June 27th, 2012; 2012 Exodus Freedom Conference opening night, Minneapolis MN; Northwestern College.
Conference title —’Made For More.’ There were over 600 in attendance from all over the world.
There are a lot of things that are written and said about Exodus on a regular basis. And if you’ve been following along lately, within the last six months or so, we’ve shared a lot of things. Some of that has been misinterpreted, some of it hasn’t. God has been changing and honing in who we are at Exodus, helping us to realize what it is that we should be in this next season. We’ve had ten years of trying to equip the church. Ten years of trying to partner with the church to help them understand how to better relate to people who struggle with the issues that we struggle with; how to minister to people who are dealing with same-sex attractions; how to reach out to the gay community, and it’s been an amazing 11 years. It’s been an amazing 36 years, but I think God’s sharing with us that there is something beyond this that I feel it is important to share with you all tonight and I felt it was important to share with people who are watching us and listening to us who have been a part of us and some who have left us, a gay community who wants to understand us and doesn’t. A church culture, the body of Christ who wants to understand us and doesn’t, looks to us for how it is that they should minister to people with same-sex attractions, or people who are gay or lesbian or family members who are impacted by this issue. Has anybody been reading the newspaper or listening to the media or hearing things that have been going on? If you have, it’s been a really crazy year for us. Our messaging isn’t perfect, but our desire is to be so focused and so centered on the Gospel, so focused and so centered on who God is and who He has called us to be. Our greatest desire is to be present and to offer hope, not confusion, help, love, compassion, grace, and mercy, truth, and understanding.
What do we believe about the issue of homosexuality? Hopefully you know what we believe what the Bible says about it. We believe what the Bible says about every single thing that the Bible speaks about. What is it we’re to do about the issue of homosexuality or with our same-sex attractions? What’s the answer concerning, is homosexuality a sin or isn’t it a sin – is it a bigger sin – is it a greater sin – is it more important than this sin or that sin. I think we in the church have made it into something bigger than it actually is. It is a sin, but it’s one of many. It’s not the only one. Jesus didn’t hang on the cross a little longer for people who are involved or have been involved with same-sex attractions or who have been gay or lesbian. And yet I think sometimes we’ve treated the issue like that. That it was bigger. Here we have this ministry that is dedicated to helping people with same-sex attractions and we don’t put the same kind of emphasis on other issues that are happening in people’s lives. We’ve put a greater emphasis on healing people from same-sex attractions, or healing people who have struggles with homosexuality, or who are gay or lesbian, when we don’t talk about healing always with regards to other sin struggles that are prominent in the Body of Christ.
I’m thankful for the ministry of Exodus and I’m thankful for the fact that this was a big deal in my life. I’m thankful that it was a big deal in the church and that I was able to go to a ministry that was so specific and so helpful. I believe that my relationship with Christ wouldn’t be what it is today if I hadn’t dealt with same-sex attractions — if I didn’t have same-sex attractions. And I’m thankful for them quite frankly. But I think it’s time in the Body of Christ that we stop elevating this issue to the degree that we’ve elevated it. I think it’s time that we stop putting an emphasis on people resolving these issues in a way that we don’t ask other people to resolve other issues. I think it’s time we look at this struggle and these temptations and this sin in the same way that we look at every other one. Sometimes that might just mean actually looking at something else. We miss so much! We don’t address this or that. I don’t find this bigger or greater than and yet we’ve made it that way. And even some of us in our own lives – I don’t know whether it’s because we all feel like we’re terminally unique or not. But even those of us who deal with this issue or have it somehow impacting our families, we’ve treated it as if it is bigger – more in need of healing or help. We’ve carried greater amounts of shame and condemnation because of this issue than we have about other issues that we might struggle with in our lives. That’s got to stop.
We’ve created programs and therapies and all sorts of stuff related to this issue and we’ve said things about going through those therapies and those programs that we don’t say about people who go through other therapies and other programs for whatever issue it is that they might struggle with. And I’m not knocking counseling because I pretty much think everyone in the world could benefit from an hour a week from somebody’s psychological couch. But I think we’ve treated this issue differently. Someone commented on my blog this week, that in recent weeks we have distanced ourselves from what’s called ‘Reparative Therapy’ which is a very small, niched, focused therapeutic practice. We haven’t distanced ourselves to hurt the feelings of our friends who are counselors in that field. But quite frankly I feel like so often in that line of work or in that field of work, we have said this is what causes homosexuality. This is how you deal with it, and this is what your outcome will be if you do everything right. And I don’t think that’s fair. Someone commented on my blog who said, “I don’t understand why you’re distancing yourself from Reparative Therapy or talking about that issue or creating a controversy over that issue.” And then they said, “because I have had a 90% reduction in my own struggles permanently.” And I think to myself how can you say that? I’m thankful that he has experienced some change in his life. I don’t doubt it. I don’t doubt that people who go to counseling experience resolution in the feelings and the desires and the dilemmas that they find themselves in with regards to the behaviors that they’ve been involved in or the addictions that they’ve struggled with. I don’t doubt that at all.
But I want us to be very, very clear at Exodus that I can’t tell you that your attractions will be reduced by 90% permanently. I don’t think any human being can tell you that. I don’t think that helps us with having healthy and realistic expectations. I think when our attractions come back strongly or our temptations get the better of us in a weak moment it only serves to make us wonder where we have failed. And I don’t think that’s fair.
At Exodus we have promoted and been closely linked to all sorts of methods and things that we’re reconsidering – not because we don’t believe change is possible. People say all the time that you don’t think change is possible. Well let me tell you what I think about change. I think it is possible for anybody who has a relationship with Jesus Christ, change is possible.
But what does that change look like? Does that mean you’ll never be tempted again? Does that mean you won’t ever struggle again? Does that mean you’re all guaranteed heterosexual attractions? Does that mean you’re guaranteed a spouse? Does that mean the marriage that you’re in will be miraculously transformed and you won’t ever have to deal with these things again? No. Of course it doesn’t. Change isn’t the absence of struggle. It’s the freedom in the midst of that struggle to make a different decision.
God’s given us the power to make different decisions. He’s given us the power to overcome the temptations that we face every day. It doesn’t mean that we will do that perfectly and I don’t know what time frame it will be until you will be mature in areas that you are immature in today.
What I do know is that when we surrender our hearts and our minds and our feelings and emotions and our struggles and our temptations and our desires and everything else to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, He gives us the ability to overcome. It’s a simple message.
For some people that will look very differently than others. There are some whose temptations and struggles won’t ever change. And we’ve been guilty in the Body of Christ of shaming people for that. We’ve been guilty in the Body of Christ and at times we’ve been guilty at Exodus for making people feel less than because they still struggle. I don’t know of any greater testimony than the person who has been stuck in that wheelchair praying everyday that they will be freed from that wheelchair and yet in the midst of it raises their hands and praises the Lord. That will be some of your realities. Others of you will experience a different reality – a change in your temptations – freedom in areas that others won’t experience – the kind of freedom that they prayed for.
Daniel 3:16-18 is one of my very favorite passages of all time. It’s the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – some of the coolest names in the Bible. But I love this passage. It says, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘Oh Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God, whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire.’”
Do you believe that your God is able to deliver you from the furnace of blazing fire? He is.
“And He will deliver us out of your hand, O King.” This is my favorite part though. “But even if He does not, let it be known, to you O King, “But even if He does not, let it be known, to you O King that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden images that you have set up.” Yes!
Do not bow your knee because change did not come in the way that you expected it would or prayed that it would or were told that it would. And don’t bow your knee to the golden idol of change because we have. Change IS possible for every believer who has a relationship with Jesus Christ, if we allow that change to take root in our hearts and our lives, but I’m not talking about attraction or orientation or whatever you want to call it. I’m talking about the kind of change that lasts forever. The greatest part of my story isn’t that I stand before you today as someone who doesn’t struggle anymore with same-sex attraction, because the truth of the matter is, I do! But you know what? If you think less of me for that, I don’t care! It’s just my reality. Can I tell you how much those same-sex attractions impact my daily life? Very, very little. Even on days when they are strong – and there are still days when they are – I don’t give a hoot about them. They do not define me! I don’t live my life based upon them rearing their ugly head! I don’t plan my day around them – I might plan my TV schedule around them. They don’t overwhelm my every thought! They don’t overwhelm my marriage! They simply serve to inform the life that I live and how I live it.
I think we’ve made a golden idol out of “change.” I think we’ve made a golden idol out of our struggles with these issues, our temptations with these issues. My hope is that as we move forward as Exodus, that we will help those who are impacted by these things and the church not to do that anymore – not to make special exceptions or special rules, or special programs, or special therapies or groups – special sub-cultures for people who deal with these things. Don’t you know we don’t need Exodus if we, in the Body of Christ, would realize that we have everything it takes to help people who struggle.
I’m not going to be the best orator this week or the best speaker. I get to speak every year on opening night — because I’m the president of Exodus. That’s not true. I offer not to speak every year. I’m glad I get to. I think one of the reasons I get to speak is because I just want to stand up here and be honest with you — to challenge you, to encourage you – to give you a glimpse into what I think about every day and the life that I live. My greatest hope for you isn’t that you live the life that I live, but that you experience the peace and joy and contentment that I have experienced and I do experience. I share that I have same-sex attractions. If I wasn’t the president of Exodus I don’t know that I would share that all too often. It’s just not that big of a deal to me. But I feel like I have to share it because I’m the president of Exodus. Because I am a Christian leader. Far too often Christian leaders do not feel like they can share the things that we need to share. And so often, we in the church, don’t allow our pastors and our leaders to share those things. It doesn’t mean they’re not there.
So why are you here this week? Why are we here this week? Why do we do what we do? Because there’s more. You were made for more. It’s not just a catchy little cliché or conference title.
I jotted down a few things related to that: You were made for more than sex – holy sex and unholy sex – you are made for more than sex, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You were made for more than a battle to be straight. You were made for more than a life of fear – God has not given us a spirit of fear, Amen? You were made for more than a life of anxiety. You were made for more than being alone and I don’t mean that you were made necessarily, or that you will be married. You were made for more than being alone.
You were made for more than pretense. I was made for more than pretense. I don’t have any desire to stand up here and pretend that I’m something that I’m not. But I have every desire to stand up here and tell you that I and anyone of you who are believers are more than we have settled for — more than the identities that we’ve tacked onto ourselves based upon our struggles or feelings or whatever. We are the righteousness of God in Christ. We were made for more than a casual and distant relationship with Father God.
We were made for more than the identities that we have allowed to define you, over the one that truly does define you. My encouragement to you? Do not place a label on yourself that God wouldn’t place on you. And I’m not just talking about the ones that are most common to us that we would be here to talk about tonight. I think we put so many labels on ourselves that God wouldn’t label us with.
You were made for more than a life of emotional and spiritual poverty. You were made for more than striving to overcome. You were made for more than trying this or that. You were made for more than this life. You were made for more freedom, more peace. John 16:33 says that “these things I have spoken to you so that you may have peace in me. In this world you will have trials and tribulations, but take courage, I have overcome the world” – so you can have peace. You were made for more joy. I live a life of absolute joy. People describe me in newspaper articles as this or that. Very rarely do they get it quite right. You were made for a life of having more joy. You were made for a life of having more security. I think again because we’ve made this issue so big in the church, in the body of Christ and even in our own lives, that in relation to this struggle and usually only this struggle, we feel very insecure in our standing with God because we’re tempted, because we struggle, because we fall. You were made for more than a life of insecurity in your relationship with Christ. Does that make sense?
You were made for more love, more grace, more abundance – so much more than you could ever ask for or imagine. You were made for hope. Do you have hope? Do you believe that God is faithful? Do you believe that He’s faithful even if He doesn’t answer in a way that you prayed He would? Can you still serve Him? Will you still love Him? Will you still follow Him? These are hard questions to answer.
He made you for more. And I pray that we at Exodus contribute to that hope this week – that we contribute to your joy this week – that we contribute to your quality of life – that we encourage you – that we walk alongside you in this very difficult journey – that we help you move beyond a spirit of fear – a spirit of defeat — a spirit of poverty — a spirit of feeling “less than.”
You were made for more. Like I said, it’s not just a cliché. It’s not just a nice easy title that we came up with this week. It’s something that we truly, truly believe. God’s Word is full of the more that you were made for. I hope that you will dig into that this week and that you will be encouraged by what you hear from people. Change is possible. Freedom is possible. God can do anything. Just dig in a little deeper to what those things mean.
One of the most amazing things I think that we offer during the week of Exodus, again, is showing up. Showing up in the form of a prayer team who is here to pray with you. Undoubtedly you have hurts and struggles and all sorts of burdens that you’ve brought to this conference. Most of us wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have some. And it’s our desire to pray for you and to serve you in that way – to listen to you, to cry with you. Please don’t let this week go by without taking the opportunity to be prayed for – to share with this group of people who’s here, the burdens and the struggles and the needs that you have. Some of you don’t have anything back at home to go back to – no support system – no person to hold you accountable or to walk alongside you in this journey. Take advantage of what’s here this week and I hope that it will give you some courage as you do go back home to take steps of faith in finding people who can help you – who can serve you – who can walk alongside you.
There is some important work that God wants to do in your hearts and your lives this week. There might be some radical, unexplainable defined changes that occur in your life. I told you I had same-sex attractions, but they don’t overwhelm me or define me. They are not the biggest part of my life. They are a small part of my life, even on the days when they want to be bigger than I allow them to be. But there are struggles that I have faced related to homosexuality – related to other things that God has completely healed – that He has completely removed. He doesn’t remove our humanity or our struggle with some things, but I don’t want to make you feel hopeless that He won’t change anything. He will. He can. Look for the areas where He does make dramatic changes in your life.
Just because He might not answer you in the way that you prayed that He would doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pray that He will. I still pray that He’ll take things away from me that I currently struggle with. I will do that until my dying breath. Why? Because He might. Let me encourage you to ask for the impossible, but keep in mind, he might do something better. Today in 2012, 21 years after I told the counselor that I saw the very first day I walked through the doors of an Exodus ministry that I wanted to be free, completely healed and never struggle with this again; 21 years later, I am so thankful that God didn’t answer in the way that I asked Him to because I would have missed out on so much of what He’s done in my life and in my heart. I am truly, truly thankful for this struggle because it has taught me things about God that I wouldn’t have known otherwise – namely that He is faithful. He is the only one that is completely faithful.