Voices: Real Connection, Real Freedom

connectionIn a word, I have found in twenty-three years of ministry, that people find lasting freedom from same-sex attraction (SSA) through connection. I believe anyone can find consistent power to overcome SSA if they can attain and maintain meaningful connection: 1) to God through His Son, Jesus; 2) to a community of sojourners; and 3) to the truth of Scripture.

A simple note of clarification here: freedom from SSA does not necessarily mean the absence of SSA but rather sovereignty over SSA. When America declared freedom from England in 1776, England did not go away. For eight years, England resisted and we fought hard to gain our own sovereignty, which is the power to control identity and behavior. Nowadays, sexual orientation is no longer considered merely a part of a person, but rather a sovereign power which completely identifies or classifies people. It takes over a person’s life. This conflicts with one of our culture’s highest values, self-determination. As Christians, we voluntarily transfer our sovereignty to God, rather than to SSA, thus bypassing the issue of self-determination altogether. We submit or defer control of our identity and behavior to God.

Let me develop three keys to connection that set people free. Intimacy with Jesus is primary. If there is no love of Christ, there is no motivation to seek freedom from other loves. Jesus knows and cares about each aspect of our personal lives. If we let Him, He will help us set our lives in order. He will fight for us against our enemies who want us enslaved to them or others . . . Anybody but Jesus!

Secondly, we must have holy, intimate connections with others. This happens when emotions are felt and shared. People need healthy, intimate, non-sexual relationships with same-sex friends who do not struggle with SSA. It is in the context of these intimate relationships that people discover their true selves—who God created them to be. We must be known by the church and in communities of like-minded individuals who support and help. Along with weekly church participation, we need therapists, support groups, and accountability partners in the church. One cannot fight for freedom alone and win; it takes an army! Simply showing up in these contexts is not enough—pulling into a garage doesn’t make you a Buick! One must actually be known by supportive others as one who struggles with SSA. This is much easier said than done!

Finally, there must be a strong connection to the Word of God as the only rule for faith and practice. In contrast to moral relativism, we adhere to the Bible’s absolute truth. Careful, thoughtful, serious study of Scripture and submission to its authority will change us. We renounce half-truths, cultural myths, and stereotypes. This establishes our identity on the foundation of truth. We become empowered to stand firm in the face of temptation. The lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil have all been defeated by the truth of Jesus’ Word. Jesus said it, “The truth shall set you free.” Indeed.

This post is an excerpt from the book Freedom Realized by Stephen Black, used by permission. It is one of the many contributions to the book from mature ministry leaders who are helping individuals overcome homosexuality, sexual sin, and brokenness of identity.

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Freedom Realized, a Book Review

Freedom Realized

Stephen Black, author of the recently published Freedom Realized: Finding Freedom from Homosexuality and Living Life Free from Labels, is the Director of First Stone Ministries in Oklahoma City. The ministry was founded in 1976 by Frank and Peg Rogers under the name Fishers of Men Evangelistic Corporation. The name of the ministry was changed to First Stone Ministries in 1981. Along with Outpost Ministries, First Stone was one of the founding members of Exodus International. First Stone was also one of the founders of Restored Hope Network after the demise of Exodus International in 2013. Stephen is currently the Vice-Chairman of the RHN Board. Outpost Ministries was also one of the original members of Restored Hope Network in 2014. Freedom Realized was published in 2017 and is already creating quite a stir in the LGBTQ community.

I would like to highlight some of my favorite parts of the book. Stephen gives his testimony of leaving homosexuality in chapter 1 and writes about the root causes that led him into a homosexual life and how Jesus came into his life and set him free.

What sets his testimony apart from other written testimonies that have been published (Desires in Conflict by Joe Dallas, Setting Love in Order by Mario Bergner, Coming Out of Homosexuality by Bob Davies, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness by Andy Comiskey) is that in chapter 3, My Story, Part 2: The Healing Power of Pain—The Crucible of Suffering Produces Life, he goes a step further. He writes about what he calls the “the dark night of the soul,” a quote from St. John of the Cross about the deeper Christian life. It is something that all Christians will experience at some time in their lives. He writes about the loss of five immediate family members within a short period of time. A deadly tornado devastated his town of Moore, Oklahoma in 1999 on the same day he buried his younger sister. His oldest daughter had just been sent to prison, and his wife was diagnosed with a skin disorder due to stress. He was also facing bankruptcy. He lost his daughter in 2012. He didn’t react sinfully, but with humility he sought counseling. Many a Christian would have given up.

Black explores giving up in chapter 4, The Burden of Those Who Do Not Finish the Race. I am so glad Stephen wrote about this topic. It is the burden that everyone in this line of ministry experiences. He writes about why some go back into homosexuality after years of ministry and counseling. We at Outpost have experienced this loss—some have been close friends—and the grief is sometimes hard to bear.

Chapter 6, Coram Deo—Experience Freedom In His Presence, is short and sweet. Coram Deo is Latin for “in the presence of God.” This chapter explores “the truth of Christians living in the presence, under the authority, and the honor of God at all times.” This is a very important concept for anyone leaving homosexuality.

Chapter 10, Freedom Realized By Experts—Final Thoughts From a Cloud of Witnesses, has 16 testimonies of men and women who have left homosexuality. Dan Puumala, Ministry Relations Pastor at Outpost, is one of them. I found his to be one of the best, but then again, I am biased.

After laying the ground work in the previous 10 chapters, chapter 11 is the reason the book was written in the first place. First Stone Ministries conducted an online survey that spanned 25 years, surveying former clients who were connected with First Stone for at least a year. The survey took place from November 2015 thru December 31 2016. 500 people were engaged, and 185 responded within 13 months. Each respondent was asked 29 questions. Stephen has created graphs and charts to help the reader to better understand the results. I highly recommend this book to anyone who ministers to the sexually and relationally broken or who wants to better understand the issues at hand.

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Voices Q & A: Leaving and Grieving

leaving and grieving

Q: What does the mourning process of leaving a gay lifestyle/identity look like? How can the Body of Christ help someone going through this process?

A: The process looks different for everyone because we all have our own stories. I personally had to mourn the loss of my friends and past boyfriends. My relationships were not healthy—destructive, even. But they were still driven by a desire to get my very real needs met—my needs for love, for affirmation as a man, for healthy relationships with other men, my need for community.

In my relationships, I was co-dependent, hurtful, and self-centered. It was a process for me to learn what healthy relationships look like. Over time, I chose to let go of those friendships and boyfriends. I went through a time of great sadness, knowing I wasn’t going to be hanging out with them anymore.

Additionally, I needed to create new memories and build new friendships. I also needed the space and freedom to just be sad. I needed to have safe opportunities when I was ready to talk about my sadness and how Jesus was meeting me.

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Outlawing Gender Integration in California

CaliforniaWe have been keeping a close eye on a particular bill that is quickly being pushed through the California legislature this week. The ministry of Outpost has never been about political activism. We have always focused our energies into helping people walk in obedience to God and to their sincerely-held religious beliefs. However, we bring this bill to your attention because, in the end, it threatens our very freedom to practice those said beliefs. Read on as we share Andy Comiskey’s post about AB 2943.

“‘We give you strict orders not to teach in His name.’ Peter and John replied: ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard . . . We must obey only God and not men!'” (Acts 4:18-20; 5:29)

Wake up people. The bill best designed to outlaw Christian efforts to help persons resolve gender identity problems is racing through the California legislature as you read this. AB 2943 prohibits all conferences, teachings, or publications (where money is exchanged for the resource) aimed at helping people to overcome same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. This impacts every pastor, counselor, friend, or family member in California.

Most chillingly, it slams the door on citizens whose conscience guides them to make peace with their bodies as designed by God. The California legislature wants to deny them that choice. [This week] the Assembly will decide if the state has the right to insist that the only option for Californians with gender identity problems is to transition into the ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ self. Though these are standard values in much of the clinical community, California is seeking to make them the only values. This is an affront to moral liberty.

It sounds preposterous, I know. When I first heard of this bill, I assumed it implausible, dead on arrival. Instead, AB 2943 raced through the first two committees in spite of valiant testimonies by friends Dr. Joseph Nicolosi Jr., Anne Paulk of Restored Hope Network, and Bethel Redding’s Elizabeth Woning and Ken Williams. These last three witnessed persuasively to the power of Jesus and His community to restore true identity but were stonewalled by representatives who only asked sympathetic questions of those claiming abuse at the hands of bad helpers, valid issues for clinical ethics but irrelevant to the rights of persons to choose the kind of help (s)he desires!

According to Ken Williams, “The freight train is here, barring persons from the right to help and to heal gender identity problems. This is the first day I have felt discriminated against, robbed of my freedom to hold to my convictions. The government is now seeking to mandate what I do with my sexuality.”

Every person deserves the freedom to exercise moral authority over his or her body and desires. I may boldly disagree with Ellen Degeneres’ and Rupaul’s identity choices (just as they do mine!) but I grant them freedom to make them. We as Americans share constitutional freedoms of worship and speech. According to the Supreme Court, “the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought we hate.”

Church, wake up. AB 2943 roused Bethel Redding to mobilize their people to engage gently and well with political representatives. Might I ask all Christians in California–Catholics, Orthodox, Baptists, Pentecostals–to invite their fellows to persuade elected officials to vote against this bill? (See californiafamily.org.) If this bill passes, the state officially denies Jesus’ will for our sexual humanity and His power to redeem it.

[On Thursday, April 19,] the lower house of the CA legislature will vote on AB 2943; if passed, it will go to the senate then to the governor. Pray for a miracle of God’s justice. Or that such a preposterous bill, if passed, will be fast-tracked to the Supreme Court.

Pray that a renewed Church will unite and arise in California as a result of this enslaving legislation. Nothing short of our freedom of speech and worship– our right to decide the man or woman we will become–are at stake. If we lose, may we become holy outlaws who obey God, not man, with words and deeds of fire.

“‘Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.'” (Acts 4:29, 30)

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Voices: Above the Noise

Above the Noise

The loudest voice always wins, right? At least that seems to be the reality of my three young children at home. Whomever talks the longest and the loudest, drowning out the others, engages the attention of Mom or Dad. It’s like a verbal game of dog pile. It makes for a chaotic scene at dinner time.

There is also a shouting match going on in culture, and it seems the loudest voices are winning. (We are not among them.) “If we can just declare our message loud enough and long enough—literally in a protest or figuratively through social media—we will capture people’s attention. They will begin to hear us and believe us because we are the only voice they hear.”

Our Silenced Voice

Our voice at Outpost Ministries, and other ministries like ours, may not be very loud in culture or in the public square. There are others who have more money, more power, and more opportunities to amplify their voice. Even when we do speak, many don’t even want to listen. (Sadly, in some cases, not even in the Church). Like a child closing his eyes, plugging his ears, and singing at the top of his lungs, they refuse to hear our stories. And they try to silence us, like with California’s Bill AB 2943. Or by suspending us from Facebook discussions. Or by removing our testimonies of transformation from YouTube.

Thankfully, we don’t need to win the shouting match. Don’t get me wrong, we still speak up. We share our stories. We continue to teach, train, and equip with the authority God has granted us. And we don’t stop offering encouragement and hope to those who are broken and hurting. But our voice doesn’t have to be the loudest to have an impact.

Above the Noise

After all, the voice of God is at times still and small, like a whisper, and yet it can be heard above the noise. It’s heard by those who are listening for Him, seeking Him. That same voice has the authority to speak light—and all of creation—into existence, just by His very Word. That voice has the power to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up broken hearts, to proclaim freedom to captives, to transform lives.

We are trying a new segment in the Outpost News (which will also be posted here), aptly named Voices. At times it may be a simple Q & A, a concise testimony, or a short reflection. It’s our way of using our voice to bring a clearer message to those who are sorting through the noise. We want to reach the ones intent on hearing the truth, listening for God’s wisdom, and looking for encouragement. Ultimately, we want our voice to proclaim the person of Jesus Christ to anyone willing to listen. After all, to whom shall we go? His voice alone has the words of eternal life.

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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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