Sy Rogers: The power of sin has been broken. It’s true. I am not a slave of sin anymore. I get to choose to whom and what I bow. Sex used to be a powerful master. God’s a more powerful master. I get to choose to whom I bow.
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John Fuller: Well, stay tuned for a really powerful testimony from Sy Rogers. He’s a man who found freedom in Christ. Your host is Focus on the Family president, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, for the last 40 years, Pastor Sy Rogers has been a leading voice regarding sexuality, cultural themes and the character of God. Sadly, he died in April 2020 from kidney cancer. He was only 63, and we’d like to thank his wife, Karen, for allowing us to use the message we’re presenting today and next time. And as you’re about to hear when he was just six years old, Sy was separated from his father after his mother was killed in a drunk driving accident. He was sent to the Midwest and raised by female relatives where he picked up their mannerisms and vocal patterns. And that led to a time when Sy really questioned his sexuality and even as gender identity. And let me tell you, Sy was a very dynamic communicator who tells it like it is. He’s simply riveting.
John: He is. And because of the sensitive nature of the subject matter, we’re going to recommend that if you have children nearby, you use your ear buds or listen later on or download our app. Here now is Sy Rogers speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of women at a devoted conference sponsored by Wave Church in Virginia Beach. And we’re picking up while he has some family photos up on the big screen behind him on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Sy: And you know, that image I have up there also makes another important point. I look at my grandson, there was a six-year-old in that photo. There in the middle panel, that little innocent kid, six years old. Can I tell you how grateful to God I am that he has never had to say the things I’m about to say by the time I was six years old, that he has lived a life loved, healthy, stable, invested. And while I can’t change my history, he exists because God bought from me freedom and a chance to make new history.
Sy: And so by the time I was six, I had already been sexually violated by an adult man, a family friend who taught me things God did not want me to know, betraying my dad’s trust. And then my mom was killed in a car wreck. She went shopping and never came home. And then I’m separated from my dad, the last anchor of validation and security in my life and all of it by the time I’m six. So you can imagine with a foundation like that, it might not go well. And it didn’t. And I began to be labeled, growing up on the buckle of the Bible belt, in the land of beer drinking, skirt chasing, gun toting, pickup driving, boot wearing good old boys, and I love that stuff. But there was an expectation that I was not living up to. And at about seven, I began to hear the litany that I was a loser as a male, a failure in my gender. I’m sure you can imagine the more colorful rhetoric. And I didn’t understand at first, but soon I would. And in addition to this mistreatment, there was also a wealth of people around me who didn’t know what to do, even if they were empathetic. Most of my classmates did not mistreat me. And yet I’m sure that while there were people there who, who, you know, wanted to help or be empathetic toward my plight, they didn’t know what to say, including the grownups, so no one said anything and thus the power of the bully prevailed as the most authoritative voice in my life. And so I tried to be one of the guys. I was on swim team and football team and track team. I was an Eagle scout. I went hiking in the Rocky Mountains. I had two motorcycles. I went dirt bike riding. I went horseback riding. I volunteered to join the US military. And so I could do anything any boy could do, but he didn’t resolve my crisis. It didn’t validate me in my great depth of need. And of course, I had already become sexually promiscuous by the time I was a teenager, because I had learned pretty quickly that bad love is better than none. I was willing to trade off my moral teachings and I was willing to trade away any sense of dignity in order to find validation through exploitation. A lot of people do that. And so I believe in the God of the Bible, maker of heaven and earth. I believed in Jesus, the Messiah, redeemer of humanity. I didn’t have a problem with his existence. I had a problem with his character dressed up in the skin of others who made me feel like I could never measure up.
Sy: And in spite of all my efforts to try, I came to the conclusion that God may love other people, but he apparently doesn’t love me. Look at the litany in my life. How could I call that love of a personal, caring God that I heard about in Sunday school? I didn’t have the rest of the story. So we are not surprised that my life spun out and I lived a double life while I was in the military. And then I went out into the life beyond the military and I was involved in a world that was boundaryless and self-indulgent, trading sex for validation. It may seem sinful to you, but it met my needs better than anything or anyone had yet. And what kind of a commentary is that? Even confused about gender, pursuing gender reassignment almost two years. And just when you think I’m too deep in the ditch, just when you think I’m undeserving, that’s when God rocked up 40 years ago. And in that encounter, he opened my eyes to a new understanding. Why am I not a Buddhist? Why am I not a Marxist? Why would I crucify my flesh and swim against the tide of popular culture and passion in here? Why? It wasn’t for singing songs? It wasn’t for church services. It wasn’t for religious rituals. It wasn’t for your moral standards. I could have cared less, but my were open to God in a new way, where he was no longer a code of ethics to debate, he was no longer some philosophical point of view to ponder with the chattering classes at university over a cup of coffee. He now became a real live person, not another option on the spiritual buffet, but a real live presence.
Sy: And in light of that, how was I going to live my life? He did not come into my life and say, “You stop living like that.” He said these words, “My son.” Think of it. My, I’ll own you. I put my name on you. I’m not ashamed of you. I’ll make you a public relations ambassador for who I am. I’ll put my Holy Ghost in you. I’ll make you so clean because of Christ. I can put my spirit in this temple. I’ll own you. I understand you. I have compassion for you. I see the whole picture, not just the naughty over here. It’s the why the naughty even happened. I looked beyond the sin to see the need, like the old song says. My son, whatever hijacked, your misunderstandings, whatever took advantage of you and misdirected you, however other people labeled you, spun you out and exploited you and made you doubt yourself, I never intended your gender to be a curse and a burden. I intended it to be a blessing through you to others. I have learned to grow beyond the power of my past. And listen, getting married, someone with a background like that, that doesn’t prove anything. Anybody can live a double life. We all know people who do.
Sy: I don’t put that image of my family up there to try to convince you I’m not who I used to be. It’s just simply the by-product of growth. But the goal was never that. The goal is God, he’s the source.
Sy: That’s what completes me. My family is a beautiful outworking, a glorious byproduct that was unanticipated, but God is your goal. Walk with him.
Sy: So I love to share what took me forward, that helped me walk out freedom in an unlikely place of vulnerability here and in a world of pressure, risk and opportunity out there to go astray. What kept me, that’s what I want to share. And I also get asked a lot of questions in my years of work. I’ve learned a lot in years of pastoral service, but I have to practice what I preach and teach too. That’s the best I know as said, and I love to answer questions through my own experience. And one of the questions I’m asked the most is if I’m offered freedom in Jesus, and if I’m this new creation, why am I still struggling with things related to my history, my humanity, my past? Why am I still struggling sexually? Because you know, the fact is folks, we’re not all overcoming, I don’t know, anxiety management or anger management here. We’re not all overcoming some addictive or abusive process, but all of us in the room and every human on the earth is a sexual creature. And for years, Christianity has not done an adequate job addressing this. And you would agree that not talking, it hasn’t made us holy or, or healthier.
Sy: But when we talk, we’re not here to lament, judge, criticize, reject, or shame. This is a shame-free conversation, so do not be afraid. But we want to paint a picture of God’s outstanding advocacy and empathetic understanding and his advocacy and compassion toward us. That, what does it say in Hebrews? He’s a high priest who has been acquainted with all that we go through tempted in every way. So he knows what we’re up against. And therefore, I can expect to come to his throne, a brace. I can even approach it with a confidence that says he knows what I’m dealing with. And I can approach him and find grace and mercy to help me in my time of need. So if there’s any other voice here telling you not to run to God, I’d say it’s not the Holy Ghost. And so that you may hear him, let’s pray and get underway. Lord, take these words, as always. Anoint them with the life and power to make it more than some infotainment. Make it a revelation about who you are in our lives and who you would like to be in taking us forward into freedom much more than maybe we’ve imagined. I believe you would delight to do it in Jesus’ name. Amen. Why is it that we struggle? I thought I’m a new creation. 2nd Corinthians 5:17, “If any man or a woman is in in Christ, they become a new creation. The old life passes away. All things become new.” Some church cultures have inferred that what that means is in Christ suddenly, like invasion of the body snatchers, it really isn’t you anymore. You are you plus, plus. You’re never going to struggle anymore with all of that that used to be a part of you. But then the other part of your experience is the more realistic one that says, “Wait a minute, I’ve been born again about 10 minutes. The blood of Jesus did wash away the guilt, but he hasn’t washed away the humanity or the vulnerability. Now what do I do about that?” In fact, the original Greek grammar and language tense of verb of that verse in 2nd Corinthians 5 verse 17 actually says something more like this. “In Christ, a transformative process has been initiated and its process will continue transforming you.” Isn’t that the way it really is?
Sy: And I want to share with you what my path of transformation, my path of walking forward in freedom God provided me by his definition, not my wishful thinking. Struggle, you will. That’s how God made life on earth. It’s a refining process. It provides focus toward goal. Struggled, a little chicken struggles to hatch out of the very egg that served it in the same way that a mother and baby struggle when the baby’s coming down the birth canal. But it’s purposeful. My granddaughter learned to walk a year ago. She’s two going on three. She’s very charming, but she began walking, you know, as a one-year-old and in her effort to walk uprightly she fell down all the time. Now, Karen and I, living in a multi-generational household with her, did not say to her, “Oh, you’re falling down. Don’t you know God’s developmental goal for you is that you walk uprightly? What a wicked baby.”
Sy: “Loser.” It’s true that God’s developmental goal is that babies learn to walk uprightly, but they’re not born doing it. They have to learn how in the face of constant failure, because there’s an impulse in them. Struggle says I have a capacity for more. I want freedom, even if I’m bound right now and I’m going to get there because I am not a slave of sin. I’ve been switched on to God. And there’s a capacity in me to take me onward upward forward, and I’m going to walk in it. And even if I don’t know how and I fall down, I’m going to get up and try again because I win the crown if I don’t quit, whether I run the race flawlessly, because you’re not born again, walking uprightly you’re born again with the capacity to learn how. But in walking uprightly, we’re not doing it so that we can earn God’s love. He already loves us. We’re not earning righteousness. We can’t, we borrow Christs, but we learn how to walk uprightly as responsible stewards of mind and body. So as has been said, the power of sin has been broken. It’s true. I am not a slave of sin anymore. I get to choose to whom and what I bow. Sex used to be a powerful master. God’s a more powerful master. I get to choose to whom I bow. The old master may call my name, the new master calls my name. I get to pick to whom and what I give allegiance. Now I’m not the puppet. The power broken the penalty paid. That means I can access God. He can access me right now. The freedom begins right now.
Sy: But to go forward, I have to deal with the propensity, the vulnerability that yet remains. You don’t think you got propensity. You get stuck in traffic under the right circumstances and your propensity will show up.
Sy: But even to deal with propensity, what do we got? We got the high priest, Jesus who intercedes. We’ve got the Holy Spirit inside to empower and guide. And then we’ve also got the word of God, the logos becomes rhema to make a way clear for us, and then God’s family, a camaraderie of advocacy around us. God was skin on to help us stay the course. Yes, I may have vulnerability, but there are solutions. And we’re going to look at not only the problem, but if there is one, there is solution because God is not caught off guard by all this. And he’s not up in heaven saying, “Oh no, what are we going to do? These poor disadvantaged humans. Good luck to ya.” And so if there is a struggle or a problem in your life, do not let it demoralize do not let it shame you out. Do not let it ever make you think you are disqualified. I want to give you some perspective.
John: You’re listening to Mr. Sy Rogers on Focus on the Family. And we have a CD of this entire presentation. We’re making that available to you for a monthly pledge or a one-time gift of any amount to support the ministry of Focus on the Family. Just call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, or donate at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Let’s go ahead and return now to Sy Rogers as he reflects back on the ongoing impact of his early childhood trauma.
Sy: So when I came to Jesus fear was a constant companion, a background music so loud, I didn’t even have perspective. And when I came to Jesus, he didn’t just zap that away from my consumer convenience so that I never had a blip on my radar. But as that buttons, you know, I would grow and get some relief and peace. And then suddenly the button of fear would be triggered. Only now God was in the equation. What’s that beautiful quote by Oswald Chambers a hundred years ago, but it’s still true, “Fretting is you’re calculating without God and the equation.” And now I’m not a five-year-old victim. Now he’s in the equation and I’m beginning to learn of him. And so I began to fight his intervention and then I go around the bend again and I enjoy peace and growth, but then the button gets triggered again and I feel powerless. But then I have a new mantra from Psalm 56 that when I am afraid, I have learned to trust in you, oh God, my rock and my redeemer. You got my back. You will never let me face anything without your presence with me, and you will bring me through, you begin the good work, you know how. And so along the way, the power of fear lost its power. And if it shows up on the radar, I know how to deal with it instead of it dealing with me. And add to that, I not only learned about my humanity, which gives me compassion for yours, out of the struggle. I have compassion for you and I also have a confidence in God. So while there may be a lot, I don’t know. I do know that he’s been good to me. And he has led me forward and I want to paint the picture of what it looked like. So here we go. Are you ready? You got a problem. You got to see it. You got to identify it. Not to shame to clarify. Yes? So this is why we’re vulnerable. Number one, I got a human nature and it’s weak. What did the spirit-filled Paul say, the Paul wrote one third of the New Testament? What did Paul say? The thing I should not do, I do. And then the stuff I don’t, I should. Who’s going to ever save me from this aspect of my humanity. Thank you God for Christ. That’s it. In a nutshell. In other words, if it’s true for the body, it’s true for the soul. To paint this picture. I like to give illustrations from science and biology because God makes biology like he makes theology. And there are material examples that help paint a picture of spiritual truths. Therefore, diabetes is a weakness in my family. See the human nature makes me weak. And weakness in Hebrew language does not mean a character fault. Then if you worked harder and prayed more and meant it better, if you studied harder that you’d rise above all these weaknesses, because if your effort and enlightenment could generate that outcome, Jesus died in vain. In Hebrew language, the word weakness means disability. You can’t fix it, but you can collaborate with Dr. Jesus and manage it. That it doesn’t manage you. That you may walk in freedom. So diabetes, I don’t have it, but my family line does. So I’m at risk, predisposed. So I’ve lived a pre-diabetic lifestyle for many years. And now that I am 200, it’s really paid off. And so somebody said to me the other day, “Gee, you look kind of tired, Sy.” I said, “Thanks.” I said, “I’m actually not tired. I don’t have any more collagen.” But nothing goes back. I sleep on my pillow. I get a crease on my face and it takes eight hours to massage it. But anyway, weakness means disability. And I think of diabetes. If you have serious diabetes, you know what I’m going to say. It is not presently curable, but it is manageable, but management is tedious. A meal you enjoy without thought can kill a diabetic in four to six hours. So the diabetic has to draw blood before and after every meal, every day to ensure they’re getting their metabolic balance right. Then they have to exercise the cardiovascular system and keep the weight off to make sure that they don’t have, you know, a compromised cardiovascular system that results in amputation of hands and feet. They have to pay attention to the urine to make sure kidneys filter properly. They have to pay attention to eyesight to make sure retinas aren’t painlessly bleeding, and suddenly they go blind. They have to pay attention, pay attention, pay attention to keep the balance right, that if they do the tedious drill, it is not futile. There is a tangible, real world pay off and benefit. They manage it. It doesn’t manage them. But no matter how good they are at managing, according to the doctor’s orders, they will never produce their own insulin. They have to depend on the doctor to give them what management doesn’t produce. True for your body. True for your soul. In my journey, when I was outside of Christ, I did not think about the things that I fed on. I didn’t think about the fruit that I produced. I didn’t think about any of it in the slack, self-indulgent way I live my life. Then I’d come to Christ and Dr. Jesus puts me on a new narrow regimen and it is narrow and it is tedious. And I’ve got to exercise my faith, that it doesn’t atrophy. I got to pay attention to the fruit that I produce to maintain my balance. I’ve got to pay attention to the things on which I feed. I have to pay attention, pay attention, pay attention.
Sy: But as I do the paying attention, I begin to manage my weakness instead of my weakness managing me. But, but no matter how good I am at managing, I will never produce my own righteousness and salvation. I’ve got to depend on Dr. Jesus to give me what management does not produce. What am I saying? I’m saying ladies, I will never be so holy and healed in this life that I outgrow depending on God as my first foundation. I’m the sinner. He’s the savior. I get dirty. He makes me clean. I’m the weak one, but he’s the strong one. And he never says. “My character is glorified by eliminating all of your weaknesses, so you’re a superior human compared to everybody else. I’ll make you been vulnerable.” No. Instead it’s, “You’re weak. I’m strong. And my strength is made, completed that in your weakness, not its elimination.” So do not hate your weakness. God will meet you there. He will meet you there. Secondly, well it’s one thing to have vulnerability on the inside, but now we’ve also got the reality of cultural influences around us. And kind of like fish in the water, don’t even know they’re wet, like a boat in strong current, it’s one thing to be vulnerable, but we are also swept along by powerful influences. We don’t often consciously recognize. And so whether that’s the family of origin, what did they teach you about sex? Did they prepare you for struggle, yearning, burning, longing, lusting? Did your family teach you that if these bad things happen, you’re raped, you’re touched wrongly and abused that there was healing and recovery, that it’s not that which will really define you? What did your family prepare you for in the culture that talks explicitly through magazines and television and media about sexuality? Is your voice louder than that, of the world? Because if it isn’t, the world wins by default.
Sy: And therefore, you know, I think not only do we have a family of origin and I’m not here to fault anybody, none of us are perfect parents, none of us come from perfect homes, but some homes are more intentional. So I also think we have peer culture. You know, we’ve organized our society and educational institutions via age group. And, uh, studies have been done about the risk of sexual acting out based on peer group influence. But studies have shown that if the bond between mom and dad is stronger than with peer group, that you will generally survive peer group influence, that you’ll be anchored in the swirling current. But what happens is many parents think, “Oh, my kids don’t want to talk to me. And my parents never talked to me and they’ll just roll their eyes.” And so parents abdicate, instead of becoming more intentional and thus, when we abdicate, we leave them vulnerable to the only shepherd they’ve really got. And that’s the pied piper of popular culture. We live in a media civilization. And by the time your kid turns 16, they’ve already listened from the age of four to 16 to 11,000 hours of hellavision, television.
Sy: That does not count film and music or four more hours a day in social media. They have not had 11,000 hours of meaningful dialogue with God Almighty. They haven’t had 11,000 hours of reading the Bible or going to church. They haven’t had 11,000 hours of talking to mom and dad about the issues that really matter in shaping their lives. But they’ve had since the age of four, the pied piper of popular culture on average, four hours a day, tell them what’s hot, what’s not, and how they better comply, or they will not be validated. And for impressionable kids, they are driven by that voice.
Sy: So in studies of young adult Christians who go to church twice a week reveals they’re having sex at the same rate as the pagans, it tells me who they’re listening to for their guidance and wisdom in boundary setting and sexual activity. They’re not bad. They’ve been misled. And thank God, we’ve got a shepherd who leads us back on the path to the good stuff.
Sy: (laughs) And therefore we’ve got to learn to discern his voice above the fray because there is a fray. There are many voices coming at us. Whose voice is the loudest, most influential, most present? Sending kids to church a couple of times a week sounds good. But for 90 minutes, a pop compared to four hours a day, it’s basically like throwing a wishful pebble at a cultural tsunami.
John: Pastor Sy Rogers on today’s episode of Focus on the Family. And this is a fascinating presentation. We’ll hear the balance of it next time.
Jim: Yeah, and I’m looking forward to that, John. Uh, I really appreciated Sy’s input on popular culture, but I want to reflect back on the earlier part of his message as we close. Obviously, Sy was traumatized by that early sexual abuse, his mother’s death, and being separated from his father at only six years old when he was sent off to live with female relatives, that is a lot to handle. And that trauma, uh, impacted Sy for a large portion of his life. And it’s important to note that trauma does not heal itself. You can stuff it down, but those wounds will be reflected in your self-image and how you relate to others until you deal with it. So if Sy’s testimony brought up some difficult memories for you, please give us a call. We have a team of caring Christian counselors who are here to meet your needs. It’s a service that we’ve provided here at Focus on the Family for over 40 years. There’s no obligation at all. This is a free one-time consultation and it’s made possible by our donors.
John: Yeah, and so call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And just ask for a call back from one of the counselors. Again, that number 800-232-6459.
Jim: And let me point out that our counseling team responds to about 2000 requests every month. That’s a lot of hurting people. In fact, let me give you some examples of the topics they’ve handled recently. A mom called because their son has anger issues and threatened to kill her. Another mom called about her daughters who are severely depressed. One is in rehab for alcohol abuse and the other is suicidal. A pastor called for help overcoming an addiction to pornography. So if you have an issue, a bigger small, please call us and I’d encourage everyone to pray for the work of those counselors. And if you can consider making a monthly pledge to Focus on the Family to support their efforts and all of our efforts. Any amount would be greatly appreciated on that monthly basis. And when you make a pledge, I’d like to send you a CD of this two-day presentation from Sy Rogers as our way of saying thank you. And if you can’t make a monthly commitment right now, we understand. We can send that CD out to you for a one-time donation of any amount. Join us as we help families around the world thrive in healthy relationships, and most importantly, in Christ,
John: Yeah, donate and request your CD when you call 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459 or you can donate online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And if you enjoyed today’s presentation, please tell a friend to tune in next time. We’re going to hear more from Sy Rogers.
Sy: And you don’t have to be a Christian or a rocket scientist to recognize that mismanaged sexuality brings terrible consequence. Oh, 50 years ago, the sexual revolution brought us all a lot of casual sex, but it also brought a lot of sexual casualties.