All Things New

As an avid gardener, spring is one of my favorite seasons. In springtime we watch as the muck and grime left by winter is washed away by cleansing rains. The rains in turn nourish fresh green sprigs of new life. This is a beautiful picture of the transformation experienced by those of us who have found freedom from unwanted same-sex attractions and other forms of sexual and relational brokenness. Our new lives of joy in Christ are as different from our past life of sin and sorrow as bright blooms and blossoms are from the dreary grey of winter. The new life of spring reminds us each year of the joy and freedom we’ve found. We remember that Jesus breathed new life into us when we thought we were beyond hope.

Tending to Growth

As any gardener knows, however, a beautiful and fruitful garden is only achieved through much hard work and consistent attention. The soil must be tilled, the weeds pulled, the rocks dislodged, and the garden plot protected from pests. Once new life sprouts, it must be carefully tended, watered, and fertilized for it to mature and produce fruit. So it is with the life of a believer. If we do not dislodge the lies of the enemy from our minds, uproot the selfish desires from our hearts, and allow the Spirit and Word of God to minister to us and teach us, we are not likely to see much growth or transformation in our lives.

The Tools for Growth

The Joshua Fellowship (JF) program is specifically designed to help young men struggling with sexual and relational brokenness achieve victory over sexual sin and receive a renewed identity in Christ. While this work is taking place throughout the year, over the summer we place a special focus and emphasis on doing the hard work of healing. We focus on practical tools for defeating lies, fighting temptation, and overcoming sexual and relational brokenness. Overall, we point participants back to the source of abundant life: Jesus.

Our Summer Strive program and the Encountering Jesus Internship provide young men the opportunity to confront their challenges head-on with the encouragement and support of the JF community of men. We take on passivity and addiction, replacing them with action and service. We reject lies and sin, filling ourselves with the truth of God’s Word and joyful obedience. This hard work changes the young men who go through our program. The summer Strive program is credited by many current and past participants as the turning point in their journey out of sexual brokenness and confused sexual identity.

Growth Produces Fruit

What makes the summer Strive program so powerful is that it reconnects men with their God-given identity. In today’s culture of gender fluidity and androgynous sexual identity, many men struggle to connect with who they were designed to be and what makes them thrive. That’s why we started Strive. We want to help men reconnect with their masculinity–not as culture defines it, but as God does. Overcoming a life-dominating issue like same-sex attraction is not a purely self-focused act. It is a generative act that spreads life and the fragrance of Christ to many others. When men rediscover the truth of their identity, gender, and sexuality, they are empowered to be good gifts to their community. Men who devote themselves to being transformed into the image of Christ go on to become movers and shakers in the Kingdom of God.

Growth Comes From God

How do we do this? We meditate on the character of God as displayed in scripture. We offer thanks to God in all circumstances. We pray. We worship. We look to the wisdom of those who have walked this path before us. We entrust ourselves to Jesus and let go of control. We fight alongside our brothers. We get up when we fall. And above all, we rely on the God who is over all things, and on the sacrifice of His Son for our salvation. What it really comes down to is this: we don’t do it, God does. As the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah, his Word will not return empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. His work may still be in the early stages of growth—almost imperceptible to the untrained eye—but given time it will spring forth to abundant eternal life. May God’s work be accomplished in your life and the lives of those for whom you labor in prayer.

A Summer Ministry Update from Joshua Fellowship

Young men in a Bible Study group

Dear Friends and Family,

I think it’s safe to say summer is officially over. I know fall isn’t everyone’s favorite, but personally, I love this harvest season. Looking back, this has been a whirlwind of a summer for me. I graduated from seminary, celebrated my one-year wedding anniversary, and witnessed the birth of my daughter–becoming a new parent! Additionally, summer is typically the busiest time of year for Joshua Fellowship–Outpost’s young men’s group—as they have an annual summer curriculum called “Strive.” With my daughter coming a couple weeks before this curriculum started, I really had to trust my leaders to oversee this program while I was on leave for most of the summer. This trust became an overall theme for the summer and was made easier because I knew I could trust God to be working in and through these leaders.

Even before summer started, the leaders and I had been trusting and praying for God to bring in new people to Outpost, and He answered that prayer with some men being clearly Holy-Spirit-directed to our ministry. One changed his plans to move internationally to pursue what God was doing in him. One just happened to hear about the ministry through a cousin who had heard about us through a dance teacher (whom none of the current staff know). Still another, a “pre-believer” at the time, found us through a Facebook group and dove into the process. The Holy Spirit is the best marketing director we could have!

During this summer, God moved powerfully within the men of Strive. I wish everyone could see that transformation we leaders get the privilege of witnessing over the summer. We see the men break through strongholds of shame and passivity and embrace their identities as dearly beloved sons of God! We saw almost a dozen men as participants choosing to love God with their whole selves—sexuality included. From worship time to times of hard work and breakthrough, they chose love again and again. Throughout this process, there were moments of transformation in which these men experienced great freedom, especially to be their authentic selves. Every year I’m blown away by how God comes through!

Outpost also got to see God spreading the DNA of our ministry in this summer. We were blessed to have a director of a sister ministry visit to observe what we do in our final weekend intensive. What’s more, a couple of men on the leadership team are moving on to other ministries in this next season. Though we will miss them, I also know they are taking their skills to continue establishing “outposts of restoration” in their new ministry contexts as well.

Strive is just one great example of how Outpost is truly living out its threefold mission to love God, declare freedom, and establish outposts of restoration for the sexually and relationally broken. So, while we are ending a great season of harvest this summer, I believe we are just beginning to see how God is moving in and through this ministry. I pray the seeds we now sow will multiply both now and in the future.

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Reflecting the Father: the Challenge of Becoming Doers of the Word

Drawing of Little boy watching Father tie his tie in mirror

For New Year’s this year, I went to a formal dinner with friends. Normally I don’t wear ties when dressing up, but this time, I decided I would. I learned how to tie one several years ago and thought I would still remember, but I stood in front of the bathroom mirror for twenty minutes trying. Frustrated, close to running late for the event, and about to nix the tie altogether, I asked my roommate to help me out. He grabbed his own tie and stood next to me in front of the mirror. He tied his tie first as an example. Then he undid his work and began to tie it again–this time slowly so I could follow. Soon, I was out the door in a tie looking just as polished as his. 

This one-on-one, how-to-tie-a-tie tutorial has helped me put in context this passage from James 1:22-25: 

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

This passage is a one-on-one, how-to-look-more-like-God instruction manual. Inside is a warning, a command, a challenge, but also hope of a promise.

The Warning: 

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. . . For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.”  

When we listen to the Word, we acknowledge the Father is speaking to us. Yet sometimes by choice or by becoming distracted, we stay stuck only listening. Taking no forward action, we are really taking a step back from becoming more Christ-like. We forget our fallen condition, and we move on with our life. We look into God’s Word that is confronting us and only think, that’s nice, that’s interesting, I will really think about that later. If we don’t return to this, it’s an action, not of obedience, but of pride. And if that is our mindset, we are only deceiving ourselves that we look like God. When we look like Him, we are representing Him to the world; but when we only think we look like Him, we are simply representing ourselves to the world. God receives no glory from us reflecting ourselves. 

The Command:

“Do what it says”

God’s Word does not compel us into action by obligation or threat of punishment. He is commanding us to take ahold of the abundant life He has given us through Jesus’ work on the cross. He always has our best interest in mind. If God’s Word is perfect, why don’t we simply do what it says? He is trustworthy. His Word is trustworthy. So why do we willingly put on blinders to what God shows us? It’s because this process hurts, and we want to avoid pain. Seeing the distance between our sinfulness and His holiness can be painful. If we chose to change, doing something about this distance is grueling, yet this is the command. We do not labor alone; the Holy Spirit is our helper. He is the only way to make any lasting change. 

The Challenge:

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts. . . “

We are blessed as we stay in His Word, suffering through the process of looking into His Word and surrendering everything that does not look like Him. By His help we can cut away the things that God never intended us to carry around. This can be surrendering our fleshly desires; weeping at how many false things we have added to our own image; feeling the pain of parting with our old self in the mirror. This is also the joy of seeing again the face of the One who died for us. 

Earlier in James, we read, “Count it all joy my brothers when you encounter trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).”  Facing trials hurts, but each time you partner with the Holy Spirit to become more like Him, you grow in steadfastness and the ability to chisel bigger chunks off next time. This is perseverance. This is accepting the challenge and finding joy in the process.

Wanting to look like Jesus isn’t all boot-camp-during-a-rainstorm-on-an-empty-stomach. Yes, it’s hard work, but this Word–this “law”– that is shaping us isn’t a list of do’s and don’ts that weighs us down, making life miserable. James calls this the “law of liberty.” It frees us from the burdens we carry instead of adds to them; it gets us back to the basics. His yoke–His law–is easy and His burden is light. 

The Promise:

“Blessed in your doing.”

As we partner with God to reflect Him, He promises we will be blessed–not when we finish (though that will be its own blessing)–but as we labor toward holiness. Our efforts are rewarded. The process might be slow, but if we keep at it, we will see change. We will be different. We will look more like Him. As we dive into living out His Word, our words and our actions will more closely mirror His. Jesus told his disciples that He did only what He saw His Father do and said only what His Father said. So will we.

Those around us will also take note of our reflection. As Paul told Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:15 “Be diligent in these matters, give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Acting upon God’s Word isn’t just for the goal of being like him one day. When we begin to act, even our progress–those tiny steps we’ll take–are something God will use to showcase Himself to our communities. 

At the end of the day, tying a Winsor is easy, and cleaning yourself up to look nice on the outside is a breeze. But allowing God to clean your life up is incredibly difficult. We all have areas in our lives that God has spoken into and said, “Let Me help you be set free.” We’ve told Him, “Thanks, but not right now.” We trust Him, but we don’t want to feel the pain of surrender. Yet He commands us to pursue life still. He knows best. So He challenges us to persevere and be honest with Him, ourselves, and those around us. He sees at the end there is blessing and reward–its His to give. He’ll stand back, take a good look at us, and say with a proud, fatherly grin, “looking good.”