was then able to begin to receive His love and perfect parenting in new ways, and turn from many broken ways.  I notice a new contentedness and growing joy in accepting who I am in Him.

Living Waters brought healing to my spirit especially from an abusive relationship with my ex-boyfriend.  By dealing with past wounds and traumas, I received healing!

 I came to Living Waters confused and scared.  I’m leaving with hope for my marriage!

I came to Living Waters feeling so broken.  I had just come out of a relationship where the man was very godly and good to me but I could not receive his love.  The more he tried to love me, the more I pushed him away.  Throughout Living Waters, the idea that God made me to be a good gift continually ministered to my heart.  For so many years after being in an abusive relationship, I believed that I was the problem and I had carried a huge yoke of shame.  Through the ‘cross time’, the Holy Spirit has been restoring my sense of worth and that I actually have much to give!

It started out with me coming because a friend invited me, but I got so much more out of it than I thought possible!  I’ve always had issues with anxiety, self-hatred and mild depression.  I didn’t think Living Waters was going to be able to help me with that, but it DID!  I was able to uncover things that I never thought were issues, things I thought were buried in the past and long forgotten. I never knew my revulsion toward the feminine and my desire to be a boy when I was younger God used Living Waters greatly in my life.  God showed me so much about my identity in Him instead of my sins of the past.  I’ve also grown much closer to God in my intimacy with Him.

I initially came because my wife required me to seek some kind of counseling.  I wanted to change but had been let down by so many counselors and groups that went nowhere that I was skeptical Living Waters would be any different.  In the end, I’m glad I came.  Small group was a highlight and removed my skepticism that groups can experience change and actually bond vs. being strangers stuck in a rut.  Seeing others who had overcome the same sins and struggles that had plagued me for years was very encouraging.  Becoming that person thanks to Living Waters and my church is incredibly edifying.

Living Waters has made me realize my need for community and also the importance of being in authentic relationships with others.

This has been the most beneficial course I have ever experienced regarding sexual issues and their root causes.  I have been able to walk with less shame and more transparency.  I now see my need is not so much to flee sexual sin as it is to turn away from idolatry of God’s creation while seeking and worshiping my loving Heavenly Father.  My past had isolated me in my sin, but now I see the value and ability to have real and deeply Christ-ministering relationships with other men.

The 2016-17 Living Waters Program will be starting in October 2016 and will run through March 2017.  We are now accepting applications! Applications are available on our Living Waters page.  Sign up early to ensure a place in the program, as space is limited.  Tell your friends to come!  They will be glad you referred them!