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.