The REAL Never Ending Story—Our Redemption
By Jeanie Smith Director Emeritus, Set Free Ministries, Richmond VA
I wish you could have experienced a workshop called “Core Values” that I heard Russell Willingham teach some years ago. In a nutshell, he said that we have “ideal values” – what we truly believe and have been taught. Then we have “core values” – those which our life experience has shaped and formed. While we often think ideal values guide our behavior, we actually behave in accordance with these core values. At a subconscious level, our behavior is informed by our life experience. And if, as believers in Jesus, we hold to the conviction that scripture is God’s inspired revelation to guide us in faith and practice, we are in the constant state of becoming self-aware. We allow His presence in our lives and the written word of God to close the gap between our ideal values and our core values. He re-forms our life experience daily as we practice His presence. His word gives us safe boundaries in our areas of vulnerability. It is a “glory to glory” road we travel. We are actually daily getting a “spiritual makeover” from the One who knows exactly who He created us to be and how to unveil the beauty of His creation.
If this is true (and it is), then why is there such a constant focus, particularly in the area of same-sex attraction on whether or not we have reached a particular “place” in the journey which some would call success? What if “success” is simple and joyful faithfulness today? What if it’s an open invitation to our Lord to re-form our broken pasts (even using those points of brokenness for His glory) and hope that our transformation will continue tomorrow? I ask these questions in light of those who now say that because they are still primarily same-sex attracted after spending years in ministry, they are comfortable “accepting” themselves, embracing a gay identity, and believing that it in no way conflicts with their faith. I do not ask these questions for the purpose of judging anyone; I do not ask these questions for the purpose of arguing a point. I ask because I believe the answer informs our theology in a way that will ultimately and powerfully influence our choices and expose inconsistencies.
Transparency, which is highly valued in all that Hope for Wholeness stands for and practices, is based on truly loving oneself and accepting where we are today. Yet, today is not the end of our stories. Being fully honest about where we struggle is actually a step toward submitting every desire, every need, every part of ourselves to our Creator and Redeemer. Honesty is a doorway to hope. And, hope is not about an absence of temptation, struggle, and it is not about meeting the expectations of those who surround us. Biblical hope is all about the transformative redemption of every single part of our humanity—not one area is exempt. If the Incarnation teaches us anything, it teaches us this great truth.
I can’t imagine someone who is addicted to pornography saying that because he felt an urge to go online today, all healing that had gone on in his life was devoid of meaning and he was now comfortable as a Christian looking at pornography regularly. Would we accept the reasoning that he needed to be “real” and accept that God gave him these desires? Yet, that is what we are hearing daily in the area of human sexuality—and very pointedly in the areas of same-sex attraction and gender identity. Has the Church been guilty in the past of failing to communicate the powerful message of redemption in these areas? I think so. That means that those who are living out their healing have the unique opportunity to speak with clarity, humility, transparency, and hope. Our testimonies are not some desperate attempt to “white knuckle” our way through life. They are our joy in His presence, our growth through our struggles, His glory through our thorns.
Being “real”—genuine, transparent, vulnerable—in no way indicates that we become complicit with the world around us, that we dishonor our commitment to God and others, or that we abandon our passion to live an integral and Bible-based life which is “lit from within” by His Spirit. Being vulnerable and honest actually leads us to humble confession as we allow our passions to be molded daily by the One who walks with us through the process of repentance. As the wife of someone who comes out of same-sex struggle, I am actually not overly concerned about my husband reaching a point where the Christian world sees him as a “success story”—someone who no longer experiences significant same-sex attraction. Don’t, get me wrong here—I am happy for him if particularly troubling temptations no longer plague him daily. However, as his wife, I am far more honored when he chooses God first, when he faithfully practices confession and humility, and when he chooses to focus his erotic passion on me! I value his faithfulness far above any (what I consider to actually be worldly) Christianized ideas about success.
I love McKrae and Hope for Wholeness because I know we will be encouraged to focus on our own process of “being changed into His image from one degree of glory to the next,” not on judging another person’s process. We will be challenged to share our testimonies in vulnerability, allowing His glory to be the focus. And we will live in His presence, knowing that tomorrow is yet to come and He promises to take us to places that are truly “beyond our imaginations.”
Years ago, in a particularly difficult place, I wrote a song. I want to share the first verse with you:
“I’ve got a thorn in my flesh, you might say it’s a pain in the rear!
And, I asked God to remove it—but I guess He didn’t hear.
Then, a voice deep inside me said, Oh yes, He heard you—He said NO. You see that thorn is the thing that you NEED NOW, to help you to grow.
Those words continue to resonate.
In His love, Jeanie