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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Gender, Confusion, and Conversation, Part 2

confusionYOU are an image-bearer. Have you ever paused to consider this weighty theological truth?  Men and women have been given the most profound honor in all of creation: we are created to bear the image of God. We bear God’s image—who He is and how He interacts with the world—in our spirits, souls, and in our bodies as male and female. The enemy is working hard to remove God’s image from the earth by bringing about much confusion regarding gender and sexuality. As image-bearers, we have the privilege of speaking truth into this confusion. We can also take life-giving steps to bless and affirm the God-given gender identity of the children and teenagers in our spheres of influence.

Message #1: Gender is a Social Construct

In order to have life-giving conversations, it is helpful to understand a little of the world’s thinking. We interact with it every day. Overall, the world is communicating three messages. First, gender is a social construct. In other words, gender is a concept created and constructed by people. This philosophy is nothing new. It has been taught in women’s studies courses for decades, but it is now emphasized among mainstream educators and taught as early as kindergarten.

Message #2: Gender is Based on Feelings

Second, the world says that gender is based on feelings, interests, and passions and is defined by each individual. Thus, we have people who identify as “transgender.” Their thoughts, feelings, and interests are classified according to what has historically been assigned to the “other” gender, not the one associated with their physical bodies.  It’s also a perfect confluence of self-determination and post-modern thinking. There is no objective truth—my truth is my truth, and your truth is your truth. Each of us creates that truth on our own, including the truth about our own gender. As a result, there are now 57 genders to choose from on Facebook in the United States.

Disconnected

Much of our culture is working with the misguided idea that gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual attraction are all independent parts of a person’s makeup. These different areas of a person’s life are all considered to be completely separate from one another. They are based on feelings and completely changeable from day to day. This means that every day, people are choosing whether they feel feminine or masculine. They are deciding how much cultural femininity or masculinity they want to express through clothes, hairstyle, etc. They are selecting how much of their physical female-ness or male-ness they want to exhibit, and whether they sense attraction to men or women.

Message #3: Gender Doesn’t Matter

Third, the world says gender ultimately doesn’t matter. In the end, men and women are interchangeable. There is no difference between the two. The ultimate goal of this line of thinking is androgyny, a world where humans are indistinguishable from one another. Distinction is removed, and the two meld into one. Thus, we have people identifying as “gender fluid” or “queer,” believing that they don’t belong to either gender.

The Truth of God’s Design

The truth, in contrast, is that gender is created by God, gender is defined by God, and distinction between men and women-and unity within marriage-are an intentional act of God.  We believe that God reveals and imparts our complete identity to us at the moment of creation through our embodiment as man or woman. The creation and definition of our identity rests in God’s design, not ours. When a man and woman are united in marriage, the ultimate goal of unity with distinction is shown to the world: two become one, while still remaining two.

Navigating the Chaos

Bottom line, the world’s thinking is rooted in contradiction and chaos. The world is trying to make sense of feelings and experiences while rejecting the truth of God’s design and revelation. Our children and teenagers are encountering this contradiction and chaos daily. Now as a parent of teenagers myself, the topic of gender comes up nearly every day. I am often corrected on the particular pronouns of choice by my daughter’s friends. “Mom, that person is a ‘they’.” Another friend chooses the pronoun “he” when “his” body is definitely a she. While God imparts our gender identity at creation, we also must embrace and grow into that given identity. As parents and mature adults, we can help children and teenagers in our sphere of influence do the same.

Connect Children with Their Bodies

The following tools can help build a solid foundation of blessing and affirming their God-given gender identity. First, within the context of family, we can connect children with their bodies. We can connect children with their male-ness or female-ness. Intentionally call them “son” or “daughter” and “boy” or “girl.” Teach children about their bodies and help them see how their bodies are called good by God. Teach the correct names for body parts and how to protect their bodies from misuse and abuse. This first may require overcoming our own shame about our bodies.

Encourage children to understand how their particular body works, what it does well, what it needs more help doing. Remind boys that their body is distinctive and different from a girl’s and how to take care of all the parts of their body. Remind girls that their body is distinctive and different from a boy’s and how to care for their unique body. Most of all, make your family the place children learn about their bodies. Then when they have questions, they know they can come to moms and dads to ask those questions.

Connect Children with Biblical Gender

Second, we connect children with biblical gender, with special focus on the gender that gives them identity. That is, we help all children do masculine things and express feminine traits. We also make sure boys find connection and identity in the true masculine while helping girls find connection and identity in the true feminine. Families are the first place this type of connection is formed. However, the church family and friends also participate in this connection-building.

Affirming Boys

Help boys find connection to the true masculine. Encourage and affirm them in their strength of character, their willingness to stand up for the truth of God’s Word, and their reaching out to others in relationship. Remind them they are “men of God” and name them as “sons of God.”  Make sure to build up this connection without diminishing their capacity to express the true feminine.

For example, when a young man plays a beautiful piano piece for the offering at church, thank him afterward for the strength of his playing. When a sensitive young man in youth group expresses grief over injustice at his school, commend him for calling out the truth of the situation and his desire to protect those who are vulnerable.

Affirming Girls

Help girls find connection to the true feminine. Encourage and affirm their ability to be at peace in the midst of tough times, their willingness to receive the truth of God’s Word into their hearts, and their capacity to live without anxiety about relationships. Name them “daughters of God” and remind them they are “women of God.” Build the connection without diminishing their ability to express the true masculine.

For example, when a young woman comes to church dressed in an androgynous style, compliment the beauty of her spirit and the tenderness of her dealings with others. When you notice a young woman speaking up regularly in Bible Study, commend her for her willingness to receive the truth of God’s Word in her heart. In all these situations, we build up people’s connection to their gender identity, while still allowing them to express characteristics of the other as they grow into full image-bearers.

Connect Children with Distinctions

Third, we encourage and affirm distinctions that arise from the differences between men and women. Take notice and talk about the different ways men and women think, feel, and behave because of their embodiments as male and female. Be aware of our cultural biases here, however. It can be helpful for children to find connection to things that fall into a cultural norm to encourage a sense of belonging, but we must avoid extremism. Toys, activities, clothes, hairstyles, and interests don’t inherently have gender, even though our culture often associates these things with a particular gender. Girls can like sports, and boys can like music without it meaning anything about their gender or sexual identity. Still, girls will do sports differently than boys; boys will do music differently than girls.

Continuing the Conversation

These tools can provide an environment that affirms children in identity and reduces the risk of confusion. They are, unfortunately, not a guarantee. As parents, we strive to fill our children’s hearts with the truth of God. We help them learn to nurture that truth, protecting it from interference from the world until it can bear fruit. We connect to a church body that helps continue this process, helping us teach and train our children in the truth of God’s Word. However, at some point, we all have to let our children move out from under our protection to protect and nurture the truth themselves. As our children mature, they are ultimately responsible for their own relationship with God and their own understanding of God’s Word. We continue to have ongoing, life-giving conversations with our children even after this point. We encourage a biblical understanding of gender and identity, directing them always to God’s design for their lives.

Our world is slipping further and further into gender and sexual confusion. It is now even more important that we have a grasp on what the world is thinking and understand God’s design for us as men and women. Within our families and churches, we must bless and affirm biblical gender and have ongoing, life-giving conversations about gender and sexuality. We need to have discussions about what it means to be God’s image-bearers in the world. These conversations will equip us and our children to have life-giving conversations with those in our communities. Our children are image-bearers of God. Let us as parents and the Body of Christ strive to impart this understanding into their hearts. May fully live as God has designed them, each one.

This article is the second 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 churches. Part 3 covers how to have life-giving conversations with friends and individuals in your communities.

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Turning Hearts

Elijah CompanyElijah Company is Outpost’s prayer and support group for parents, family and friends of loved ones who are overcoming unwanted same-sex attractions, struggling with gender confusion or who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning).

A former staff member began the group in 2013 when he noticed a great area of need remaining unmet. Parents were taking our introductory Foundations of Healing class, but they were left with no other ongoing support and encouragement for the unique and painful challenges they were facing within their families. More often than not, they did not experience church as a safe place to open up.

Turning Hearts

The name Elijah Company is based upon Malachi 4:5-6, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents . . .” (NIV). Part of God’s strategy in preparing his Bride before His return is bringing restoration to the family, and we believe it begins by turning the hearts of the parents.

Loving Wisely, Standing Firmly

Elijah Company (affectionately referred to as EC) seeks to equip participants to love wisely and stand firmly on God’s Word. EC weekly meetings focus on praying for one another, with the goal of family restoration, healing and reconciliation. The group is designed to build an authentic community of intercessors and create a place of refuge, support and encouragement. One EC participant wrote, “The support from Elijah Company leadership and families has sustained us. Our family covets the weekly prayers over us and for all of us battling this worldview.”

Elijah Company South

Four years later, Elijah Company is still going strong here at our main location in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with another group running at our Outpost North location in Brainerd, Minnesota. This October, we will begin an additional Elijah Company South in the Southwest Metro Area! A church with a heart for the ministry of Outpost and to be a safe place is partnering with us to host the group. It will be led by EC participants Al and Susan who have remained closely connected to the ministry.

A Mother’s Heartache

Susan shares some of her first thoughts after her son came out as gay: “’Who will really understand how I feel? Who will hand me the Kleenex when I just can’t hold the tears back any longer? Who will totally support my decision to not agree with the lifestyle my son has chosen to live? Who will pray for me by my name? Who will pray for my son by name, that his heart would turn solely to the Lord and away from his homosexual activities? There’s got to be some individuals who have not bought into the lie that God says this lifestyle is acceptable. There’s got to be others who are experiencing the heartache I feel.’”

She continues, “I did find such a place. I found it at Outpost Ministries. I found it in their Elijah Company group that meets weekly. It’s a group of moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, and neighbors of individuals who are burden by loved ones dealing with homosexual thoughts or actions.

“I have to admit that, at first, going to Elijah Company was painful. I dreaded each week, actually. By attending, I had to admit and face what was happening within my family. I listened to the heartache of others who came and felt their sorrow week after week. I was mentally wiped by the time I reached home.

“However, I was in the midst of great people within the group. I was surrounded by prayer warriors. These people knew how to ‘bring it to the Lord in prayer.’ I could feel God’s presence within the group. There was no doubt to me of His loving presence. I faithfully attended week after week. Then God touched me and assured me that I would find hope, joy, and peace in this group and also within my heart. That indeed has happened. Elijah Company is no longer an activity that I dread to attend. The group is powerful. We share our burdens and our joys, we listen, we teach, we read the Bible, we sing, we pray.”

The Light of Fellowship

Susan’s authenticity is an invitation to others to come out of their painful isolation into the light of fellowship with one another. Join others in passionate intercession for a sister or neighbor to encounter Christ. Anyone interested in attending Elijah Company South must first complete an intake meeting with Outpost ministry staff and complete the Foundations course before joining the group. Contact us through our website or by giving us a call, 763-592-4700, to schedule a meeting. Current Elijah Company participants wanting to meet at the new location can attend the new group once it begins. Contact your EC group leader for details.

We are blessed at how God is growing the reach of Outpost Ministries. Indeed, with the explosion of gender and sexual confusion in our society, especially among young people, there is an increase in the number of parents, families and individuals having to navigate through these issues. Please pray for protection for the leaders, new participants and even for the hosting church as we work to get this additional group off the ground.

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Declaring “Very Good”

gender neutral signRecently, I led of team of eight people from Outpost to Minot, ND to present our newly assembled Distinctions Conference. The conference trains people in an understanding of God’s image and how to stand for the truth of biblical gender in our culture. It was a huge success!

In prepping for the conference, I was struck by the weightiness of the prophetic word we as a ministry have been called to carry. AND I was struck by the weightiness of the spiritual warfare standing against this word. Friends, it was intense.

The enemy is systematically attempting to erase the image of God from the face of our society. Genesis is clear that the image of God is revealed on the earth as male and female. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness . . .” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (Genesis 1:26-27). The gender binary is essential for us to know and experience the image of God.

One major retailer’s decision to eliminate “boys” and “girls” signs from its toys and bedding departments makes a bold statement: gender acknowledgement is passé.

Now I admit, there is nothing wrong with little girls playing with stereotypically boys toys and vice versa. However, the larger issue remains: God’s image is being systematically removed from our culture. There are no boys toys, no girls toys, no boys bathrooms and no girls bathrooms. Ultimately, according to the world’s progression, there are no boys and no girls. No boys and girls, no image of God on the earth. This should alarm us as believers.

Without the image of God present to us visibly and experientially, mass confusion ensues. The image of God is worth fighting for and declaring as “very good”!

Introducing Outpost North!

Outpost NorthWe have been waiting for the right moment to announce our new branch Outpost North in Brainerd, MN! Outpost North offers our Foundations course to anyone struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions, family members, and pastors and ministry leaders who want to learn more about Outpost and the healing journey. They have also started an Elijah Company group for parents, family and friends of gay-identified loved ones.

Our Outpost North Coordinator, Angie, has a beautiful testimony of the Lord pursuing her, even in the midst of her sin and brokenness. She now has a husband and a little girl—a little girl who would not exist had the enemy succeeded in his plans to keep Angie from her true identity and destiny in God.

Angie understands by experience that it is the Father’s desire to restore the broken-hearted and restore the family. Malachi 4:5-6 says, “’Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (NKJV). Seeing the restoration of the family is our vision at Outpost Ministries and TCJHOP because we believe that it is the Lord’s end-time strategy to bring healing to families, to the family of God and to our society. Thank you for partnering with us in this mighty work the Lord is doing among us!

Parents Empowered

Elijah ComanyAt Outpost we have an amazing group called Elijah Company for parents with sons and daughters dealing with same-sex attractions. In Elijah Company, these parents have the opportunity to pray for one another and support each other in what can often be a very difficult and confusing time.

We want parents to feel empowered to fight for their children. We want them to be refreshed by the Holy Spirit. We want to encourage them that to fight for the truth of their child’s identity is a good fight. And we want to exhort them to keep fighting even when the journey is long and discouraging. We want to equip them with practical tools and insights so they ca be effective examples of the love of Jesus to their gay-identified sons or daughters.

We do not want them to leave feeling shamed or judged. I always tell parents, Adam and Eve had the perfect parent, and they still chose to sin.

One of the first assignments I often give the parents I work with is to seek the Lord for a higher vision of their child. Often times the enemy will prey on young people with a profound calling on their lives. I encourage parents to ask the Lord,  “What is our child’s destiny in You?” God has a higher vision for their child that includes spiritual aspects (evangelist, leader, healer), marriage and family, vocation, to name a few.

Parents must know the truth of who their child is in order to effectively fight. I have them journal the vision and keep it in a place that is easily accessible so that it can be a touchstone in those moments of struggle.

This journal then becomes a “prayer manual” of sorts. It provides language from heaven to pray and declare God’s truth over their child. This vision will fuel passion to continue to fight the good fight.

Elijah Company is just one of the many resources that Outpost has to offer the sexually and relationally broken. Your prayerful and financial partnership helps to make it all happen. Thank you!

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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.

Lessons from Orlando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Train Up a Child

paper familyMaybe you have heard of the recent child-rearing fad: gender neutral parenting. In this non-directive approach, children are raised in a gender neutral environment—no “boys” colors or “girls” toys. They are left with the paramount responsibility of choosing the gender they feel most comfortable identifying with later in childhood or in adolescence. Boundaries and limitations are balked at—boys can wear girl’s clothes and vice-versa. There are no distinctions.

This is not God’s way. God invented distinction, and He called it good: Creator and created, light and dark, male and female. Distinction is what separates God’s design for His creation from paganism.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” In the Bible, parents are exhorted to train their children, and children long for such instruction. What a heavy burden it is for a child to name oneself. My heart grieves for these children who are longing for the blessing of their gender from Mom and Dad. Minus the intervention of Jesus, they will struggle well into adulthood, trying to find the way they should go.

And so we must stand in the gap. I exhort you, Beloved, BLESS AND AFFIRM the gender of every child you encounter. You can say things like, to a little girl, “What a pretty dress you are wearing. You’re so beautiful!” Or, “Girls are awesome!” To a little boy, “I love the tower you built. Boys rock!” Or, “What you just did was very manly.” These little boys and girls need the voice of the Church right now—yours and mine together—to champion them.