When my daughter was about three, we took down our live Christmas tree during her nap. When she woke, she went to the window and said, “Christmas tree, please come back.”
That made me sad.
Dr. Michelle Bingstrom
Putting up decorations is fun, but I hate taking them down. When you finish, your house feels bare and cold. So, how can we overcome the post-Christmas blues? My guest this week was Dr. Michelle Bengstrom who holds a degree in psychology. She studied neurology and how the brain works. For instance, she suggested you get outside in the sunshine. The light increases your mood even if you slather on sunscreen like I do.
I heard a well-known pastor say we live in extraordinary times, and we all know life has been tough. The pandemic has worn us down, and the news tends to be disturbing. Now that we face the New Year, how can we find hope? Let’s talk about healing and moving forward.
My guest this week was author Lori Wildenberg. She just completed the book Messy Hope: Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety, Depression, or Suicidal Ideation. You’ll find her suggestions realistic and beneficial.
Linda Krushke was my guest this week. She told an incredible story. During her teens she was raped several times, but she kept her pain secret, hoping it would go away. However, she sank into depression. She revealed how she overcame and offered hope to anyone who has been hurt.
We all want true freedom, but what is it? Francis Schaeffer used to ask, “When is a fish really free?” Garry Ingraham of Love and Truth Network shares how he found freedom and offers hope for others. Click here to learn more about his ministry.
CS: What is freedom, and why does it matter? Stay tuned.
This is Cynthia with Heart of the Matter Radio, for women seeking the elegance of God’s wisdom. Scripture has a lot to say about freedom. Isaiah 61 says that Jesus came to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. John 8:32 says you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. That is a powerful statement. Galatians 5:1 says it was for freedom that Christ has set us free. And then 1 Peter says we are to live as people who are free.
And I think in all of us, as Americans, we have that desire for freedom, and yet what is freedom? I love what Francis Schaeffer used to say, when is a fish really free? That is a very good question, because you know the fish is not free when he is flopping around on the sand. Because he can’t breathe. He’s going to be free when he’s doing what he was designed to do.
Today I have Gary Ingram with me, and he is a former homosexual who is part of Restored Hope Network and of Love And Truth Network, and they are just about to have a conference for those people who would like to leave the lifestyle. He is reaching out to homosexuals who want to be free.
I want to welcome you, Gary.
GI: Thank you very much, Cynthia. Great to be here.
CS: Tell me just a little bit about your story, Gary.
GI: Sure. My story really is that I grew up in going to church, in a Christian home, the youngest of five, one sister and three older brothers. My story is similar to many many many stories that I’ve heard. There’s common themes in my story to a lot of the stories that I’ve heard. And then there are times that people have stories that are quite different. It’s never a cookie cutter situation, but for many of us there are common themes.
In my case there was a real lack of my dad initiating a relationship with me and bonding with me. I was very different from his other three sons. And so I wound up spending more time with my mom and my sister. The other three older boys, the next one in line would be five years older than me, and so they’re kind of hanging out with their friends and they don’t want their little brother tagging around with them.
In school, similar experiences. I was small and very shy, so easily picked on, beaten up often, and not good at sports so chosen last for the team, offered by the team at the end to the other team, that kind of thing. There was just a real sense that I grew up day after day, layer upon layer, that somehow I didn’t fit in the world of boys or men.
And that message really sank in. The only other place to go to have any kind of connection or relationship is with women. So I really soaked and marinated in everything that had to do with the women around me.
CS: Tell me a little bit about what the gay lifestyle is like.
GI: My original desire was to find a man. After I gave myself over to it, I really battled it for many years inwardly because I didn’t have anyone to go to to talk with about it. I tried to talk to a couple of pastors, my pastor and then other pastors, who didn’t have a clue of what to do and were very uncomfortable, one in particular, with even talking about it. It set in shame even deeper, drove me deeper into isolation.
When I finally, a number of years later, just embraced it and gave myself over to it, rejecting the church, hating God because I knew what his word said and I’d prayed and prayed and prayed for him to help me and take this away. And from my perspective at the time, I just felt like God didn’t give a rip about me. He cared about what I was doing and hated what I was doing, in my mind, but didn’t care about me and wasn’t helping me. So I just abandoned God and the church.
But I still had a desire to be with one person, one guy. But that usually, it’s very rare that that does not get turned on its head and you get dumped and then you start to learn to dump others. Before long, you wind up having a sexual connection relationship with huge numbers of men.
That’s the typical situation. I even bar-tended at a gay bar. I got so into the life that’s where I found myself. I certainly have seen the inside picture of that. I do think that there are men and women who are apart from Christ and are gay identified, and they settle down with someone and I think that there can be a loving relationship between them for whatever period of time, whether it’s a year or two or longer, maybe many years. Oftentimes for men, there’s an open relationship where they’re involved sexually with other people.
But I certainly think that there are those relationships where there is a lot expressed and there’s sort of a feel of a family dynamic. But for the most part, my experience with it and so many people that I’ve talked to, there’s so much depression associated with it, there is so much dissatisfaction surrounding really living outside of God’s design for us as male and female and what does it mean to bear his image as a man, what does it mean to bear his image as a woman. I think those are really critical questions that aren’t being asked often enough.
CS: So you are indicating, from what you say, that while there are exceptions, there are a lot of people in the lifestyle that are not truly happy. What are the consequences of that?
GI: Well, again, I think that part of where all the sexual promiscuity comes from is this unrealistic expectation that my same gender is in some way going to be able to meet my needs. They’re going to be able to fulfill me in a certain way. And we make an idol out of that other person, and we really bow down and worship and demand them to meet internal needs and longings that ultimately only God can meet. And in many ways that he meant the other, the other opposite sex, to meet in us.
In meeting those needs, from the opposite sex, for me it called me into a greater sense of masculinity. And that’s really what we were created for, is to mature and to grow up in our masculinity and our femininity.
But no. My experience is there’s a lot of dissatisfaction, a lot of loneliness, a lot of depression, within the gay lifestyle.
CS: And therefore that leads to suicide and alcoholism and that sort of thing, correct?
GI: Yes. I certainly believe that, and I’ve dealt with a great deal of depression. And from my vantage point, and what I realized, is it wasn’t societal pressures, it wasn’t pressures from the church or from Scripture or the Bible that was causing it. It’s that I was living contrary to God’s design for me. I was living in rebellion toward him, and living in sin. Really, that’s what it is. There are other contributors to it, but living in a way that’s contrary to God’s created order for us does produce real dissatisfaction and can lead to things like depression, and ultimately suicidal ideation and that sort of thing too.
CS: The things that I have read indicate that even countries that accept homosexuals and allow them freedom, there still is a very high suicide rate.
GI: Absolutely, yes. There is such a longing—and this is where the church oftentimes misses it—there’s such brokenness and such wounding that men and women are experiencing. We’re trying to satisfy our needs, we’re operating on all that we know, many of us, and we’re trying to get those needs met. But we’re getting legitimate needs that God gave us, and we’re meeting them in illegitimate ways and not realizing it, not knowing that there’s an alternative.
And the church could be so powerful in its redemptive message. I think more are becoming that way, but it could be so powerful in its redemptive message if it really, rather than simply saying stop this or this behavior is sin and then just putting a period there and not doing much else, really as a church what are we inviting people into?
And this is true for heterosexual sexual addiction. Our ministry is more about the broader sexual brokenness within our churches. The 50-70% of guys that are looking at pornography on a regular basis, for example, or the increasing number of women. Really, it goes back to issues of, again, what does it mean to be a man made in God’s image.
It’s not just that I have an opposite sex attraction. It’s that I honor women, and I honor my brothers, and I learn what it means to grow up and to become one that offers safety and protection and really releasing others to become all that God created them to be. And we’re missing that, largely, through the heterosexual community in our churches too.
CS: Yeah. And I think the impression that we’re getting from the media is that you get your needs met through another person, in some fashion, and that’s not right for anybody.
GI: That’s so true. So many marriages, even Christian couples, go into marriage expecting that the other person, I want to be completed. And certainly there’s a component of that. But when that is the most important thing, the I really want to be completed with someone, I want to have a companion, rather than I have this overflow, I’ve become a good gift through the power of God and through working out some of my own brokenness and things, I become a good gift and I want to overflow and pour into somebody else, that really is more of God’s call on us as husbands and wives toward one another.
Usually we’re just seeking to get our needs met, largely. And that sets up for entering into this idolatrous relationship and, as you said, sort of the Hollywood perspective of romantic love. And when that’s gone then what do we have to fall back on? So we get divorced and we move on to the next person.
So really, where we’re at as a society with all the LGBT issues, that really has to be traced back many generations to where we did not really honor the image of God in male and female, and in the context of marriage between husbands and wives, even. It really began to disintegrate back there with divorce and all of that within the church.
CS: I’ve heard some actually say that they think it started with birth control, when sex became a recreational activity that had nothing to do with marriage. Because that separation too, I think, did some damage.
GI: You know, Cynthia, I totally agree with that. And I have some dear dear brothers and sisters in Christ who are within the Catholic church and they certainly have, I think, a much more accurate perspective on what you just said. That that has caused profound damage in our lives.
The option that we have of still having sex and it being recreational and preventing birth from happening as a result of that, yeah. It was part of the original demise that we’re seeing ourselves in now.
CS: Because now we’re expecting to be able to have sex and not have children so that abortion comes through that. It just keeps expanding. We want this right, when it wasn’t really a right to start with.
GI: Yes. If you trace it back to the beginning, I think that’s what happened is from the very beginning of the foundation of the earth, is that when God put his image in us as male and female, there’s a way that he lived himself out differently in you as a woman than me as a man. And it’s not about roles or being left out of any of that total equality, but there’s a way that he reflects himself differently in us. And we as a society, that’s been under attack from the very beginning.
At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s about homosexuality, about transgenderism, about all of these various gender forms that are taking place out there. I think those things, what we’re facing and what we’re going to be facing going forward, isn’t just homosexuality and transgenderism, it’s going to be the complete unraveling of gender. And if God’s image is in us as male and female then that is going to only further shroud and veil the image of God on the earth.
CS: Yeah. And if you don’t understand how he made us male and female then you don’t even know where to start.
CS: They threw out the pattern and said anything goes. Well, it doesn’t work because there is a design.
CS: So where can the church step in here? Because obviously the society’s not going to straighten it out. At this point they’re saying truth is inside of you. That verse that I read was indicating there is an objective truth outside of us, that when you violate it you’re injured.
GI: Yes. Well, I really feel like the church, and the nature of Love And Truth Network, our ministry, is to come alongside of Christian leaders and help equip them to create both safe and transformational environments for the majority of us that are dealing with sexual and relational brokenness within the church. That may be someone who’s addicted to pornography or whatever else, but it also include the person who was abused, either physically, sexually, routinely, when they were growing up and it’s never been resolved. They’ve just “moved on” with life, and yet all of their reactions toward others, the way they live their life, is really lived in this handicap. Their reactions, the way that they perceive life, themselves, God, and others, is really through this lens of brokenness that has never been healed.
My experience with the church, and I’ve lived all over the country and gone to many different churches, I pastored my pastoral team for 12 years as well, up until about two years ago, is that the church is not addressing those issues in a way that really brings freedom and release to men and women in the church.
So I think we have to start there. It’s easy to look at gay marriage and say oh, it’s going to have major societal impact, or to say it’s not going to have any impact whatsoever, which is inaccurate too, but really we have to, as men and women in the church, allow and invite God into that place of wounded and brokenness, get the equipping we need as Christian leaders, and allow God to really shape the environment of our churches and our Christian organizations in such a way that people are getting transformed.
I have friends at Bible colleges that are getting prepared for ministry and they are in a full blown pornography addiction. And they don’t want to be there, but they keep thinking when I get married, afterward it’s going to get better. It doesn’t. It gets worse. And ministry doesn’t help that. The church has to start getting really real about its own deep areas of brokenness. And out of that realness and out of that healing, we can begin to really extend open hands to those that are outside of the church and invite them into this journey with us.
It’s not just you that are broken. We are broken, but we’re moving toward Christ. Come and join us in that process.
CS: Right. And freedom and healing, there’s beauty there. And you’re not bound anymore.
GI: Yes. Exactly.
One of the things I always try to be clear about, and my wife also comes out of…we have a couple of boys, five and three years old, but we’re always clear that we still experience some level of same sex attraction. I’ve known a couple people in my entire life, in talking to hundreds of people that dealt with homosexuality, I know a couple of people they had really an instantaneous deliverance. That is not the story for most of us.
But freedom isn’t the absence of attraction. It’s the ability to choose what we know God is leading us into, and what we desire in agreement with him above our inclinations and attractions and fleshly cravings or whatever. And in that process, it’s become less of an issue for us. But we still experience some of those things and we don’t want anyone to think coming to Christ and turning to him out of homosexuality, poof, now you become a heterosexual and have all of those desires. That’s not usually the way it happens, but it’s a journey that is beautiful, as you just said.
It’s hard, but it is so worth the journey.
CS: Right. If you talk about an animal, like a cat, they have to scratch, they have to meow. They don’t have any choice. But I see in Scripture that calling for us to take those urges and submit them to God so that he is going to be the way in which we express all those things we can’t express, but in the right format and at the right time and in the right way.
GI: Absolutely. And again, sex is a beautiful thing that God created and he designed, and it’s a powerful thing. The reality that it can create life, the reality that it is one of the most powerful opportunities, one of the most powerful things that God has given us the ability to live into, is it any wonder that if it’s misused it can be so damaging as well?
We’re experiencing a lot of the damage. But in God’s way and God’s design, it is a beautiful thing that also reveals his image on the earth.
CS: And the interesting thing about the sexual problems is that a lot of times you’ll have somebody in the church who grew up in it or they understand it, but it’s the desire for sensuality that will pull them away. And they’ll start well, you know, I’m not as sure about Christianity as I used to be, and they’re starting to move away. Not because they don’t know the apologetics or that kind of thing. A lot of the time it is because they are drawn away by some sexual addiction or attraction or, as you’re describing, it could be pornography. But they move away because of their passions.
GI: Yeah. And I think that what you’re describing, what tends to happen in that situation, is we become self-defeat and what was once clear becomes fuzzy. That can be a reaction.
Another thing can be like my response was as a teenager and in my young adulthood, was to actually hate God and to feel like he had abandoned me, and the church has no answers. But the truth is, God lives himself out through his people, and he means for the church to be a place that does have answers and a place that not only has answers for our mind and our intellect to understand, but also it’s a family for us.
Psalm 68 talks about the idea that God takes the lonely and puts them in families. His heart is for people to be in relationship, deep, strong relationship. And I think that the church in general, we really miss the breadth and the depth of what God has for us as a family within his body and how we can really soothe and meet the needs that have become sexualized in a lot of people because they didn’t know where to go with these hungers necessarily. They know it’s wrong, but they don’t know where to go.
But the church can be such a salve and such a balm, as God intends, for those deeper relational and legitimate needs to be met in the right way.
CS: Yeah. And there’s a rub there. Because if somebody comes in to your congregation and starts to talk about his urges going the wrong direction, we’re all immediately afraid. I don’t know what to do, I know what Scripture says, but I don’t know how to move them away from that.
So what kind of things should we putting in place so that we can minister to these people?
GI: Well, that’s a great point. And I think that’s where Christian leaders really need to become more educated. They’ve gone through seminary, most of them, and most within seminary haven’t had a single class on human sexuality. They haven’t had a single class on what are some of the most defining issues of our day. They don’t know what to do with that.
Christian leaders really do need to, we believe, and again that’s why we’re doing the ministry we’re doing, really need to sit down with some people that can help them walk through how do we navigate these issues, how do we help train the people in our church so that rather than feeling uncomfortable—there’s a level of feeling uncomfortable that’s understandable—but rather than feeling paralyzed, like I just don’t know what to do with this person, there’s a way in which the community comes around and loves that person towards freedom. Loves them toward Christ.
When I got involved in the last church that I actually worked at for 12 years, I came there from Chicago to upstate New York because I kept hearing about this church that was dealing with people that most churches I knew of wouldn’t have touched with a 10-foot-pole. I got there, I got into counseling right away, I got into a small group right away, and eventually got into a men’s group. Which is, frankly, the last place I wanted to be with a men’s group and a bunch of Christian guys.
But I knew that the Lord was poking at me to do that, I knew that it was a healthy thing. But God used the men, even though they didn’t know exactly what to do, those men loved me. And they knew that they were broken men also. They didn’t deal with same-sex attraction most of them, but they knew their own propensity.
And for the first time in my whole life, I felt like there was a community of men. Not just a couple of guys, and God gave me those, but a community of men where I was in my 30’s for the first time being drawn into, you’re wanted. In your brokenness, you’re wanted in our community of men.
God used them to re-father me and to really call out the essence of the masculinity that was always in me but was just latent and dormant that I had rejected.
It isn’t’ that people have to have tons of schooling or any of that. I think when a community will come around really broken people and just love them toward Christ, help them walk with them, and abide with them in some of their brokenness and help them move forward, that’s a beautiful thing.
That’s different than someone who comes in and says look, I have an agenda, I want you guys to perform gay marriage, that’s a whole other thing. The church has to be aware of that and be clear about those things. They’re not going to put you in leadership, or whatever, but we want you to be part of our community. And by being in this community in a healthy environment, we believe that God is going to touch your life.
CS: You’ve got sort of a dichotomy here, because it sounds like when you went to that church you were wanting out. So what do you do with someone who might come through who says I’m in it, I love it, I want to be left alone. Because that’s a little different situation.
GI: That’s an entirely different situation. I think the church, in that case, for me, I would love for a church to be able to say welcome. Be amongst us, we’re glad that you’re here and we’re going to be praying for you. This is where we are as a church and we love you and we care about you and we’d love for you to be a part of taking in the Sunday services, maybe getting into a small group. We actually believe that God is clear in his word on same-sex attraction, but you know what? We’re broken people too and we’re on this journey. God has brought a lot of healing into our lives and we believe he wants to use us, our community, to help move you forward too. Moving forward in Christ is that we understand who we are as male and female and what he created us for in that arena.
What that means is that that person may not stay around. Or, there will be something about the way that they’re loved, like we disagree and we think that these are the things that God has made very clear, but you are welcome. We don’t want you to leave, we want you to be a part of us. They may stay because they recognize, even though they don’t like what they’re hearing, that there’s truth in it, that they’re experiencing love.
GI: And more often than not, people have experienced truth without much love.
CS: The fear would be in the church that you’re going to bring someone in and make it grow and have people just start to say well, they’re a homosexual and they’re okay. But that’s not what you want to communicate to them. You want to communicate you’ve got to change and we’d like to help you do that.
CS: And so there needs to be some tension there for the individual. We care, but this has got to change.
GI: Yeah. I think it’s a travesty. I’m so thankful that when I was really wrestling with these issues and I’m trying to get my parents to accept me and my boyfriend and trying to see if there’s any way that I could marry this idea of being gay and Christian, and wanting those things, I’m so thankful that I was not in a church… well, I was in a church that didn’t know what to do and they didn’t do a very good job. But, I wasn’t in a church at the time that was affirming same-sex attraction or affirming homosexuality.
It’s a travesty to me. My life would have just gone downhill from there if I’d embraced homosexuality and the church had affirmed that. And unfortunately, whole denominations, of course, across the country, are caving under the weight of what’s politically correct and all of that.
No. We really need to stand for what is truth. Because it is not best for individuals to just cave and give in and tell them whatever it is they want to hear that’s contrary to Scripture. So we need to really walk in that balance of love and truth.
CS: There’s another issue that I’m noticing with young people, especially those kids maybe 12-13, as they’re moving into adolescence. Large numbers of those in middle schools here in Georgia are saying I am gay, 60-70%. What do you see as causing that?
GI: Well, it’s not at all unusual for children, boys and girls, to go through a period in their developmental years, about those ages you’re mentioning and even earlier, where a sense of identity in terms of gender isn’t as clear to them. It’s something that they are discovering. And I think in healthy enough homes and healthy enough environments, the discovery process happens very naturally and there’s not even necessarily an awareness that they’re going through the discovery process. It’s just something that’s happening.
In those times, though, studies have been shown that kids can even be a little bit questioning. It’s normal at that age to have some sense of not being really solidified in their attractions. The attraction that I have for this other boy, what does that mean? Is it a sexual attraction or is it just an aberration?
As they’re sorting those things out, there’s one study that I read about that indicated that there was a large percentage that would have that question if they were asked on a survey about it, hadn’t mentally formed for them yet, but then when they hit 17, 18, 19-years-old, that percentage dropped to almost nothing on those that are wondering about same-sex attraction or are they attracted to the same sex. The vast majority are clearly opposite-sex attracted.
So my point of that is it’s not unusual for kids to experience some levels of uncertainty for a period of time about that as they’re maturing and growing and developing. And so with society, though, if we hear that in school, or we’re hearing that in any sort of a public arena, we’re immediately grabbing that kid and stamping them with a label of gay.
They don’t even have to process the opportunity or process things at all. They’re just immediately put in this. They’re labeled. And I think that’s a huge travesty and will bring about a lot more disintegration of our understanding of gender and male and female and opposite-sex attractions.
CS: So what can the individual do? Is there a way for people to get involved with Restored Hope Network and with your network, which is Love And Truth Network?
GI: Yes. Restores Hope Network is really a large national umbrella ministry that has a number of member ministries and is growing, of churches and counselors, as well as member ministries. Individuals can contact RestoredHopeNetwork.org.
Restored Hope Network is doing a national conference in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area at the end of next month, June 26th and 27th. It’s all day Friday, all day Saturday. We have phenomenal speakers lined up for this, and I think 23 or 24 workshops as well, lined up for this, in four different workshop segments. So people will have a chance, four different opportunities, to take the workshops they want, and also experience the general sessions, the ministry time.
It’s a great place for individuals to come to, but it’s also a phenomenal place for Christian leaders to come to, pastors, counselors, parents of somebody who’s gay-identified, or friends or family. Really anyone listening to you, if they’re asking huh, I wonder if that’s for me, my response is oh my goodness yes it is.
Because this issue is not going away. Whether it’s in our workplace or in our families, in our churches, we are going to be confronted with this issue. And if we’re not equipped, we’re going to handle it the wrong way. We’re not going to be Jesus to the woman at the well. We’re going to be something else that’s not redemptive or that’s affirming something that’s actually damaging for the individual.
So individuals can contact Restored Hope Network, and if they have a member ministry in their area, can refer them. That’s a great thing to do.
Our ministry, Love And Truth Network, is mostly focused on equipping leaders. So pastors or counselors, or lay leaders or whatever, that have a desire to get more equipped, they can contact us at www.loveandtruthnetwork.com and find out more about our ministry that way.
We do some individual work, but mostly it’s with Christian leaders trying to equip them to do individual work and create safe communities that are transformational.
CS: Gary, I want to thank you. I just love your ministry, because you’re offering hope and you’re offering freedom.
GI: Thank you so much, Cynthia. It was wonderful talking to you. Thank you for your interest as well.