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Jesus Glory and the Lifter of My Head

Joseph2011wI have never considered myself a gay man as this title seems to be for the more political person who lives with his same-sex sexual orientation out in the open for all to see. In contrast, homosexuality was never a lifestyle wherein I immersed myself with like-minded people for any length of time, nor was I ever given to sex with anyone. Rather, it has been a lifestyle of fantasy, pornography addiction, masturbation, withdrawal and introspection.

My earliest memories regarding “feeling different” date back to kindergarten, when a school official notified my parents that I was spending most of my time with the girls on the playground instead of the boys. Before I was ten years old, I saw my first pornographic image at a cousin’s neighbor’s home—the father had female centerfolds hanging in the garage. During those same years, a neighborhood pastor’s sons and I would play together from time to time. One Saturday we discovered and thoroughly skimmed through this pastor’s stash of pornography in the garage. Once I knew that hidden places might have pornography, I began looking for it everywhere I could: under beds, in public dumps, etc. Sadly, I was addicted before I entered Junior High School. Experimenting with my sexuality and unsure of my role as a boy, I went through a short time of trying on Mom’s clothes and applying makeup. As I grew older, I began to notice that I didn’t care about the women in the porn magazines. My teenage years were randomly filled with sexual experimentation with myself as well as with a couple of guy friends.

I grew more and more withdrawn from my father, who I perceived didn’t care about me because work was more important. I threw tantrums because of how angry I was toward my family, life and God. I was angry because I felt so alone in a family of six. I am the last born of four children, the eldest being 10 years older, then 6 years, then 5. Two siblings went to a Mennonite boarding school, taking them away from home for roughly 9 months each year. My remaining sibling was fighting demons of his own during that time. I have huge gaps in my memory regarding my younger years, probably because most of my life was spent alone and addicted. Friendships were difficult for me because my paradigm was based on pornography and masturbation. I had to be careful what came out of my mouth, so I easily split into two realms of relating: private addict and public Christian. Friends I could get close enough with I often mistreated. The life I’d come to know became a deep, dark pit that had no visible way out.

This split became my other problem. Many today try to marry their homosexual and church lifestyles by becoming Gay Christians. Without discarding key truths of Scripture, I could not and cannot go that route. Instead I kept my struggle in the dark through most of my teenage years while talking to God about it privately. I honestly pursued God; I just wasn’t confessing my sin and receiving prayer as James 5:17 encourages. For me, transitioning from a Mennonite church into the Charismatic movement at ten years of age meant deeper, more profound experiences with God. Experiencing His presence through worship touched me deeply and gave me strength to choose His ways more and more. However, I picked up some legalistic weights along the way. Satan, the father of lies, used every person, circumstance and personal weakness he could to wear down my faith in God. I grew to believe that one hour of prayer per day was the best, and that it should be done early in the morning. This, coupled with my Dad’s early morning work ethic, created an opportunity for Satan to wrap me tightly in self-judgment and self-hatred. I saw anything less than early-in-the-morning, Charismatic, exuberant worship as displeasing to God. I could not see the dichotomy of God loving me through my deeply intimate worship of Him and my perception that I had to be perfect in order to be acceptable.

Night is Darkest Just before Dawn

By the winter of 1990, I had come to a dead end in my spiritual life. I was tired of my inability to walk in integrity, to be faithful at early-morning prayer, to think like a heterosexual, to say no to pornography and masturbation; worry was affecting my health. It was then that I said to the Lord, “If getting into your kingdom means that I have to wake up early every morning and pray, then I want no part of it.” Having said such an angry (but truthful) statement about myself, I considered my life doomed without Jesus. Though I said such a weighty thing, I never quit talking to Him. I would confess to Him that my heart was hard and often idolatrous, wanting homosexuality and then wanting Him. The bold prayer I prayed garnered accusations by Satan that I had offended God. However, on February 21, 1990, I received a Scripture promise that stated otherwise: Ezekiel 36:24-30. It basically stated that God would change my heart and even cause me to walk in His statutes. What a promise for such a weary soul! I thought, “If this is true, then I have nothing to worry about.” However, worry was commonplace for me. I wanted more than ever to be free, wholly free; but, I did not yet understand the message of grace.

It was after I graduated from high school that I disclosed my same-sex attraction to my youth pastor’s wife. She asked if it would be okay with me to meet with the pastor and assured me that the matter would be handled with privacy. I met with him and it was as she said. He prayed for me, binding the spirit of condemnation - the darkness that covered me lifted! He warned me to stay away from gay bars and such. We met sporadically over the next few years; however, transparency and confession of sin weren’t modeled in my household or in my church so things never went any deeper between him and me. In the middle of my college years and in the midst of growing independence, I rebelled against my pastor’s words of caution and got a taste of the gay community in Oklahoma City. Not having a grid for relating to others well, I chose to buy porn at the local gay district and then go elsewhere to ease my pain. This new-found exposure opened my eyes to people around me who were homosexual. I met a guy on campus to whom I disclosed my homosexuality. Being a merciful person, I wanted to let him know I could relate and I wanted him to know that God loved him; however, I feared getting personally involved, so I established a deeper relationship with my new youth pastor by requesting his prayer and wisdom over these matters. The guy on campus eventually moved away and contact has never been re-established. My relationship with the youth pastor grew to an almost weekly meeting where I grew increasingly transparent about my addiction, my attractions and my struggles with relationships. I expressed my fears, my family situations, my needs and my questions. He listened patiently to me and encouraged me to keep going forward. As the weeks turned to months and months turned to years, this man became a peer and a friend. In our talks, some of my questions were met with the response, “I don’t know.” Having heard First Stone Ministries (FSM) speak at my college’s Baptist Student Union several years earlier, I realized it was time to contact them to have these questions answered. I also recognized a need to be around people who could relate to my struggle, so I contacted FSM in June 1997.

Divine Embrace

The week I started receiving ministry from FSM was the same week that an extended outpouring of God’s presence upon my church’s youth group began. Ordained by God, both experiences awakened me to the Truth that “by grace you are saved,” and the Truth that God loves me even when I doubt or hate myself. I was challenged to share my real self with my friends rather than sectioning it off in secrecy as I had always done. A few months later, a woman in support group told me that God would be the “glory and the lifter of my head.” This phrase is from Psalm 3:3. What God had been doing during this time of deep healing was lifting my head upward to see how things work in His kingdom. Actually, ever since I can remember, the Lord was coaxing me to trust in Him for everything, even His ability to change my wayward heart. Scriptures affirming the blessedness of trusting in God’s sovereignty, like Psalm 84:12 - “How blessed is the man who trusts in You!” were my meditation and my heart’s cry. However, believing they were really true was another matter! It wasn’t until I had the continual nurture of His presence through the outpouring that I could be brought to a place of ultimate rest and trust in Him. It was then that He began to open my eyes to the way His kingdom operates, and thus, how He sees me and how He sees others. I learned that He loves my humor, my heart and my desire to be myself before Him. I found that by revealing Himself to me, He has lifted my line of sight from the kingdom of this world to His kingdom. Like Jesus did with the disciples in Luke 24:45, He opened my eyes to understand the Scripture. Like them, as I deepen my love of Him through His Word, He reveals more of Himself to me and calls me to higher ways of living. By His Word and by His Spirit, He has essentially raised me out of my place of captivity into a place of increasing freedom! The main battle that lies before me is to keep my face toward the Lord and His Word and to walk obediently in whatever He or His Word requires of me.

The loneliness and pain I experienced and continue to experience all serve one purpose. The Old Testament’s Joseph was able to console his brothers with the words, “God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives.” Increasingly, I too have been able to forgive my family and forgive God for the loneliness in which I was raised. Understanding that God created life circumstances for me to lean upon Him more wholly has been a benefit and an agent for my growth.

Of Timetables and Processes

One morning in August of 1997, in my sleep the Lord spoke to me. “Look in your journal!” I knew what He wanted me to see but argued that it was not there. Once awake, I looked in my journal to find that He was right; the Scripture promise I mentioned earlier was given to me on February 21, 1990. God wanted me to know that those seven dark years of crying out were seen and heard by Him. This was very comforting to me. In my desperate state of being lost and alone, He had heard my cry and was making a way for my comfort and healing. I was not forgotten; I was not alone!

His nearness to me has been my good (Psalm 73:28). Because of His nearness, the brokenness I’ve long come to know is beginning to give way to a bright hope for my future. Powerless to obtain any obedience or healing on my own, submission to His fiery love and Truth has become my way toward growth and stability, hope and freedom. His wisdom is becoming my portion and He is winning my eyes over to Him and His ways; and thus He is establishing me in His kingdom!

Psalm 73:22-28 “I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,That I may declare all Your works.”

Joseph Thiessen has served as Office Administrator of First Stone Ministries since June 1998.