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Created for Manhood

franklin2009_smFrom my earliest memories, I can recall a sense of feeling different from my brother, dad, and male friends. While the other men in my life got excited about sports or active play, I found myself much more adept and interested in artistic endeavors like singing and dancing. My dad had survived a very difficult upbringing that left him all but crippled emotionally, especially with a young boy as expressive as I was. I knew my dad loved me; but I never quite felt known by him. In response, I took up a stance of enmity and a hyper-critical spirit toward him. Although I could quote the command “Honor your father and mother, so that it may go well with you…”, I held onto dishonor in my heart. This dishonor led me to a deep brokenness in my views on masculinity, and my beliefs about myself as a man.

As I was pushing myself away from my dad at home, I was also experiencing the broken world outside. As so many other men have experienced, I was bullied quite often; sometimes physically, but most often in the form of name-calling, false rumors and public humiliation. In 3rd grade, an elementary school play-mate introduced sexual play. Compounding all this confusion was an onslaught of homosexual dreams I experienced long before I even understood sex. As puberty hit, all my budding sexuality was generated toward my male peers, and most of my closest friends and confidantes were girls. I fostered a homosexual fantasy life in my mind that grew more addictive as high school continued. My youth group was close-knit, and we often shared our struggles with each other. I sat in these meetings weeping with the pain of my secrets, but I was never able to muster the courage to voice my struggle. I was terrified of being rejected by my best friends. Toward the end of high school, I felt called into ministry, but I decided to attend OU and study Musical Theatre. I told myself that the Fine Arts community was going to be my mission field, but it soon became another thing entirely.

As I began college, I met and befriended people outside the Church for the first time. Many were gay, and others lived in the party scene. Surrounded by these artists, I felt understood and accepted. I expected “worldly” people to be undesirable, but I was enamored by the fun everybody had. My passive and divided Christianity seemed boring in comparison. Soon I “phased out” of church and invested in this new community where nothing was prohibited - including partying, drinking, and sexual activity. I came out to my friends, and eventually to my family as well. I remember telling my family, “I will play with the hand I have been dealt,” meaning homosexuality felt totally out of my control; I should embrace it rather than fight. Honestly, I felt liberated, finally able to live out the life I had been living in my mind for years.

All this “glamorous” living had some very dark downsides, but it is amazing to look back and notice how unable I was to connect the consequences of sin with sin itself. Everything shifted during my senior year of college. One morning my mother called with news: my dad was missing. It was a matter of hours before he was found in a local pond. The week of Dad’s death, a wall went up in my heart. I shut myself off from God completely, deciding that if God was real, He surely did not come through for people. I judged all Christians as delusional, staking all their hopes and belief on a non-responsive God.

I retreated into my community of friends. My life of self-pleasure and partying grew darker and riskier. By the time I moved to Manhattan to pursue acting, dangerous sexual and substance-abuse behavior was an integral part of my life. God began to humble me, causing me to see the emptiness of my life. I got caught in several instances of dishonesty and disloyalty, and I started to feel a deep shame over my sin. I felt like a failure as a person, but continued to live in addiction.

Finally, I hit rock bottom. After a typical night of partying, I woke up with virtually no memory of the night before, but a feeling that something bad had happened. I called my friends, who told me stories about myself from the night before. I was utterly disgusted; I felt like everything they described were behaviors of a person I would hate. I realized I had no control over my substance abuse or my sexual behavior. These actions were birthed in sub-consciousness, and this glimpse into the darkness of my heart was terrifying. I felt incurably ill with no one to turn to. Incidentally, I was discovering the truth Jeremiah writes of: “The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” (Jer. 17:9, NLT).

The next night, I cried alone. My sister called me. As soon as I said “hello,” everything came rushing to the surface and I couldn’t contain my emotions. I didn’t t tell her the specifics, but I could muster enough to say that I felt so messed up and didn’t know what to do. She and her husband simply asked if they could pray with me. They prayed as I sobbed, and then we hung up. Something had shifted at that moment. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I had encountered grace in my brokenness.

I fished under my bed and found a Bible my mom had sent me some months back, along with a copy of Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. I began reading. As I read the gospel of John, God spoke to me. I thought I knew the Bible, but now I wept over my brokenness and the heart of God revealed to me. This Jesus wasn’t the man I remembered from childhood; this man was compassionate, humble, ready to take on my darkness and mighty to save. One day on the subway I became convicted to make a decision about Jesus Christ. I rushed to my apartment, heart racing, fell on the ground, cried, and said “OK, God! I believe!” Immediately the grace and forgiveness of God fell over me. In a vision, Jesus showed me His presence throughout my life. He was there in all my sin and darkness. He was there when my dad died. He didn’t count my crimes against me. He wasn’t mad at me. He took my shame and gave me hope and a future. Over the next few weeks, I kept returning to God and immersing myself in this love that was being revealed to me.

This revelation began an amazing journey. I tried to explain my God-encounter to my friends. Their typical response was “Are you still going to be gay?” To which I would confidently reply, “Umm…I don’t know.” In 23 years both inside and outside the church, I had never heard of anyone leaving homosexuality, but I knew what the Bible demanded - how could I deny the God that had made Himself known to me? I was torn and crippled with fear at the thought of approaching someone to confess all my sins. God blessed me with wonderful family and old friends who made themselves available to me over the phone. However, I knew my life in Manhattan couldn’t continue – I was constantly tempted and consistently falling into old patterns of addiction. I would wake up sick from conviction and disgust at my double-mindedness. Something had to change! I cried out to God for help.

God answered me in a prayer time at Times Square Church. He said, “Andrew, your grandfather is dead. When you go to the funeral, I want you to pack your things and leave New York for good.” After the service, I noticed a missed call from my mother: Papa was dying. Less than 48 hours later, my apartment was packed up and I was gone. I had no idea where my life was going, but I knew I was headed home.

After my grandfather’s funeral, I arrived back in Oklahoma City and before I knew it, I found myself in the home of some family friends who had confronted me about my homosexuality during college. They received me with open arms, gave me a copy of Pursuing Sexual Wholeness1 by Andy Comiskey, and offered to connect me with First Stone Ministries. That night, as I read Andy’s story, I received hope of actual healing for the first time in my life. I knew deep in my spirit that I was never going back to my old life. Maybe God really could do something with me! Soon I began one-on-one discipleship meetings and a weekly support group. God called me to make some really difficult choices about friendships, priorities, boundaries, and accountability. Going forward at my home church to confess my past wasn’t in my schedule book, but it was in God’s; and as I followed in steps of “scary obedience”, God showed all my greatest fears to be negligible compared to the reward. As I confessed, I received love, support and prayer. As I left behind friends who had been so close to me, God provided believers to share life with me, challenge me, recognize me as a man of God, and bless me in the gifts and callings of the Lord. Jesus was deconstructing my old, false beliefs about myself, and replacing them with the truth of Himself. I began to understand God as a passionate and involved Father - the Creator of new life in me; I started to love and recognize myself as a new man in Christ. The Word of God became implanted in me, and obedience to it was bearing fruit. I started to understand the laws of God as pictures of what the “new man” looks like, rather than oppressive expectations I could never live up to. I learned spiritual warfare and started practicing it. I still “felt pretty gay” for quite a while! But something beautiful happened while I waited for my feelings to change. God changed my beliefs and empowered me to stand on a truth deeper than my feelings. Over the course of a few years, I stopped putting labels on myself, and started walking in greater authority and truth by the grace of God.

I have found that life with Jesus really is “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). It certainly is not easy, and it isn’t always fun, but the pain of the cross always calls me up into manhood. Dying to myself opens up the door to new life and opportunities. After a few years, I began desiring heterosexual relationship, and much to my surprise, I now see myself as heterosexual, humbled to understand that Christ’s healing of my sexuality is only one step in the great journey of the total restoration of all things. He started with my identity, but continues to call every part of my heart, mind, body, and spirit into His perfect ways.

My life continues to evolve as I accept God’s seeds of truth, act on them, and let Him change me. In March 2009 I answered God’s call to full-time ministry at First Stone. Planting truth into other men of God is now my greatest joy, and I am challenged as I see men rising up and taking radical stands of obedience and trust in God. At First Stone, I get to see the Lord raising up an army of men and women who will not be deceived by the empty promises of this world, men and women who humble themselves to receive the true and full life of trust and obedience to the power of Christ. Truly, I agree with Paul’s words in Romans. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God to everyone who believes!

1 Andrew Comiskey, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness. Lake Mary: Siloam, 1989.