I rarely address issues that are breaking in the news. But, the recent announcement of Chick-Fil-A’s withdrawal of support for the Salvation Army and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes signals one more momentary win for the forces of darkness against the forces of light. Once again, pressure from the pro-LGBTQ+ community, media, and secular worldview has influenced a company to deviate from their strong support of Christian organizations and agencies to a compromised position that is more acceptable to the loudest voices in the culture.
At first glance, this could be discouraging, and in some ways it is, but even more discouraging are the countless churches who have also chosen to compromise truth for convenience and public acceptance. These churches have abandoned the foundational truth of God’s sovereign design for humanity as male and female, for lesser expressions of personal privilege that align with whatever feelings we are having at the moment. Most often, these compromises of truth seek to communicate the grander motive of being “move loving,” but in fact, they are just the opposite. It is only in knowing the truth that anyone is genuinely free. Lies enslave and steal hope. Truth brings life and empowers hope.
If we are unwilling to uphold biblical truth, we are complicit in blessing all forms of idolatry, self-aggrandizement, and heresy. We abandon the Creator and His reign in our world, and we assign to His creatures (we humans) the ability to create ourselves in our likeness, desires, and pleasures. In the mix of it all, God becomes a silly old soul to ignore rather than a sovereign Lord to obey.
I love Chick-Fil-A. I love the company, their bold proclamation of biblical principles in their corporate founding, and their delicious food. I was among the thousands of individuals who went to Chick-Fil-A on the day they were to be boycotted by the pro-LGBTQ+ crowd. I felt as though they were one of the few privately-owned, mega-companies who were willing to stand strong for their faith in the face of opposition and misrepresented claims.
But I love the power of the gospel even more. I love how the work of Christ on this earth, on the cross, and in the resurrection ensures the reconciliation of man and the transformation of his/her heart and life if he/she believes. I love, even more, that the power of the gospel enables humanity to be all he/she is created to be. I love that the gospel communicates that we are not accidents, mistakes, blunders of a deity, or merely bodies to be recreated, but intentional creations, fearfully and wonderfully made to reflect the image and glory of our Creator God in this world. I love that in spite of the discouragement such corporate and institutional decisions can have on those seeking to follow the way of God, believers can still have hope.
Truett Caffey, founder of Chic-Fil-A, made this statement that started his company’s controversy. It was a bold statement of truth and compassion which rallied many who believed the Word as he did: “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.’ And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”
Our hope does not rest on the approval and cheers of men, corporate entities, LGBTQ+ advocates/allies/friends, or the culture. Our hope is in the Bible upon which we choose to entrust our lives and our souls. Our hope is the grace given for now, because of the cross, and the future grace that empowers us to remain until the end. Our hope rests in the promise that The King is coming to make all things new, to bring heaven to earth, and to judge the living and the dead. Our hope has a name, and His name is Jesus.
In recent months, LGBT activists and allies have made a concerted effort to silence the voice of LHM in the public arena. A campaign was launched by one individual and was quickly picked up by others who wrote over seventy articles on multiple continents that declared LHM to be a “conversion therapy” group. One writer defines “Conversion therapy,” to “include hypnosis and electric shocks.” Our times of worship may be sublime, and the truth of God’s Word is often convicting, but there is no hypnosis or electric shock done, nor has it ever been done at LHM.
In fact, LHM offers no therapy at all. We are a discipleship ministry that journeys with individuals and families as they embrace the truth of God’s Word, an ancient text that defines who we are in Christ and how we are to live. In our modern world, however, these orthodox, biblical teachings of God’s Word seem to be threatening, hate-filled, and even dangerous to some.
Caving to the cries of activists who grossly misrepresented LHM’s mission and activity as dangerous and even “life-threatening,” Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon quickly pulled the LHM app. The app was filled with expository teachings of various books of the Bible, weekly devotions, and personal testimonies of God’s transformational work. The app had happily resided on all platforms for more than three years.
When Google refused to remove the app—a move we appreciated as a stand for diversity of expression and freedom of religion—the same group mounted another campaign and garnered more pro-gay support to pressure the tech giant to surrender to their demands. Soon, congressmen and the powerful Human Rights Campaign, a pro-LGBT activist group, used its influence and removed Google from their Corporate Equity Index. In reaction, Google caved to their demands, removing the app from their store as well. According to an article in Reuters online, “HRC said the app was ‘life-threatening to LGBTQ youth…’” This seems rather contradictory since these app providers host more than a dozen pro-gay apps that are designed to encourage sexual exploration and provide a means for individuals to hook-up for anonymous sex – an activity that has proven to be dangerous and even life-threatening.
If these app providers had read the testimonies or listened to the personal experiences of individuals available on our website, they would see that LHM is about helping people find life, not destroying it. The stories of lives changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ fill the history of mankind, and the testimonies of those who have participated in LHM are no exception. LHM offers ideas and a way of thinking from a Christian perspective. If you choose to believe those ideas, transformation can take place in your life. If you decide those ideas are not to your liking, you simply reject them and pursue other ideas. At LHM, no one forces anyone to believe anything or do anything.
If you read through the accusations of the pro-gay activist groups who attacked LHM, you will repeatedly see vague and un-cited references to the American Psychological Association (APA) that state groups like LHM harm LGBT youth. But if you actually read through APA texts, such as the report of the APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, you will find that they are supportive of “telic congruence,” the practice of a person living their life in line with their value system. This stance is part of their commitment to diversity, which includes religious inclusion. In their official statement on diversity, the APA states “psychology has no legitimate function in “arbitrating matters of faith and theology”or to “adjudicate religious or spiritual tenets” (p. 432). In the task force report, they go further to state,“the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome.” Pg. V
It seems odd that pro-gay activists would rely so heavily on the APA, using it at times as a verbal bludgeon to shut down any dissenting voices, when the APA itself encourages licensed mental health professionals to be accepting and supportive of those who choose not to act on or embrace their same-sex attractions. In my opinion, it is the very presence of dissenting voices that demonstrate that we have achieved true diversity, not the uniformity of opinion that these groups who oppose LHM seem to desire.
I am amazed and humbled at the influence granted our little ministry in the heart of Texas. To think that an app which is completely free and only accessible to those who freely choose to download, read, and/or listen to the content therein, could be so life-threatening, is astounding. We certainly believe that ideas have consequences, but we also know that those consequences are made by conscious choices we make as free and thinking individuals.
Though the voice of LHM has been diminished in this one arena, the darkness that has prevailed has only given more clarity to the Light of Christ, which continues to shine through this ministry. The truth is we could not have paid for the publicity we have received over the past few months. Hundreds of excited and grateful people have contacted the ministry, commented on articles written, and been made aware of a ministry that they didn’t know existed.
In late November, the staff and I were praying and we asked God how we might reach people who need to know there is another option for those who have a conflict between their faith and their feelings. Little did we know that God would work in such incredible ways to get His Word of hope to so many around the world.
The Light of God’s Truth is a formidable force. Emperors have fought against it, tyrants have persecuted and silenced it, cultures have tried to eradicate it, but it has continued to shine even brighter amid the darkness. LHM will continue to proclaim truth and hope to those who have ears to hear. We will not be dissuaded. We will not surrender to cultural pressures or political correctness. We will continue to love God’s people and all people as we help them embrace the fullness of His fearful and wonderful work reflected in our lives as men and women created in His image! We ask that you continue to pray for LHM, our staff, and those who participate in our ministry in the US and around the world. We also ask that you support the work of LHM and let others know that there is hope and help through Christ found at Living Hope Ministries.
I hope this letter finds you in good spirits leaving the Holidays, this was the first Christmas I’ve gotten to spend with my family for some time. I’ve had a lot of difficulties loving my family or having grace on them for not “getting me” in my childhood. Living Hope Ministries (LHM) in Arlington, TX has helped me a lot with that in their sermons, podcasts, and weekly support groups – a lot of wonderful healing has happened in my life through that ministry. So, the end of the holidays came with a downer as I learned about Apple’s choice to remove Living Hope Ministry’s app from the app store. I am writing to you of my own volition to ask you to reconsider this decision by sharing my experience with the ministry and addressing Truth Wins Out’s claims.
I’m not sure about your story, but as many same-sex attracted people have said, I’ve been attracted to men as far back as I can remember. Growing up in the 2000s (I am about to turn 26), I did my schooling in a time where it was safe to be gay, but for some reason, the idea of coming out just didn’t feel right, so I didn’t. In my teenage years, I began to develop emotionally dependent behaviors on guys in search of healing for the wounds and frustration I felt in my heart. I often only had one friend at a time, and this continued on into college. My first interaction with LHM was around this time (I was 19 y.o.). I’d heard about it from some older men who attended the same church as me and thought it’d be a good way to get cured from my gayness. I explained this desire to the man who did my intake interview, Brock (he was a straight man who had a passion for helping believers who struggle with same-sex attraction, or SSA. I say was because He passed away in 2016.) and what he said was roughly this: “Walker, I believe God can do all things and I believe he can take your attractions from you. But he may not, I’ve never seen it happen.” What he was getting at went right over my head, and I charged on in life expecting prayer and church involvement would cure me.
Of course, I was woefully mistaken. I started to live a double life: straight ROTC guy during the day, Craigslist hookup surfer at night. I even had different names, email addresses, and phone numbers to separate the dark from the light. This physical outlet for my attractions didn’t help though, and my struggles with emotional dependency eventually caused me to be dismissed from my ROTC program, resulting in the loss of my scholarship and any hope at a career in the military.
Life after college wasn’t much different, and the longer I continued my double life, the worse my mental condition became. Even with supportive friends and family who loved me dearly, I had never felt more alone, more unknown, or more hopeless. God was the only entity that came to mind who could save me from my sadness. I didn’t know it then, but He was calling me up from the death and darkness I was experiencing into the life He had for me as His adopted son and heir. After three years of no involvement in LHM, I returned to the ministry with a broken and contrite heart, ready to surrender my life to the Lord regardless of His intent to change my attractions.
Since this surrender, I’ve learned not to be ashamed of my attractions, and I’ve shared openly with hundreds of people – from congregations and coworkers to bartenders and other strangers. I’ve learned how to set healthy relational boundaries to guard my heart against emotional dependency, and I’ve become involved in a church community that knows my story. My walk with Christ is no longer about salvation from my sexuality – it’s about Christ, who saved me from my sins 2000 years ago on a cross! As I mentioned before, a lot of healing in family relationships has happened, too. Most of all, I’ve learned that who I am is not who I am attracted to, it is who God says I am – His adopted son. Guess where I learned all that? Living Hope Ministries in Arlington, TX.
Does the story about my experience with Living Hope Ministries ring true to any of the allegations made by Truth Wins Out?
Just like me – the people who seek out Living Hope Ministries are doing so in response to a sincerely-held belief. It does not have the ability to force people to subscribe to its beliefs.
LHM does not: Protest gay-affirming churches or assert its views publicly, Offer, promote, or recommend conversion therapy or anything of that sort, Preach “pray the gay away”, Pair its members off with assigned spouses of the opposite sex.
LHM DOES; however: Preach God’s forgiveness, grace, and redemption through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Provide resources to help churches respond more lovingly to LGBTQ+ members of their congregation in spite of convictions toward homosexuality/transgenderism, Provide a safe space for people, who struggle with SSA and want to live in obedience to an orthodox interpretation of scripture, to share openly and encourage one another, Teach parents to respond lovingly to children who’ve chosen to live in pursuit of their attractions.
Passionate as he may be, the gentleman from Truth Wins Out (TWO) is just plain wrong in his assertions about LHM’s approach to ministering to Christians who struggle with SSA. He cherry-picked phrases from video clips and articles, and even provided no reference to support his allegations of the ministry offering conversion therapy or preaching “pray-the-gay-away”. He didn’t because he couldn’t find any, and he couldn’t find any because LHM does not offer any kind of therapy. Truth Wins Out’s claims are, in fact, untruthful.
Of course, Apple’s reasoning for removing the app may have been more heavily influenced by the potential of negative publicity. But you have stood firm in the face of uglier foes in the past – namely in the precedent you set by defending the rights to your consumers’ privacy from the government.
Finally, in TWO’s mission to improve tolerance for LGBTQ+ people, they have refused to consider the need for tolerance for religious people. The content on LHM’s app is only accessible if the user decides to install the app and consume the content. Even if LHM did preach intolerance, It is not inherently intrusive as one must opt-in (by installing) to gain access to the content. Inversely, TWO as asserted their intolerance toward the views they claim the app espouses by successfully petitioning Apple to remove the app from its platform.
Mr. Cook, I humbly ask you to reinstate the LHM app’s availability on the app store, considering my personal experience and the untruthful claims of Truth Wins Out. There are hundreds of other men and women whose stories are similar to my own and can give testament to the healing, not harm, not conversion, that happens in the lives of participants in Living Hope Ministries.
The term “gospel” is thrown around a lot these days. In some ways, its familiarity has apparently diluted its true meaning. Once a noun that identified the life, teaching, and work of Jesus for the redemption of mankind, it has now become more an adjective to describe movements, attire, books, community, you name it. Taken from the Greek word euangélionand translated as “good news,” the gospel is indeed the good news of redemption. Good news is, well, good news! It should bring a sense of hope and transformation to those who embrace it fully. The gospel is something that has been boldly proclaimed since Jesus began preaching. Its message is one of change that has radically transformed our world.
Embraced initially by a group of rag-a-muffin fishermen and tax collectors who followed a mysteriously born carpenter’s son, the gospel is now preached around the world. Jesus’ radical teaching of amazing grace and complete surrender to God’s lordship in one’s life upended expectations of messianic leadership, ushering in the greatest movement of faith the world has ever experienced. The gospel’s fundamental teachings have liberated men and women, united Gentile and Jew, connected slave and free, established equality between men and women, and influenced the foundations of kingdoms, kings, governments, and religions. The gospel has indeed brought about change because the gospel—at its core—is about change, the greatest change that can happen in a man’s heart, a change from self-serving to God-serving.
However, today we live in a world where even the simplicity of good news has been nuanced and twisted into something far less transformational and, therefore, far less good or news. You see the whole reason God showed up on earth in the form of man was “to seek and save the lost,” (Jn 19:10) and “to call sinners to repentance” (Mk 2:17). Both being lost and needing repentance requires transformation or change. One who is lost is without boundaries, unfamiliar with one’s whereabouts, and in need of finding borders, markers, and truth to rightly give direction. Repentance means that we turn away from whatever we are pursuing to seek God. Both realities denote transformation and change. Simply, to experience the gospel is to change.
But recently some who claim to know Jesus and believe in his Gospel have twisted the message of Christ, asserting that there are parts of our lives that cannot change nor be transformed. They claim that our feelings, and specifically the feeling of being “oriented” sexually toward someone of the same gender, are impossible to change. In fact, one popular proponent of this more “progressive” understanding of the gospel stated plainly, “the gospel has never been about orientation change.” I guess that depends on how you would define “orientation,” but I strongly disagree with his lack of focus on transformation.
I believe the Bible teaches that when we experience the gospel, we are new creatures (2 Cor 5:17); we are transformed from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (Cor 1:13; Eph 5:8); we no longer walk in the futility of our minds, laying aside the old self and putting on the new made possible by the gospel (Ep 4:17-24; Col 3:9-10; 1 Pet 1:14-15). To think that some aspects of my personhood could, or would, be exempt from the all-penetrating, all-transforming power of the gospel is to limit both the gospel’s power and my enjoyment of the magnanimous blessings God has provided for me through His Son, Jesus. It is akin to getting the keys to a grand mansion but being satisfied with merely camping on the porch.
We must realize that any manifestation the Bible qualifies as sin (e.g., pride, lust, greed, gossip, murder) are all evidence of a fundamental human orientation towards sin (Ps 51; Rm 5:12). From man’s fall in Genesis 3, all mankind is drawn towards sin. The manifestation of that sin is only indicative of the wound, brokenness, or lostness we are trying to medicate with that sin.
Paul’s warning to the church in Galatia is an admonition we need heed: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:6-7).
A gospel which doesn’t advocate the ability to transform our lives and passions completely is not really the gospel at all. I don’t want to tell people that when they follow Christ, they can only have parts of what God offers; I want them to experience the fullness of Christ. I don’t wish to merely invite people to stop something that is destructive in their lives; I want to offer them something that is fulfilling and satisfying beyond their wildest imaginations. I don’t want a new “progressive” gospel; I want the gospel Jesus taught, lived, and demonstrated through His death and resurrection. I want the gospel that changed the murderous Saul to Paul, that transformed the denying Peter to evangelist Peter, and that moved demon-possessed Mary to witness Mary proclaiming the resurrection of her Lord!
Don’t believe a gospel that doesn’t transform you and give you hope for the future. Don’t believe the lies that you won’t, you can’t, or you will never have a change in your feelings, desires, or attractions. Only God holds the future. He knows what you need because He created you. If your desires become His desires, you will find wholeness in Him. Don’t believe another gospel. There is but one. In it is the story of redemption brought about by the God of the Universe coming to dwell among His creation, loving them, teaching them, dying on the cross for their sins, being buried and rising from the dead never to die again. That is the gospel all of Christendom has believed. That is the gospel that has changed the world. That is the gospel that will give you hope and change your life. In the words of Jesus, “Repent and believe the gospel!”
Do you have a coming out story? So many people do these days. Each one is boldly posted on our favorite social media platform and affirmed by a plethora of positive comments proclaiming the individual’s bravery, courage, and authenticity, ultimately declaring them as the latest “hero of the day.”
Though I have great admiration for everyone who chooses honesty and transparency over lies and deception, I’m certain these acts of self-disclosure do not rise to the level of hero.
Historically, we have reserved hero status for those who choose to risk limb, love, and even life for the good of others. Today’s coming out stories seem to be very little about others and all about self – hardly the definition of heroic.
Contrast today’s coming out stories with the coming out of a little known but highly significant character in the drama of Christ’s crucifixion. He shows up out of nowhere and is a pivotal player in the most significant event in human history – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. His name is Joseph of Arimathea. He doesn’t come out about his feelings or sexual identity, because he knows these feelings do not define his life. He instead comes out as a follower of Jesus and does so to the most powerful man in his region.
Joseph’s coming out story recorded in the gospels can teach us some powerful truths about our coming out for Jesus.
The cross changes everything.Joseph was likely present at the crucifixion. Though we have no specific text that records this fact, we know that he was a member of the elite Sanhedrin, a group of 70 Jews who served as the “supreme court” of the Jewish faith. They were the most powerful men in Judaism. The Sanhedrin was made up of the two sects of Judaism: Pharisees (of which Joseph was a part) and Sadducees. It was the Sanhedrin who carefully watched Jesus as he taught (John 11:56), and it was the Sanhedrin who agreed that Jesus’ blasphemy was worthy of death (John 3:18, 5:25, 11:4, 50-51). However, not all 70 of the Sanhedrin agreed. Joseph voiced opposition to the death plans for Jesus (Luke 23:51), and Nicodemus likely agreed as they would become the first two to break ranks and follow Jesus.
The Bible does tell us that Joseph was a man “looking for the Kingdom of God” (Mark 15:43), and likely could have been influenced by Nicodemus, a fellow member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1) and recent convert to Christ (John 3). It is very likely that they were at the crucifixion and witness to all that transpired that dreadfully wonderful day.
As witnesses to Jesus’ death, they saw the pain he endured and the gentle way he responded to those who mistreated him, mocked him, and hurled insults at Him. Joseph saw something in the crucifixion that changed his perception of who Jesus really was. No longer was Jesus a foe, but He was indeed the One who Joseph had been seeking – the Messiah – and that realization radically transformed Joseph’s life.
When we see the cross for what it is and what Jesus accomplished through it, we too can never be the same. Jesus, the innocent one, took upon Himself the penalty of our sin so that we might be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Joseph realized that truth, and it so gripped his being that it moved him to embrace a new way of living.
Discipleship is costly. Coming out for Jesus always has a cost. Understanding who Jesus really was, Joseph had found what he had been seeking – the Kingdom of God. As a result, he was willing to do everything and anything necessary to honor His Lord. In honoring Jesus, Joseph knew he could lose everything.
Joseph was rich (Matthew 27:57), a Pharisee, and a member of the Sanhedrin. To identify himself with the likes of a criminal, especially one crucified for treason, would likely cost him his position, his reputation, and his friendships with fellow Jews. Furthermore, this was the Passover season and for a Jew to touch a dead body would render Joseph unclean for at least seven days, making him unable to be near his family, the temple, or other Jews (Numbers 19:11). Additionally, approaching Pilate to ask for the body of Jesus cast great suspicion upon Joseph as to his connection to this traitor of Rome.
But regardless of the cost, Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and was granted his request. Might it be that Joseph heard Jesus when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34-35)?
Would you be willing to come out for Jesus, knowing that in doing so everything you once knew and loved would be different? People would see you differently. People would treat you differently. You could lose your fortune, your influence, and even your good reputation? Joseph was willing to risk it all for the cause of Christ. True discipleship elevates the one followed as greater than the one who follows.
Identity determines how we live. When Joseph asked for the body of Jesus, he summarily submitted every other allegiance for that of following Jesus. When Joseph carried the lifeless body of Jesus through the city to the new tomb, he publicly came out to the crowds that he was a follower of Jesus. Joseph’s identity changed from self-generated (Pharisee, Sanhedrin, rich) to God-created (a follower of Jesus). His new identity compelled him to honor His Lord in burial. Indeed, Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 26:63), and his King (Luke 23:3). Joseph’s life now exemplified this newfound identity.
Our identity determines how we live as well. We identify as republicans, democrats, gay, straight, liberal, conservative, constructionists, progressives, Protestant, Catholic, and the list goes on. But are we first and foremost Christians who earnestly follow the ways of Jesus? Does our life tell the message of the gospel to all who see us and interact with us?
Our world desperately needs to see and read our coming out stories. Like Joseph of Arimathea, we must be bold, courageous, and put it all on the line. At Living Hope Ministries, I’m blessed to be surrounded by people who are coming out for Jesus, for truth, for a different way forward in our world of confusion, hate, and chaos. They, like Joseph, have decided they have found the One, and it has changed everything!
We live in a world so filled with contradictions that finding truth can seem challenging. People clamor for diversity but insist on ideological conformity. Others cry for inclusion but quickly exclude anyone not fully adherent to their feelings and thoughts. Autonomy and individuality are worshiped as empowerment, while protesters extoll the need for a united community. The culture ironically denies the existence of God and rejects His tenants, yet simultaneously prays to Him for help in the midst of tragedy and turmoil.
While these contradictions can be found in almost every facet of our culture, they are particularly numerous and extreme in regards to gender and sexuality. For instance, sex is no longer an accepted reality, yet boys can become girls and girls can become boys. The culture says, “you are born gay and can’t change,” but your gender is “assigned” and totally malleable based on your feelings at any given moment. Though the pronoun “they” is grammatically plural, it must be used as a singular pronoun if requested by a gender fluid person. “Love is love” is the theme of the day, but those who espouse it are quick to call others bigots and homophobes if they fail to fully embrace what they mean by it. Christians are said to hate gays, but Christians have been the first on the scene when tragedy befalls the gay community. “Science is King,” but if it contradicts pro-LGBT+ ideologies and/or narrative, it is ignored. LGBT+ identified people—while only making up 4% of the population—claim marginalization while 64% of Americans support gay marriage. 
Given this litany of contradictions, it’s no wonder youth plead for “safe spaces.” Such a sea of inconsistencies makes it seem as if there is no way of ever finding truth and, consequentially, knowing who you are. Media of every type broadcast these conflicting messages on repeat as the dogma of the day, hour, or moment.
Might it be that the cacophony of contradictory messages is at the root of much of the troubles of our day? Where is truth amid the maddening rhetoric? Where is north or south, east or west? What is up and what is down? Where is the anchor we can hold, or the rock upon which we can stand? We seem to be a people tossed by every wind and doctrine. We search for an identity that is unchanging and an assurance that is grounded in something bigger than our ideas, feelings, or perception of ourselves.
As I read the headlines of yet another mass shooting, watch the latest gender-bending awards show, or talk with youth in churches across our great country, I see the confusion brought about by our contradictions and our inability to clearly embrace truth. To cope, we craft our own realities based on our sense of autonomy and individualism, hoping that each will bring meaning. But real meaning is not found in “artisanal living.” Real meaning in life is found in God alone (Jn. 14:6).
Despite what our culture says, youth want to know truth. They want to know there are absolutes and boundaries because those boundaries allow them the freedom to experience a sense of safety, security, and serenity. Truth enables them to experience life free from the fear of being called a name, rejected by peers, or shunned by their social circles. Why? Because their definition of self is defined by truth outside of their opinion or the opinions of others – God’s Truth. Youth need a place to breathe, see, hear, taste, and feel the goodness of God’s created world, as He created it.
Our desire for personal autonomy and individualism may seem new, but it’s not. Neither is it solely a youth problem; rather, it’s mankind’s problem and it has been around since our beginning. In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam one simple command, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:16).
Man was given everything needed to sustain life, including a partner. Together the two were completely exposed (naked) and unashamed. They fellowshipped with God and enjoyed his physical presence, intimacy, and innocence. Yet they believe a lie from the devil, a lie that the devil still whispers in our ears to this very day. The deceiver said to the couple, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5).
This satanic appeal is a simple plea directed at the most basic of human desires for significance and trust. Are you as good as you can be? And do you trust God that He is truly good? With a simple statement, the devil convinced man to forsake the anchor of truth for the floating buoy of a lie. At that moment, life changed in a way neither of them expected. What they thought would deepen their intimacy and satisfaction only brought a greater sense of isolation and distance from their Creator and from each other.
Despite their disobedience, God loved the man and the woman and provided coverings for their now-self-aware nakedness. As they peered back through the fiery swords and cherubim standing guard at the gate of Eden, they longed for the intimacy they once freely experienced. Choices have consequences.
While our world has radically changed since those first days in the garden, the reality of man’s weakness and our propensity to solve our own dilemmas, rather than submit to our divine Savior, continue to exist.
Though the cultural landscape looks as though it is fighting hard against God’s Truth, I am convinced we are, in fact, fighting to find His Truth. We want Truth but have no idea where to acquire it. We, like Adam and Eve, continue to take matters into our own hands. We pretend to be autonomous and free only to discover we have traded our freedom for the yokes of slavery, addiction, and self-identification. Our created realities only limit our human thriving and repress our ability to be the redeemed selves God desires us to be through the redemptive power of the work of Jesus.
Jesus is not a contradiction, but the revelation of all that God is in a form we can recognize, relate to, and who is one of us but yet not us. Paul put it this way, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form. And you have been made complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:9-10). It is only in our surrender to His design and will for us that we find the completeness we so desire. It is only in Him that we are able to be far more than we could have ever hoped or imagined (1 Cor. 2:9).
The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the gospel (1 Cor 15:3-8). It is The Truth that liberates the captive (Luke 4:18), gives identity to the confused (Jn. 1:12), transforms the sinner (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Pet. 2:9), and adopts us as His beloved sons and daughters (1 Jn. 3:1-2). This is the Truth, and it is the message that pierces the confusion and contradictions. It is the anchor for our longing souls. The gospel is what we teach at Living Hope Ministries and it is the truth that transforms lives for the glory of God and our great joy. It is our only hope, our living hope (1 Pet. 1:3)!
Each year Living Hope Ministries holds two retreats in the first quarter of the year. One is for our young adults, 18-26, and one for those 27+ and friends, family and spouses of those who struggle. Our retreats seek to deepen each person’s walk with the Lord by taking time away from our busy schedules and spending time with God. This year’s theme was “Draw Near” and focused on our need to draw near to the Lord, worship Him, and spend time in His presence.
The following comments are from a few of those who attended a retreat this year.
“I was nervous about going to the retreat because I had no idea what it would be like or if it would be helpful at all. However, this retreat was one of the most encouraging discipleship experiences I’ve ever had – SSA-related or otherwise. Every single person there was desperately seeking God, and God honored that.” – Ryan, Young Adult Retreat
“I appreciate the great creativity [God] has given Ricky and the leadership to plan artwork and activities that point us to the Lord. It was a huge reminder that He desires to be near us, wants us to be near Him and provides everything we need to get there.” – Karen, Adult Retreat
“This year more than ever I think the Lord has shown me how important decisions are–how I am responsible for whether I decide to follow after Him or do whatever my sin draws me to. He showed me how while I have had a difficult season leading up to this retreat, it has taken but a few decisions to pursue Him and do things to prepare my heart that has made all the difference”
“I love that we were called more than once to keep in prayer for each other following this retreat, and it has been a great joy to participate in that.” – Jared, Young Adult Retreat
“Laying aside my hardest struggle is worth it to gain Christ. It’s all or nothing. I can’t have it both ways. Right now, I’m with Jesus and I’m eternally grateful that He will never let me go. Having a community that understands me means the world to me. It really is a piece of heaven. ” – Matt, Young Adult Retreat
“These retreats are powerful moments of authenticity with brothers and sisters which make the worship time so powerfully sweet and connecting. I am so glad to have participated for my 4th time.” – Peter, Adult Retreat
“The Lord revealed to me how I am still holding up my guard at times and not trusting some as deeply as I could even though they have in fact shown themselves trustworthy. I have to let go of some self-protection” – Lea, Adult Retreat
“It is so encouraging to see that we don’t have to be stuck in this struggle. It was great to bring my wife and interact with the other “friends and family” at the retreat. Too often we who struggle with SSA are so into our struggles we forget how our lives affect our friends and family. The retreat is another way LHM helps bridge the understanding and bring healing between those that struggle with SSA and the friends and family who suffer deep hurts and wounds.” – Dan, Adult Retreat
“Retreat is always a HUGE blessing to Friends and Family members. There is the opportunity to meet others who are dealing with the same struggles you are, to hear encouraging stories and be prayed for in person. There is no shame or judgment, and it is a chance to finally be open and honest, allowing God and others to minister to us in our time of need. This year’s theme of “Draw Near” was exactly what I needed to move forward and experience God’s presence in my life.” – Homebody, Parent, Adult Retreat
“Prior to the retreat, I was wrestling with a mess of thoughts and questions about the state of my spiritual life. I honestly expected the retreat to be a primarily emotional experience, but I found incredible clarity concerning those confusing thoughts and even found help with things I never expected I might find guidance on while at the retreat. And while there was definitely a lot of emotion, the retreat was also an incredibly equipping experience, and had a deeper impact on me than I ever anticipated.” – Austin, Young Adult Retreat
“Building a physical depiction of what is holding me back from Drawing Near to the Lord was significant. Never would I take the time to create an image of why I’m keeping God at a distance. As I constructed this image physically, I thought of how I have constructed these walls spiritually. I took care to place pieces with purpose and intentionality. Likewise, out of my brokenness and self-preservation, I’ve taken care to be in control. As I built, I heard the Lord calling me to himself, inviting me to lay down these burdens and Draw Near to Him.” – Sarah, Adult Retreat
“At this year’s retreat, God revealed to me the deep shame I felt for events in my past and how that shame prevented me from drawing near to God. During a small break on Saturday, I decided to work on an assignment for the Living Water’s bible study that I and a handful of other LHM participants are working through with Ricky. The goal of the assignment was to create a list of all of the soul ties that we have made through sexual contact. Easy enough. I began to make my list, starting with my first encounter at 8 years old. As I finished writing out the name of the person and an explanation of the event, I wrote the word “shame.” I did not know why I wrote it, but I decided not to think too much about it and instead moved to the next event. 12 years old. Name of sexual partner. Description of activity. Shame. I did it again. I could not stop writing it. Confused and disturbed, I threw my journal into my bag and hurried out the door to that afternoon’s group activity.
Not done revealing the lies in my life, God continued to show me my shame. For our group activity, Ricky asked each attendee to make a craft, a physical representation of what was keeping us from drawing near to God. As I looked over the art supplies strewn about the table, I could not get the word out of my mind: shame. It haunted me. It seemed to be everywhere. What could I make out of paper, glue, and paint that could express the shame I felt? I am a philologist, a lover of well-crafted sentences and phrases, yet my very pen seemed to be co-opted, not yielding my heart but only the word shame. Like Ovid’s Philomela who lost her words but retained her hands, I set to my craft.
In about half an hour, I had my object: a small tent with one side painted black with bloody gashes and the other side encrusted with gold glitter. I realized this was where I lived. The black and blood-soaked half of my home represented the shame that I feel. This is the face that I thought was my true self. As I looked at that shameful side, I could not help but think of all the people I lead astray. All the men I pushed further into the lifestyle and transgender community by acting out with them. I felt such shame that it was overwhelming. To deal with this, I constructed for myself a new face, the gold glitter. This was the mask I created to cover my shame. I wanted to be seen as smart, funny, and caring, definitely not the kind of person that would ever pressure friends for sex, an activity which would reinforce the lies heaped upon them by the enemy.
What was I to do? I knew that this shame I felt was not from Christ, for “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) This shame was from the evil one and was distracting me from the truth of the gospel. However, I also knew that the prideful glitter filled pretense I constructed to cover my shame was also keeping me from God. In trusting in the gold façade, I was looking to my own goodness to bring me the peace that I needed. I kept looking at my poorly constructed creation and realized an amazing truth. Despite all the color on the outside of the tent—the different faces that were made by the lies and my attempt to deal with them—when you looked on the inside of the structure, all you could see was the pure white of the paper. The alterations made to the outside never took away the pure white integrity of the original material. They only covered it up.
This reflects a deep truth about our true nature and the lies that we believe define us. No matter how much we feel that our tents are colored by those demonic defamations or our attempts to deal with them, the truth is that our God-given self still resides underneath. The question is, will we be brave enough to embrace this truth, or will we continue to be defined by the lies.” – Tim, Adult retreat
“The focus of our retreat was “Draw Near to God”. Ricky’s talk on “Humbleness is Our Approach to Draw Near” was very meaningful to me.
He shared that confession is not trying to explain or blame others for our sin. I realized I had been saying to myself and others that the reason I experienced same sex attraction is my parents’ fault. I needed to admit that I made wrong choices through my own arrogance/rebellion. My parent’s treatment of me did influence my choices, but I am the one who viewed my Dad as representative of all men and therefore feared all men. I experienced few positive male role models as a child. I also viewed my parent’s marriage as representative of all marriages and vowed, “never to get married.” I, myself, finally decided that since God had not brought anyone into my life as a husband, that I would pursue a woman I was attracted to. Not taking into account that because of my fears, I was thee one who was not open and therefore had few male friendships. I had acted in rebellion seeking my own foolishness.
At the retreat and also at recent Bible studies [at LHM], Ricy has been talking about double mindedness. Due to being a Christian and knowing that my same sex attraction was wrong, I was very ambivalent in the relationship of the woman I pursued. My hypocrisy wanted to live in sin, but also wanted to be a doer and seen as a strong Christian. Living Hope is helping me to spend focused time on my heart relationships with God. I am learning to sit at His feet, to listen, and seek Him as the most important relationship in my life. I am learning to identy wrong thought patters and wrong perceptions of who and whose I am and to replace them with God’s Truth.
Living Hope and these retreats offer hope and much needed guidance to those of us who have struggled due to abuse and our own struggles of how to do life. I am so thankful to God for His provision! – Dianne, Adult Retreat
This Sunday morning America woke to learn of the horrific mass murder in Orlando. My heart is grieved over the senseless and savage execution of fellow humans. Every act of murder is hate—wherever, whenever. As the pundits tried to make sense of the tragedy, voices emerged that scurried for explanations, reasons, and rationale for acts which make no real sense.
On the Tony awards that evening, decorated actor Lin-Manuel Miranda shared a sonnet in which he proclaimed that “love is love, is love, is love, is love…” to the uproarious applause of the audience. His words may have acted as a salve to the audience’s raw and wounded hearts, but in reality, his statement was a lie! In fact, it is because of “love” the shooter risked his life to murder people he did not know. He “loved” his ideology, whatever that might be. He “loved” his hate more than he even loved his life. Thus, we can only conclude that all “love” is not the same.
We live in a world with a continually shifting definition of love. We define love as whatever makes you feel good, your personal pleasure, doing what you feel is right, believing whatever you want to believe, expressing your ideas, thoughts, life-choices, proclivities, and political ideologies. We say we “love” everything: our phones to sports, our pets to the latest song, our sweet grandmother or our political affiliation, our religion to our rage. But the kind of love and the source of that love determines how you live. Words mean something and beliefs matter. Ultimately, how we live demonstrates what we love. All “love” is not the same. We desperately need love, but not just any “love.”
God is love, but not the kind of boundary-less, nebulous, and ultimately meaningless love the world touts. God’s love is extended to everyone, everywhere, with an invitation to a meaningful, joyous life He has created for us. God’s love is not ethereal, not just ideological or theoretical, but a genuine love that is demonstrated best in the Gospel. God so loved us that He gave His very son for the redemption of mankind (Jn. 3:16). That is real love—love that sacrifices at great cost, not one that simply satisfies personal pleasures, passions, or pursuits.
The world desperately needs real love, God’s love, a love that doesn’t seek to destroy others, but seeks to serve and care for others. The world needs to see that love is not a feeling. It is an action lived out in loving ways by people who are willing to get messy, to risk big, to give lavishly and sacrifice all for the good of others.
I pray those who know real love will rise up and serve, love, care, give, sacrifice, and most importantly share the great love they know.
I’m praying for Orlando, for those who have lost those they love, for those who are watching the response of each of us, and for those who are scared, frightened, and uncertain of what their tomorrows will hold. Real Love is with us and He has an answer. I pray we all find it.
The budding trees and the smells of flowers signal the arrival of spring. It is a new season and the plants which had been silently gaining strength over the winter months spring forth with new vigor and life. It’s a beautiful time of the year.
I love the rhythm of life God has so beautifully designed in the world. It lets us know things are moving forward, change is happening, and yet there is still order.
In much the same way organizations also have “seasons. For the past seven years we have had an amazing woman at the helm of our Women’s Ministry, D’Ann Davis. She has served selflessly and faithfully (You can read more about my thoughts about her here). As this ministry is both intense and emotionally taxing, she has felt the need to step away from ministry to pursue other interest and a time of refreshing and personal renewal. I and this ministry will certainly miss her and we are indebted to her for the deep contributions she has made to LHM and all those who were touched by her powerful service among us.
Welcome Bonnie Scasta!
This past week, we have named Bonnie Scasta as our new Women’s Ministry Director. She is no stranger to our ministry. She has been a part of LHM since 2009 and has served as the Assistant to D’Ann in the women’s ministry for theist two years. She brings a wealth of gifts, talents, integrity, commitment and a deep sense of calling, to this position.
Bonnie has an undergraduate degree from Texas A&M in psychology and a Masters of Arts in Christian Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She has worked for the past three years for the Tarrant County Women’s Center as a Community Educator Specialists for abuse prevention in children and teens. In addition to serving on LHM staff as assistant to the Women’s Ministry Director, she also served LHM as a women’s small group leader and assisted as an administrator on our online support forums. Her contagious sense of joy, her deep commitment to Christ, His Church, and His people, and her sincere sense of calling make her perfectly suited for this position. Bonnie also has a very personal connection to this ministry as the daughter of a father who is gay-identified (you can read Bonnie’s story here). Her personal struggles in coming to terms with her father’s choices, have uniquely shaped and impacted her life. Her experience has given her incredible passion, love, empathy and care for both those who are journeying with family members and loved ones, and for those who are experiencing struggles personally. She is actively involved in CityView Church in Fort Worth, serves in their children’s ministry, and helps volunteers get connected to serving opportunities. She is originally from Huntsville, TX, but has been living in the Metroplex for the past seven years.
We are excited to have Bonnie as a part of our team and anticipate the amazing ways in which God will use her to proclaim His grace and truth. Please join me in welcoming and praying for Bonnie as she enters this new season.