Amazing Love – Stephen’s Story

 

by Stephen, 25

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviors blood?! Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou my God shouldst die for me.

I secretly wish that these lines would be the first words sung at every Christian gathering. I want to look around the room at my brothers and sisters in Christ and say something along the lines of, “Are you kidding me?! Jesus died for you and me?!” Because God poured his righteous wrath out on His Son for my sake, I can walk boldly into the throne room of my Creator. You can try to explain the mercy of God through Christ all day long, yet it still blows my mind.

This way of thinking is relatively new for me. Somewhere in the past four years, my perspective has shifted from, “Jesus died for my sins” to “JESUS DIED FOR MY SINS?!” God went from a conversation topic I was confident discussing, to a Being I could not begin to explain.

Much of this change has happened in my life because of the Holy Spirit’s work through Living Hope Ministries. I came to Living Hope in August of 2013 in an attempt to make sense of my unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA). In addition to learning valuable information about the nature of my struggle with SSA, I was introduced to an even greater joy: the unconditional love of my Savior.

Before 2013, my life was pretty typical for a Christian kid: lots of siblings, prayers at dinner, and church at least two times a week. I loved my Mom and Dad. I didn’t like school. I killed in baseball. I slayed in AWANA. I was super attracted to guys. Life was pretty normal.

My attraction to men started as early as I can remember. As a boy, I regularly daydreamed about men who would affirm me and love me. In my struggle to find worth, I turned to men to speak value into me. Sports and school were arenas in which I could prove my worth to men. MVP awards were common in those days and the applause of coaches was music to my ears. The praise of men was my fuel for living. Men held the truth—at least in my mind they did—and if I could perform well, they would speak that truth over me and I would be seen as worthy.

But baseball games and good grades were soon not enough. I was not receiving the attention for which I longed. A pat on the back and a “good job” were simple encouragements, but I wanted more. By this point my feelings for men were sexualized and I wanted men to know me in a deeper way. I wanted someone who would come close to me and see my flaws and yet remain. I wanted a savior.

Despite my religious upbringing, Jesus was not the savior I ran to in those days. I knew that Christ did not want me to continue down the path of lust and fantasy. But He was not satisfying my feelings like I wanted Him to. At times, Christ felt distant and at other times He felt close. I could not count on Him. I needed someone who would not fail me. In the end, my desire for affirmation from men triumphed over my love for Jesus and I looked for a savior in other areas.

As a result, I began my long-lasting struggle with the gripping sin of pornography during my high school years. Here were saviors who would affirm me when and how I wanted. When Jesus and the men in my life failed to value me, I found solace in the encouraging men on the computer screen. In my fantasies, these men saw the ugly pieces of my life and came intimately close to help me put the puzzle together. But these digital men could not fix my brokenness and I spent many nights begging God for forgiveness for my sin. For years, I was caught in this cycle. My mind knew the promises of Christ, but my carnal feelings were in control. I understood the words of Paul in Romans 7, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

In 2013, I discovered the answer to Paul’s and my question. I was well into my college career and living at home when one glorious afternoon my Dad approached me regarding some internet history that alarmed him. I was greatly embarrassed and at the same time incredibly relieved when I confessed my struggle with homosexuality. This sin that had been weighing on my heart for years was finally discovered. I was in the light. The Holy Spirit was pursuing me and was starting the process of healing.

My parents had no idea what to do and I was just as clueless as they were. Praise God for ministries like Living Hope that help discouraged people find hope in Christ. I did not know it at the time, but God was about to do mighty things in my life during my time at Living Hope.

Soon after my conversation with my Dad, I somewhat reluctantly set up a meeting with Ricky. I was not enthusiastic about this meeting because deep down I still cherished my sin. The conversation with Ricky was straightforward and his whiteboard talk was very informative. I related well with his explanation of the origin of homosexuality and I respected his desire for himself and others to turn away from this sin. I agreed to start attending weekly Living Hope meetings.

However, my heart was not humble and I was not really looking for healing when I decided to attend those meetings. Walking out of Ricky’s office, I decided that I wasn’t about to confess this sin in front of strangers because, in my mind, confession was an expression of weakness. And I was determined not to be seen as weak. Having lived my life fueled by affirmation from coaches and teachers, it did not make sense to devalue myself by admitting weaknesses. I resolved to attend Living Hope meetings as the cool and confident guy who had it all together. But I slowly came to understand that this approach was useless.

After my first LHM meeting, I realized that this was going to be unlike anything I had ever experienced. Ricky mentioned topics that I had never heard addressed by a speaker. The guys in my discussion group openly confessed to sin in which they had become addicted. The small group leaders asked pointed questions that caused me to tense up. This openness and honesty was foreign to a guy who grew up constantly trying to hide weaknesses to prove his worth. Driving home from that first meeting, I realized that the people at Living Hope were not there to prove themselves to others, nor to find their identity in their reputation. No, they were there for answers.

One of the things that took me most off guard about those first Living Hope meetings—though having grown up in the church it should not have—was that Ricky kept repeating that the answer to homosexual sin (or any sin for that matter) was Jesus Christ. Every week I was reminded that the answer to our brokenness is found in our Savior who cares for the brokenhearted and binds up their scars, that the call of Christ is, “Come all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Intellectually, I understood this call, but I was not willing to acknowledge the extent of my brokenness. Even though I was resistant in so many ways, the guys at Living Hope continued to model the act of humbly submitting one’s self to Christ. And, by the power of the Spirit, it started to sink in. After the first few months, my cool and confident facade started to wear thin.

One night, the Spirit completely broke down my pride. That evening Ricky had given a simple talk on God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice. As a faithful church-goer, this message was not new to me. What greatly impacted me, though, was what happened during the discussion after the message. Ricky stepped into our small group of guys and simply said, “God loves you.” Three simple words. But by the Spirit’s power, something clicked in my mind and suddenly worth and identity were within my reach.

However, this worth felt completely different from my past experiences. This worth was not from a man and this identity was not wrapped up in my performance. Rather than finding affirmation in the men on my computer screen or from the cheers from the stands, this value was from my Creator, the God of the universe. God cut right through my fake righteousness and saw the hurting boy desperate for approval. He knew that my craving for worth and identity could not be found in men, but only in his Son. The Spirit opened my eyes to a Savior who was speaking true worth over me. This new value and identity was bought for me on the cross and it can never be taken away.

My brothers at Living Hope had been modeling this identity in Christ from my first day with the group. Instead of thinking that confession makes them weak, they admitted to sin, knowing that Christ makes them righteous. Rather than hiding their failures and shortcomings, they disclosed defeat because they understood that victory was won by Jesus over two-thousand years ago. Instead of manufacturing worth through accomplishments, they confessed their worthlessness so that Christ’s worth could be seen. Because of the example set by these men, I realized that I could live confidently as a humble recipient of God’s grace.

Today, it is a privilege for me to walk alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ at Living Hope. Here I see repentant children of God who are throwing off their old selves to walk in new life with Christ. I have seen confident brothers drop their walls and admit to the unbearable pressures of sin. And I have seen the love of Christ shine in ways that are almost too glorious to describe.

This is the truth that has been re-defining my life for the past four years: that the God of the Bible is the greatest joy in life. The good news of His grace is filled with eternal hope; His love is never-ending; His law is perfect and more desirable than riches or comfort. I have tasted and seen that He is good and I cannot be satisfied with anything else. And now my words echo the words that Peter spoke to Jesus in John 6:68, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Amazing love, how can it be? He gives worth to the worthless? He clothes us in righteousness? He exalts the humble? He pursues the proud? He lavishes grace upon sinners? He runs to meet the prodigal? Only through amazing love!