Going to Battle
About the Guest
There's no time to rest when you're in the middle of a battle. Dennis Jernigan, a former homosexual, reflects on his relationship with his father when he was growing up and tells how he is doing things differently with his sons. To those struggling with same-sex attraction, Dennis explains the first step they must take in order to find freedom.
There’s no time to rest when you’re in the middle of a battle.
Going to Battle
Bob: Galatians chapter six, verse one says “Brothers, if you see someone caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore that person with a spirit of gentleness or meekness, taking care lest you too be tempted.” Dennis Jernigan says that’s kingdom work, for us to get involved in helping those who are struggling with sin.
Dennis Jernigan: Here’s the bottom line. Do you know your next door neighbor? Do you know the person that delivers your mail? Most people I minister to don’t believe anyone cares they exist. All I do is I let people know “I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you exist. I care your exist. Let’s walk towards God together.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 29th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.
Today Dennis Jernigan joins us to talk about what we can do to help those who are ensnared in ongoing sin.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
When it comes right down to it, we’re all in a battle, aren’t we? The question is not are you in a battle? The question is what’s the issue? What are you battling? Because life’s a battle.
Dennis: It is. In fact, the battle changes with the different seasons of life. When you are single there are certain battles that you face. Then you get married and that sets up a whole fresh territory of turf that a young couple must work out. Then you have children and then you raise your children and go through adolescence. Then empty out all the children out of the nest and then you have the empty nest and that, too, can raise some issues that become battles.
Bob: There are personal struggles that people deal with where my issue may not be your issue but the point is we’ve all got issues.
Dennis: We do. We have a friend with us again here on FamilyLife Today, Dennis Jernigan, who has been courageous and bold to share his story multiple times with our listeners. Dennis, it’s always good to see you again. Welcome back.
Dennis Jernigan: My pleasure. It’s always good to be here.
Dennis: Dennis is married to Melinda, since 1983. They have nine children. He serves on the Board of Directors for the world’s largest ministry to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction, Exodus International. He has written thousands of songs.
Bob: In fact, how often do you record your music? It seems to me like about once a month I get a new Dennis Jernigan CD that’s coming out!
Dennis Jernigan: We record one major CD a year, pretty much. In the digital age I can write a song one day and have it up on the internet the next.
Bob: So are people just coming to your website to keep in touch with the new music you are writing?
Dennis Jernigan: Pretty much. They come right to my website or they can go to YouTube and all sites lead back to DennisJernigan.com.
Bob: Well, we’ve got a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to get to your website if folks want to get there and get brought up to date on some of the new songs you’ve been writing.
Dennis: And that’s not all he writes. He’s written a book called What Every Boy Should Knew, subtitled What Every Man Wishes His Dad Had Told Him.
There’s a story in there, Dennis, that when I read this I though “I’ve got to get him to tell this story to our listener’s” because I want them to hear this. This is just a great image of a father and a son at those impressionable early years when a boy’s just looking up to his dad, kind of believing everything he says.
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so. My dad was a referee for basketball. I loved basketball when I was a kid. Love it to this day. Pete Maravich was a… I was a big fan of his.
Dennis: Were you any good?
Dennis Jernigan: I played with my same high school team for four years, starting point guard. I was in the state tournament three times, and then went to college.
Dennis: What was your average?
Dennis Jernigan: My average was twelve points a game.
Bob: See, Dennis was a basketball player, too. Bring it.
Dennis Jernigan: Bring it!
Dennis: I’ve got a feeling you were quicker than I was.
Dennis Jernigan: I was the point guard so I made a lot of other teams very upset because I was such a great flopper. I could foul out your best player by the third period.
Dennis: Oh, you drew the charging foul.
Dennis Jernigan: Very much!
Dennis: Well, there was an event that occurred with your dad early on that undoubtedly had something with your love for basketball.
Dennis Jernigan: Yeah. I begged him for a basketball goal and a basketball and he said, “Well, we’ve got to plant a basketball goal seed because you’re got to grow those from a seed.” So I don’t know where he got this seed but we had this big ceremony where we go out in the front yard. This was right around Christmastime. We had this ceremony. We planted this seed and my job was to water it every day. After a few days of faithfully watering this seed, I go out and there’s a three foot tall pole that had sprouted from this seed!
Dennis: This was winter!
Dennis Jernigan: Yes, very much! I didn’t care. I was getting a basketball goal!
Dennis: This is a hard time to grow basketball goals?
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so. It didn’t matter to me. All I knew was it was working. Looking back I didn’t really think about the fact that there was a concrete base and everything that had sprouted, too. Talk about being faithful to water. Another week later there’s another three foot section. Every time it seemed like a three foot section was added! Until Christmas morning, I couldn’t stand it.
I ran out the door and sure enough, the angels should have been singing the Hallelujah chorus. Because like this big white backboard was there with a clean crisp white net! And I’ll never forget it, an orange square above the rim and below it, like this holy fruit had fallen from the tree, a brand new basketball goal.
My dad, he never told me he loved me until after I was married. But he said it in other ways while I was growing up. That was one of the greatest memories I had. That’s family lore now. My kids love that story.
Dennis: You have nine children. How many of those are boys?
Dennis Jernigan: Four boys, five girls.
Dennis: You’ve written this book really out of your own musings and reflections about your relationship with your own father. There were some things that didn’t happen there that left you a bit disappointed.
Dennis Jernigan: Sure. One of the first things that comes to mind about my own dad. I’ve already mentioned. He didn’t ever tell me verbally that he loved me. He was at every game I was ever a part of. He was always supporting me in other ways. But he never verbally told me. So I sort of missed that.
Then when I was about eleven years old, I had sex questions. So I went to him and I asked him and he got so embarrassed and he walked out of the room. That did something to me.
Long story, made short. When I was about thirty-five I took my dad on a trip and I asked him all the reasons why those things occurred. Why he never told me he loved me. Why he was afraid to talk to me about sex.
Bottom line answer, which opened my eyes to a huge degree, he says “My dad never told me he loved me. My dad never talked to me about sex. So I didn’t know how to tell you.” I said, “You know, in this moment, just us talking, we’re breaking generational curses in a sense. We’re taking backs stolen ground.’ Because now, to this day, my dad tells me he loves me. My dad works for me in my ministry.
God is a redeemer. So that’s a part of the reason I wrote this book. I wanted my sons to not have any questions or any doubts about what it means to be a man before god. And to this day, this whole year, for several months now, every Monday—we call it Monday Man Meeting—my three remaining sons and one of my sons-in-law, we get together every Monday night. We have a meal. Then go back to the house and talk about what it means to be a man of God in today’s world. So this book is a culmination of all of that.
Dennis: I was with a gentleman down in South Alabama who has his own version of what you’re talking about, a meeting of the men. Except now they’re all adult men. They’re all married and have their own families. It really is cool because they all live near his own home and he is able to execute that. But he’s having those heart to heart, man to man, conversations that a young lad, when he becomes a man, longs for with his daddy.
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so.
Dennis: What need did that meet in you when your dad finally began talking with you, man to man, heart to heart, soul to soul?
Dennis Jernigan: Well the first thing that happened for me is this amazing sense of peace came over my mind. All of the wondering was gone. All of the doubt was gone about questions I’d had concerning my dad, whether he loved me or not, why he didn’t talk to me. It all made sense to me and I was able to put the lies of the enemy down and put on the truth of what reality was. So that, by and large, was the main benefit of what my dad and I talked about that day.
Bob: You’ve already shared this week about how, from the time you were four or five years old all the way through college and beyond, you struggled with same sex attraction. You acted out on that in high school and college years. God did a work to deliver you from that. You’re married. You’ve got nine kids. You’re speaking and writing, sharing your story. And you’ve had a lot of interaction with those who, today, are where you were. They’re struggling with same sex attraction.
If somebody was going to share that with another person and you finally worked up the courage to do that, and when you did, that person turned around and made sexual advances toward you? How do you figure out who to share it with and how do you work up the courage to do it? Because I’m’ thinking there may be somebody listening who’s going “I would like to share but I’d be scared to death. I wouldn’t know who to go to. How do I pick who I’m going to open up to?”
Dennis Jernigan: My first thought is, actually, go to a ministry like Exodus International. Go to their hot line. Go to their website. Beyond that, go to your local church and find somebody. Or if you have somebody you know is a believer who it a strong man of God, go to them.
When I began to do that, even after I was married, and began to tell my story publically, some of my friends just shied away from me. I thought, “Well, that’s wrong.” So I forced myself on them in a sense. I said “You know what? We need relationship. And as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another. I need you but you need me.”
I would say to people who are struggling just find somebody that you can trust. Trust is a big issue with me and anyone who struggles. It really is. But find somebody that you can trust. I would never cast my pearls before swine.
Bob: W hat do you mean by that?
Dennis Jernigan: By that I mean, it’s got to be somebody that’s going to help me polish those pearls. That’s what I look for. And who knows what they’re talking about.
Dennis: And not condemn you…
Dennis Jernigan: Not condemn.
Dennis: …for coming out and sharing what your struggle really is.
Dennis Jernigan: Exactly. It doesn’t matter what the struggle is.
Bob: So you’re looking for somebody who has demonstrated that they are a grace giver to others. You’ve seen them with the track record of being compassionate and kind and demonstrating grace.
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so. I fact, one of the things that I purposely did was seek out men who I knew had never struggled because I wanted to be like them. So I figured if I want what they have, I need to be hanging with them. I got that for some reason.
Bob: When you shared your story with some, did you have guys who just pulled back or got abusive or were…
Dennis Jernigan: I had two very close friends who told me that my whole ministry would be ruined, it would be over. So they backed off in a huge way.
Bob: Would not have anything to do with you?
Dennis Jernigan: They wouldn’t have anything to do with me.
Bob: That’s the kind of thing that, if that happens once or twice, most folks would go, “Well, that’s it. I’m just going to go back to the homosexual lifestyle where people accept me and love me.”
Dennis Jernigan: Even though that may be the case, I felt used in that lie to the degree that risking being hurt by believers was the better option for me. In fact, to love and be love required risk. To put ourselves in a box, we call that a coffin. I don’t want to live in a box. I don’t want to live in a place where I don’t share my feelings, where I don’t share what I’m struggling with. God’s word says in John 8:32, “You’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.” We don’t get to the truth unless we’re honest. It’s just not going to happen.
So if you’re struggling you’ve got to get honest otherwise that things going to be a constant burden to you. I decided al long time ago that rather than those things being weights that burdened me down, I’m going to cut loose those weights. Yes, this happened in my life but I’m going to build an altar with those same things. I want to take what the enemy has meant for evil in my life and allow the Lord to use it for good and for His glory.
Bob: And someone who’d says, “If I open up on this, if I tell anybody what’s’ going on, that’s the end. They’ll ruin me. They’ll tell others. My reputation, everything just goes up in smoke at that point.”
Dennis Jernigan: I used to think the same things. But then I thought, “Well, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I’m already living hell in this life.” That’s what I thought. So what’s the point? What am I hiding from? So there came that point where the burden became so heavy that I just decided it’s worth it. Whatever I have to go through, it’s going to be worth it.
Dennis: Now too long ago I was in a meeting with a group of men. A couple of the younger men stepped up and admitted a struggle with pornography and how they’d brought that struggle into their marriage and the shame and how it was really crippling them, both spiritually in terms of their own walk with God but also in loving and leading their wives.
One of the young men shared how he had gone to his wife and he he’d confessed it and he was terrified. He did not know how she would respond. Yet her response set him free just like Melinda, your wife, did with you, Dennis, in her response to you sharing about your past. It was a part of the liberation of Dennis Jernigan.
Well, as we’re listening to these two young men share, the second young man stepped forward and said, “It’s really because of this other guy over here that I’m developing the courage to be able to do the same thing with my wife.”
You said it earlier, Dennis. The enemy loves to use isolation in our lives to get us off away from other people, think we’re the only person in the world that’s had this problem. That others won’t love us. Others will condemn us. What we have to do is find a safe place, a safe person, who can coach us and encourage us and love us.
One of the things that you also talk about, man to man, with your sons, because I read about this in your book, is how to handle temptations as a man.
Dennis Jernigan: That’s right.
Dennis: In fact, in your book, this title of the chapter is pretty curious. It’s called “The Joy of Temptation, or How God Uses Daily Temptation to Build Intimacy and Freedom in Our Lives.”
Dennis Jernigan: In a nutshell, that came to me in this sense: Why am I always temped so much? And it dawned on me one day that why would the enemy be after my mind if the Lord were not about to do something amazing in my life? So what is the Lord trying to say that the enemy’s trying to get me away from? So instead of walking and listening to that temptation, I turn and go “What is it, Lord?” And for me personally that comes out in creative ways. So I have thousands of songs.
Another thing that I’ve used that temptation for is to remind me that, “You know what, if I’m being tempted, maybe there’s somebody else being tempted the same way who needs what I have.” So I’m going to turn that temptation around, not only to the Lord, but to the needs of others. All of a sudden I’ve taken my eyes off me and I’ve killed the fuel for the fire of that temptation. There’s no place for it to burn.
Bob: So temptation becomes a trigger to point you to God, to say what are you wanting to do in my life?
Dennis Jernigan: What is it Lord? That’s all temptation is to me. What is it, Lord? Because with every temptation, what does God do? Makes a way of what? Escape! What is it, Lord? What is it? Show me what it is.
Dennis: You’ve actually gone on to say that temptation defines certain people. That for the homosexual community that becomes their identity.
Dennis Jernigan: Yes. My motto is in not one drop of my identity is defined by what tempts me. We don’t get to chose what we’re temped by. I wanted my sons to understand that. Every man, especially in the area of lust. Lust was intended as a good thing. Sex is a good thing. We’ve got to go to the creator to find out what is the original purpose, what is the holy purpose, of that?
All a perversion is is taking something taking God meant for a holy purpose and using it in another way. That’s what a perversion is. I’ve decided that I don’t want my sons to walk in perversion so let’s find out what God says about all these issues.
Bob: I asked you if I was wrestling with homosexual desire and I was going to come clean, how to pick the right person to talk to and what to say. Let me turn that table around. Let’s say that I’m out to lunch with a friend of mine and in the middle of lunch he says “Can I share something with you?” and I go, “sure.” He says, “Well, it’s going to be hard to share.” I go, “whatever.” He then says to me. “For the last twenty years this has been going on” or whatever. What do I do? Coach me on how to respond if that kind of a conversation is happening at a lunch table.
Dennis Jernigan: I have this happened weekly, if not daily, in my life and this is the truth. All I can do is what was done for me. This is what somebody said to me. “Dennis, I know the answer is Jesus and I know that sounds so cliché but if Jesus is real and we want a real relationship with Him” and I want that other person to experience what I’ve experienced then I’d better be willing to walk towards Jesus with them.
I’m called to be a minister of reconciliation, helping other people be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. So how can I do that in a practical way? If you’re being tempted in a certain way, then here’s what I would do.
I had to get rid of the sources of my temptation. Certain places I could never go again. Certain things that reminded me of my past, like gifts that people had given me or pictures or whatever, I destroyed it all. I got rid of any semblance of my old life. That sounds so drastic but I would help somebody do those kinds of things, too, to cut off the fuel for that fire.
Then I would say, “You know what, I’m here. You fall down. I’m going to help you up. But you want accountability; you’re going to have to call me. It’s not all on me. You want freedom then I want you to fight for it.”
Bob: You would say if I’m in that kind of divine appointment that God is, in that moment, calling me…
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so.
Bob: …on the path with this brother and I go, “I’m busy and I’ve got this and I’ve got that going on,” you’d say, “Look, God just called you. Clear out some time.”
Dennis Jernigan: How much is a life worth? We got so busy with all of the things of life. That’s one of the things I try to instill in my sons and my daughters.
We are not here for our personal pleasure or our personal glory. We are here for kingdom work. What are we doing to help others? Do you know your next door neighbor? Do you know the person that delivers your mail?
Here’s the bottom line. Most people I minister to don’t believe anyone cares they exist. All if do is I let people know, “I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad you exist. I care you exist. Let’s walk towards God together in whatever way that is.” Whether it’s an online relationship or a neighbor, it doesn’t matter. How can I help meet their need?
Dennis: What I hear you saying is, because God used a person in your life to ultimately set you free from being enslaved to homosexuality, you now have a personal mission…
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so.
Dennis: …of wanting to interact with people, whatever it is that has them.
Dennis Jernigan: If my telling my story is going to help one person get free, then, man, I’ve accomplished my goal. But it’s so much more than that. You never know who’s watching. You never know who’s listening. So we’d better be prepared to give an answer. You don’t have to have gone through seminary to be able to help lead someone to freedom. You just have to know the answer and be willing to talk towards Jesus with that person, through the mess of life.
Dennis: I think it’s really easy for us to be so busy, as you said, to view people kind of in a utilitarian way, like the guy who picks up your garbage. They pick the garbage up at our place about 6:30, 6:45 on Monday morning. I’ve been up there some mornings when they pick the garbage up. But I confess I’ve never stopped and said to one of those guys, “Thanks for your work. Here is ten extra bucks for doing a good job taking care of what we’re throwing away.”
I think in this high tech, low touch world that we live in, modeling this kind of behavior, this kind of love of Christ for people, regardless of whether they’re sitting down across a table like Bob was talking about and they’re confessing something extremely heavy with you, or you’re just intersecting your life with theirs, these are days when we really need to be showing the love of Christ to people.
Dennis Jernigan: Very much so. I have a friend who says you should never let them see you sweat as a leader. I’m like just the opposite. I want people to know that I’m such a real person that the stuff I go through in my life…
Like we lost our first grandchild just recently. Our son and daughter (in law) had been trying for three years to have a baby and miscarried and they’re heartbroken. Rather than keep that to ourselves we decided as a family, that God allowed that for a reason so I wrote a little song from the father’s point of view, God the Father, and the fact that we will see that child again someday. And now on line I’ve noticed that hundreds have watched that video, just because we invited them into our grief. I know there are others out there who are grieving, so go through this with us. We’re not going through this without purpose, without reason. God has a purpose in everything.
Bob: We have put a link up on our website at FamilylifeToday.com for listeners who would like to hear you share a little of that story and hear you share the song as well. So again, folks can go to FamilyLifeToday.com to hear the song that’s called “Never Say Goodbye” by Dennis Jernigan. You can click on the link and hear the song.
Let me also just mention real quick that we have copies of the devotional book that you’ve written for men which is called What Every Boy Should Know, What Every Man Wishes His Dad Had Told Him. It’s a devotional guide to help remind us of our identity as children of God, to embrace that, to hang on to that, and to understand how we can raise our sons to understand that about their own identity in Christ.
So again you’ll find more information about Denis Jernigan’s What Every Boy Should Know, What Every Man Wishes His Dad Had Told Him when you got to FamilyLifeToday.com. If you’d like to get a copy, you can order from us online or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word TODAY and ask for a copy of the devotional by Dennis Jernigan and we’ll be happy to get that to you.
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With that, we’re out of time for today. Thanks for being with us. I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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