What I Brought Home from the Exodus Freedom Conference

Thom Hunter -- http://thom-signsofastruggle.blogspot.com/

I got a better picture of who we're meant to be When God revealed your soul to me. Sometimes I wonder why we strive Until I see you so alive. The way you search, the way you seek Gives me more than just a peek Because in you I begin to see A part of what God can do in me The pain, the joy wrapped up in you The things you share that you've been through Remind me Christ is aways there No pain, no loss beyond His care. Thank you for the life you live Thank you for the hope you give. You thought you shared your words with me, But God revealed your soul, you see. -- Thom Hunter

If my personal life could divide neatly into decades, like we do with our cultural countdowns -- the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, the whatevers, the '10s -- I would have to say the 05s and beyond have been my period of Moving Forward . . . which also happened to be the theme for this year's Exodus International Freedom Conference. Moving Forward does not mean we leave all of everything behind. It means we toss aside the baggage that has weighed us down, stopped us in our tracks, set us on distracting detours . . . the junk that clutters the attic . . . the weeds that obscure the sidewalk . . . the shag carpet . . . the broken tools in the garage . . . the old letters in the box that spell out in detail the errors of the past. Lightened up, we get to keep those good snapshots, meaningful memories and bright moments when we were on the track, before we somehow left the rails. And though we can Move Forward together, we don't have to come from the same place; we just have to have the same source of energy. Or . . . as Bob Hamp, director of Freedom Ministries, said at the Freedom Conference, we have to realize that God is always seeking to restore the factory settings. Make us like new again. I know the Exodus Conferences have been going on for 35 years, and I've only been to two . . . but I noticed a discernible difference between this one and just two years ago. One of us has matured: either my ears or the Exodus message. And I came away with greater hope for me and for others. Perhaps it was in the repetition of "The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality; it is holiness." Or perhaps it was the reminder that freedom is not the absence of struggle, but is instead knowing that the struggle is not in vain." If strugglers then, focus more on their holiness than on their sexuality, their sexual temptations become less a wallowing in guilt and more a sacrifice to holiness. Steve Payton, pastor of Stonegate Church in Midland, Texas, reminded me that "God will only let his child run for so long and then He will draw you back." Granted, sometimes he draws us back out of a pretty deep ditch, enabling us drop the tool with which we are are digging ourselves in deeper. And while so many for so long have made it so clear that I have sinned, Payton gave me a new definition: "Sin is me believing I can get on my own something better than what God is giving me." How many times have I praised God's loving generosity with one hand and longed for self-satisfaction with the other? Uhh . . . sin. I wish every pastor in the country -- make that the world -- could hear Joe Dallas explain the differences between homosexual orientation . . . identity . . . and behavior. Orientation being involuntary, discovered. Behaviorbeing what we do with that discovery via our free will. Identity sometimes foisted on us, sometimes embraced, but not who we really are. Not in God's created intent, but only in our

fallen nature. Say it's so Joe: "To be loved by God and approved by God are two different things." How many times have I felt God's love even in an unapproved state? And, if I had not felt that love when I could find none of my own for myself, and found it in scant supply in the community, how could I have yearned to turn? Thematically, speaker after speaker spoke of the enduring love of God to brace those who are in ever-danger of falling. The personal thread of endurance ran through the conference, but it ran alongside the reality of the strong chord of God's grace. I loved the speakers and I could go on and on. Kathy Koch, founder of Celebrate Kids, Inc, can put more comfort and hope into truth than anyone I know, for instance. Mike Haley, from Focus on the Family and Mike Goeke, from Cross Power Ministries, shared testimonies that touched me because I can trace their victories in an alignment with my past and wrap myself in the fabric of realistic encouragement. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, can map a battlefield with more clarity than a four-star general. But . . . what did I really take home from the Exodus Freedom Conference that was most valuable to me? The resolve of those with whom I sat and shared a meal, or a conversation in a workshop or small group, or a brief exchange in a registration line. These open hearts and exposed souls who had come from all over the country and the world to seek . . . the holiness of which we speak. They are the ones who provide fuel for my own endurance because they are on the painful road to freedom for themselves or those they love. I won't use their real names here because they did not present themselves on a public podium, but their sharing endures. Like Elena, whose smile expressed the soul of an encourager. Her desire to love and understand the trapping temptations of a close friend back in her own country led her, as a young woman, to spend precious funds and a week among those who struggle with something that does not plague her . . . just so she could listen to her friend with a knowledgeable mind and a clearer heart. Elena will walk further now. Her friend will be blessed . . . as I was. Or, like James and Jessica . . . a young couple who came to attend because James' honest struggle with homosexuality is a challenge for them both . . . yes . . . for them both. By his side, loving him, encouraging him, listening with him, talking with him, walking with him. Learning. Yearning, Sharing. Caring. Having faith . . . together. Then there was Matthew. This one was sad . . . but this is often a sad journey before the joy tips the scales. Matthew learned just before he left for Exodus that his young wife was pregnant . . . and had decided to divorce him because of his struggle with homosexuality. He displayed the hopeful but hurting persona of the trodden down who forces himself to look up. He wants to be free; he hopes to hold on to the love of his life by relinquishing the burden of his sin.

And I was touched by the optimism of a young man who spent his last dollar to come from Australia. He was stressed and worn by his travels and the expense, but so in pursuit of truth and so thankful to be among men and women who understood the drive behind his journey. To breathe new air. Not American air, but the air of grace, refreshing lungs exhausted by fear of being held forever outside of God's intent. He was taking in every word and taking it back home . . . to move forward. My heart was touched by a former pastor and his wife. Embracing the reality of a deeply-hidden secret that, when revealed, cost him his church, he was open and transparent . . . and preparing to share with others the freedom he had found in the healing that only comes through persistent leaning on the arms of Christ. Although they had already been restored to the ministry and he had been pastoring a church again, they felt the call to leave it and become "missionaries" to the hopeful hurting in their midst. I was bolstered by the deep level of his trust in the Lord and the commitment of his wife to his new ministry, despite the rejection that lingers from those who once saw him as something else. Here they were . . . healed; called. And so anxious to share the news that many bury under the unnecessary weight of sin and guilt . . . not the intentions of God, but the inflictions of man. And then, perhaps most moving of all to me, was the testimony of Ted and Jan Schneider, directors of About H.O.P.E. -- Heal Our Pain El Shaddai. Ted and Jan found themselves stunned years ago when their son revealed to them that he considered himself to be gay. They were not prepared; they knew not where to go or how to react. They loved their son; they knew God's word. Neither of those positions changed as the years passed and they endured in love. With tears, Jan told of the day when they received the call that their son had been killed in a car accident; their loss immeasurable; their hearts broken. And from this, Jan cried out to God to "please not let this pain be wasted." God hears when the broken-hearted faithfully cry out and their ministry was born to help the families and friends of those involved in the homosexual lifestyle know how to live and breathe and love, to help parents understand and support through truthful compassion not tainted by compromise. From our losses He builds bridges. I need bridges. In a world of ever-louder clanging confusion in the clash between culture and the church in this seemingly endless battle that has gripped the lives of so many and of those who love them, an Exodus Freedom Conference brings clarity. In worship and prayer, in study and sharing, in listening and in releasing, the struggler finds a security in the overwhelming evidence that God is indeed who He says He is and we are indeed who He says we are: His beloved. More valuable than my notes are my hopes. Hopes for those who boarded planes and cars and traveled home to face the battle better-armed, on stronger legs with clearer minds and healing hearts, with memories of comfort and acceptance . . . and an openness to God based on a promise that God really . . . really knows us . . . and

heals our broken hearts. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. -- Psalm 139:14-16 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. -- Psalm 139:23 Perhaps the most difficult thing about going to an Exodus Freedom Conference is to look around and wonder . . . why? To wish, even in the bewilderment of your own struggle, to be able to explain to everyone else what theirs is all about so they could say "Oh . . . now I see." But as Kathy Koch said: "God gives us promises; not explanations." But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,' declares the LORD, 'because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.' -Jeremiah 30:17 He does heal our wounds. I brought one other thing home with me from the Exodus Freedom Conference. My wife. I am so thankful that she loves me and that, through the grace of God, Lisa opened her eyes instead of closing her mind, extended the boundaries of her heart and placed her trust in Him above all others. God uses those who love us as powerful weapons in the struggle. As Joe Dallas shared: "Healing in a marriage doesn't mean just healing the bad guy; it means healing the marriage." I hope you will pray with me that those who attended will indeed Move Forward. And that others will follow God Bless, Thom ill follow.

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