Change is a HUGE word—and that’s an understatement! I could literally write an article about change every month for a year and yet, after 12 months and 24,000 words, I still wouldn’t cover it all. With that caveat stated, please know that this article will only be a drop-in-the-bucket regarding change, but it’s an important drop, because it’s about Jesus’ life-giving water of hope.
In 1991, I became a Christian and left homosexuality—homosexuality, though, did not leave me. In other words, I still struggle with envying a handsome, muscular man, which can progress to coveting, and then I’m tempted to sexualize him. Yet, even in the midst of these feelings, I have changed, or more accurately, God has changed me. You might disagree with me that I’ve changed, but I know I’m not the same man I was when I first surrendered my life to Christ almost 25 years ago. Before God, I believed that homosexual behavior and lying were wrong, but they didn’t haunt me. After encountering Jesus, though, my entire life changed and He has faithfully transformed me every day since.
Not only has my life significantly changed over the last 2 ½ decades, the culture has, as well—but in a radically different direction. As I wrote in last month’s article, the cultural change in the last 3 years has been crazy regarding homosexuality and Christianity. I personally know many men and women who have gone back to living homosexually. In all truth, even that is “change,” because they were formerly walking away from homosexuality and now they are walking towards homosexuality. What’s the difference between my changes and theirs? Simply put in Scriptural terms: Walking towards Jesus and away from sin leads to life and freedom. Everything else leads to death and enslavement.
In Judith Hartzell’s book, By God’s Design, she wrote about the life and ministry of Alan and Willa Medinger. Alan was one of my first mentors in ministry and was a great encouragement to me. He was also one of the founders and former presidents of Exodus. Judith writes about Alan’s immediate deliverance from homosexual attractions, and how he essentially built his ministry around his personal experience with homosexuality.
Alan is now with The Lord, so I can’t ask him if he believed/hoped that others would, maybe even should, have a similar experience to his. What I do know is that Alan told me he believed The Lord allowed him to have this deliverance experience in order to restore his marriage and mature him as a man. He also shared with me that his homosexual attractions returned years later, but the intensity was not like it was before. And for those who think that sexual attractions cannot be fluid, Alan also told me that he experienced “a secondary deliverance” of his attractions later in life.
I’ve had many people share similar stories with me who are continuing to surrender their sexuality to God. I highly respect and appreciate them for continuing to point to Jesus as The True Focus for all of their desires. There are others, though, who said they were delivered, but have not remained in contact. I don’t know how much freedom they’re living in.
Speaking of freedom, that word is just as gigantic as change! But for the sake of this article, a simple, Scriptural definition for freedom means to be born-again in Christ, having The Holy Spirit’s resurrection power to resist temptation, so as to no longer be enslaved to sin. In other words, freedom is the ability to grow and mature as a man or woman in alignment with God’s original design.
I mention all of this because a young man, who is part of our ministry and publicly vocal about his struggles with homosexual attractions, shared something in one of our Facebook groups that caused a bit of an uproar. He wrote, “Hope for Wholeness doesn’t focus on change or healing, but only coping with same-sex attractions.” I talked with him privately and told him that my being very vocal about ongoing attractions is not the same thing as simply coping. Coping is just maintaining the status-quo—kind of like image-management. My public transparency is definitely not status-quo.
In the beginning, I was transparent in many ways, but not in my writings. I remember four years ago being at my son’s cross-country camp where I was writing my first article admitting I still struggled with same-sex sexual attractions. I was honestly scared as I wrote it—scared of what others would think of me and how they would respond. One leader privately wrote me saying I shouldn’t be talking like that and I obviously needed more healing. Many other leaders, though, responded with great praise and thanked me for my honesty. Although some people continue to admonish me to not share publicly, many more have stated how my message of transparency in all areas of my life has helped and encouraged them. My not being ashamed of my temptations has given them hope that they, too, can one day live without secrets and without shame, and instead, live transparently free in Christ.
Back to the other people’s stories…
Some people I know surrendered their lives to The Lord and experienced an immediate removal of their homosexual attractions. Other people’s attractions diminished gradually over years, yet theyor may not have completely gone away. And then…there’s people like me. Maybe you’re one of those people, too. If you struggle like I do, then this article is to let you know that you’re not alone. There IS hope for change! And what change looks like is up to God.
As I mentioned, numerous men and women have shared with me how they no longer have any homosexual attractions. For some the feelings went away immediately and never returned like my friends Donna Cole and Debora Barr, while others had more fluid experiences like Alan Medinger. Then there are people whose same-sex sexual attractions subsided more gradually until they were completely gone like my friends Tom Cole, Dee Barnes, Cordy Campbell, and Brenna Kate Simonds. Others, like me, have not experienced reductions in attraction, but most everything else has changed.
No matter what group(s) you fit into, the main question remains the same: Who and what is your focus?
My hope in sharing all of this is to strongly encourage you, if you aren’t already, to begin transparently sharing your life experiences—both your strengths and temptations. This is one way I am leading Hope for Wholeness that is distinctly different. I believe we are to publicly proclaim Christ’s strength while being rigorously honest about our weaknesses, just like Paul the apostle did (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Although there are people, including other leaders, who no longer struggle homosexually, I don’t really relate to them in that area. Freedom from lying, yes, but not homosexuality. Yet, I believe there’s a reason I continue to struggle in this particular area, and it’s more than just my lack of maturity or lack of discipline. I believe The Lord has allowed me to continue to struggle in order to be a voice of hope to those who feel overwhelmed and ashamed by their temptations—especially in the area of sexuality.
Contrary to what some may say, I DO believe in healing and change! I’ve certainly changed in so many ways as an adult, but I can’t change my childhood. Some people have asked me, “Why don’t you just ‘get over it’ and move on?” I have gotten over it, but the reality is that my past shaped me into who I am today, just like yours did. Hopefully Jesus is a part of our pasts. And especially that divine intersection that changed everything! Having Jesus in our lives, though, does not negate the reality that we must learn to deal with our pasts and our struggles. I detail my deliverance out of homosexuality in my book, The Transparent Life, and about an encounter with God where He healed me from the physical abuse I had experienced in childhood. Only The Lord can do these kinds of healings and they’re for His glory, not ours.
Far too often, though, people get impatient with God, themselves, and/or others. As I mentioned earlier, some have decided that ongoing homosexual temptations give them a license to sin. That is not the case at all! Scripture tells us to stand firm in the faith, to flee from sin, and to take thoughts captive that are contrary to Jesus and His plan for our lives (1 Peter 5:9, Romans 5:3-4, Matthew 24:13, Genesis 24:13, and many more).
Why does Scripture tell us we need to persevere in the face of our temptations if He’s just going to remove them? This doesn’t mean that He can’t or won’t, but does He always, or even typically? We cannot assume that it’s God’s will that we all be healed of all of our struggles on our schedule. That is more like an imaginary genie in a bottle.
The truth is, the vast majority of the guys I know who are “ever-straights,” struggle just as much as I do. It’s just that they’re tempted to lust after women instead of men. Their grief, in being Christian and desiring godliness, is just as intense as mine. They have to deal with their temptations the same way I do mine, by taking their thoughts captive to The Lordship of Christ and confessing their sins to one another so they can be healed.
I was thinking about all of this while running this morning, including an admonition I’d given to a man who was focusing on his temptations and thinking he could never change. I told him to focus on what’s in front of him that needs doing, or said another way, to take healthy action.
Running is one of the ways I take action, even though it’s a struggle for me every time. I’m not a natural runner, but it helps me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes, though, I just want to do what’s easy and not go for what’s difficult. Can you relate?
If you’re not a runner, you might think my experience isn’t applicable to you, but please keep reading and see what God shows you about change for your own life.
When I approach a hill, I change my run by leaning into it and run harder to lessen the time on it. When I’m overwhelmed by the L-O-N-G distance in front of me, I change my focus. I look for upcoming mailboxes and set my focus on them. They’re manageable, because they’re right in front of me.
This morning as I struggled running, I allowed myself to see Jesus at each mailbox encouraging me and waving me onto the next one. Towards the end, I allowed Him to give me a high-five as I finished. Do I think He’d be disappointed with me if I started walking? No. I think He’d come running and walk with me. My flesh is inclined to shame myself, but He encourages me. When I change my thinking and focus on Him as the Lover of my soul Who wants the best for me, I overcome! Whether I run the whole way and make great time (mine for 3.1 miles was 26.46!), or I walk, run, stop, take a few steps back, crawl, walk, run, repeat—it doesn’t matter. For me, if I stop, it’s harder to get back to running. Yet, no matter what, Jesus IS there for me to lean on. I can trust Him to never leave me or forsake me, because that’s what He promised (Hebrews 13:5).
Perhaps some of you are no longer focused on God. He’s still right here waiting for you. Maybe you believe there’s no hope for you. That’s a lie used by the enemy on all of us. There IS hope—His Name is Jesus! He also uses His people to encourage us to persevere, especially when it’s painful. That’s when it’s imperative to take a drink of Jesus’ life-giving water and change our focus to the next mailbox where He’s standing. The good news is, He’s both waiting for us AND He’s running the race with us! In the end, though, it’s only His glory and praise that really matters—not how long it took us to run the race.
Remember, your loving-kindness, patience, and friendship can make a world of difference to someone who needs help running the race. Be Jesus-with-skin-on for them. It’s life-changing!
The above pictures were taken at our wildly successful HFW Leadership Conference (June 3) dinner at the nearby Mexican restaurant. We took over the restaurant, having fantastic fellowship! (You can click to enlarge.)
These men and women know what change is, they live it every single day.