Singer-songwriter Dennis Jernigan recounts his former struggles with homosexuality and describes how he found hope, restoration and a new identity through his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. (Part 2 of 2)
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John Fuller: The following program contains explicit material and isn't suitable for younger listeners.
He struggled for years thinking that God was distant, but singer-songwriter Dennis Jernigan looks back today and realized that God was with him.
Dennis Jernigan: My perspective was one thing, but God's perspective was, "You thought I abandoned you. Quite the opposite, son. Quite the opposite was true."
End of Recap
John: Well, it's so true that God is in the midst of darkness and struggles and He does carry us through those times and you'll hear an encouraging message today from Dennis Jernigan, as we continue the conversation. I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, I was so captivated by the discussion yesterday. If you did not hear it, download it, get the CD, get in touch with us because it was powerful. And as a little boy I was so connecting to what Dennis was saying. I didn't fall into the trap of homosexuality or those things, but I was searching for someone to say "You matter."
Jim: And there are a lot of children in this culture today; 43 percent of kids live in a home without a father.
Jim: There are some searching young souls saying to themselves, "Do I matter to anybody?" And unfortunately, there are many people who are willing to prey on those trusting young people as they are seeking love. And that was part of the story last time and it is a pleasure to welcome back Dennis Jernigan, whom you said is a song writer and musician. Dennis, welcome back to Focus on the Family.
Dennis: My pleasure. Thanks for having me again.
Jim: I don't want to waste too much time. Last time you might say we left really leaving on the cliff.
Jim: And we were talking about your background in homosexuality as a 5-year-old boy, being exposed to the man in the bathroom, not having affirmation from your own father and then falling into that affirmation, finding it with older boys as you were growing up. And we left off last time right when you were taking advantage of by an older Christian man, somebody who befriended you, I would say groomed that opportunity--
Dennis: Very much so.
Jim: --to prey on you and not in the best sense, but to, you know, show you good things so that he could get what he wanted. We left off there. Talk about the wound of that and maybe recap for us those events quickly.
Dennis: Sure. I had gone to this one I considered a mentor, a spiritual leader, an adviser for me and like you said, a father figure. And I just divulged the most devastating secret of my life and in that honest moment, was taken advantage of; betrayed. And I felt humiliated so much so that I demanded that he take me home to my little apartment where I lived by myself. And he had the audacity to say well, let me just pray with you.
And I'm like, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? I ran into my apartment. It was in the winter. I had a little gas heating stove. I just turned it on. I did not light the flame. And I just laid down on the floor. I couldn't go on. I was done. And after a few minutes, I don't even know how long it was, it was probably not as long as I think it was, but these thoughts began to come into my mind. Are you prepared for eternity? Do you know what waits for you out there? And I couldn't answer those questions.
Dennis: That scared me so badly. I get up, turn off the gas stove and I just make this statement to myself: "This is just the way I was born. I'm gonna stop fighting it. I'm gonna embrace it." And I have to be honest with you, for a season, that gave me peace, 'cause I thought, "I'm done fighting. And so, I lived the rest of 1980, graduated the spring of 1981, actually travelled all over the country promoting the university. They had expressed interest in me doing that, so I did.
And what they didn't know was that I was in a homosexual relationship with another man, because by that time, I had surmised that everyone I knew in the Christian world, that everyone was playing games. That was my little warped perception. Everybody's wearing masks. Nobody's being real. So what's the harm in me doing this? You know I can play all the games just like they can.
So what I expected with that brief season of peace was even more peace, but that was not to be. Through the course of this relationship I was in, I just began to realize, I'm being used here and if that's the case, I'm also using this other person. We call it love, but I'm just using my--.
Jim: Why did—
Jim: --you have that thought? What sparked that conclusion all of a sudden? You're accepting it. You're saying everybody else has a mask. Here's my mask. You're emboldened in that--
Dennis: Um hm.
Dennis: Um hm.
Jim: And then somehow another voice is saying to you, "Wait a minute. You're just using each other and it's not right." What was that?
Dennis: I can only chalk that up to the fact that was the Lord somehow speaking to me. I really do.
Dennis: And it gets even better than that y'all. Cause I got enough grace about me, strength to cut off this relationship. And in that moment just felt a, just a surge of freedom in my life. Three days before I was to go to seminary, a buddy of mine called who had graduated college a year before me. And he said, "Dennis, the Lord's been speaking to me about you." And that just scared me to death, 'cause my thoughts were He doesn't speak to me about me, so what in the world could He be saying to you?
He said, "Dennis the Lord, He came to me in a dream actually and in this dream He showed me that He was going to give you hundreds and hundreds of songs and people all over the world are gonna be singing your songs." And I thought he's a fool. He's crazy. He's lost his mind. He said to confirm it to you, my mother had the same dream and we just began talking about this and we don't think it's a coincidence. We believe that's the Lord working.
Jim: And at this point you had not published a song.
Dennis: No, because of the statements from my encounter with the professor my freshman year, I'd written maybe three or four songs during my college career. So I just didn't feel like I had it in me.
Jim: So this was out of the blue.
Dennis: Very much so.
Jim: That's my point.
Dennis: Just very much out of the blue. He said, "We believe it's not a coincidence. We believe the Lord would have us invite you to move to Oklahoma City. Just move in with us. Give God a chance to work this in your life," so three days later I'm in Oklahoma City. And I'd reasoned myself I'll find a job quickly because I got my big church music degree. I'll find a job quickly. And I did driving a school bus for the local school district. It's all I could find.
Dennis: But as I look back now I see exactly how that was the hand of the Lord because think of it, I had morning routes, afternoon routes. And hours in the day where I am literally losing my mind, because think of this. My mind on one hand is being bombarded with homosexual thoughts, I mean bombarded. On the other hand, here's my friend telling me the things the Lord speaking to him and here's what His word says and here's what the truth is.
And I just thought well, I remember the stories of King Saul from my Sunday School days. He was beset by evil spirits and they would send for that shepherd boy to come play his harp. And David would worship and it says the enemy would flee from Saul. I'll do that for myself.
So after my morning bus routes, I'd go to my friend's piano while he was at work and his mom was at work. And I put my bible on the piano and opened it to Psalm 1 and began singing until it was time for my next bus ride. I literally sung through the Psalms.
My point is this. I was seeking God. I was so desperate for God. I just began singing his word to Him and I'd discovered in the process, here's David. He committed adultery. He committed murder, but he's remembered as being a man after God's own heart. And if He can do that for David, then surely He could do that for me.
So as time progressed, I would sing all these songs. Then I began writing my own, because I thought how do I express to You, Lord, what my needs are? And so, I would write my own songs and my friend would come home from work and he would say, "What'd you do today? And I'd said, "Well, I got this song and it's like in your dream, I'm getting so many songs." And we would sing them together and worship. And we'd have these campfire meetings where we'd worship. A couple of times, we started worshipping as the sun was going down and we were still worshipping when the sun came up.
And then my friend, I don't know how he found out, but he said, "Dennis, I know what you're struggling with." And I said, "Oh yeah, you do, huh." He said, "Yeah, it's homosexual thought." I'm like, "What?" It scared me so badly I thought, I'm ruined, I'm done. So it's the middle of the night. I run out of his house and I'm running and running and running. And it's one of those moments where you come to the end of yourself and you realizing, "Where am I running to? There's absolutely nothing left in my life. This is the bottom. I have nothing left."
So I just stopped in the middle of that street in Del City, Oklahoma, suburb of Oklahoma City. And I just look up to the sky. It's a moonlight night. And I said. "If You are real, I really need to hear from You now." And this is where people think I'm kinda crazy, but a moonlight night, full moon. two clouds in the sky. One cloud looked like an old man with a beard. The other looked like a little lamb. You know how kids will see shapes in clouds; that was one of those moments. Well, they began drawing near to each other and the little lamb was consumed by the old man and I thought, "Did I just see what I think I saw? That was You, Lord."
I just knew I could go back to my friend. I went back to my friend and he did the most amazing thing. He said, "Dennis I don't know how to help you, but I know I know the answer and the answer is Jesus." And I said, "I've heard that my whole life, but He's never come through." He said, "You have not heard it like this, son."
"I believe Jesus is the answer so much that I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get to Him. Let's just walk towards Him together shoulder to shoulder. And if you fall down, I will not kick you; I will not say, "I told you so." You know what I'll do every time? I will help you up if you'll let me, every time, as long as it takes, I'll be there. You need a shoulder to cry on, I'm your guy. When you are so frustrated you don't understand what to say, even what questions to ask, you need to yell at someone, yell at me. I'll be your sounding board.
In a sense, I had to go outside the church to find someone who would love me like Jesus, because I had seen it from experience. You confess homosexual sin or homosexual behavior, you're invited out of the church in those days. So here's this guy telling me no, no. I'll be Jesus to you. I'll just walk towards Him with you. He still walks with me to this day by the way.
Jim: Let me ask you some questions right here.
Jim: Because I'm just thinking what other people are thinking, the thoughts I have in that regard. There's many lessons for all of us to learn right here. We tend to look at homosexuality as some kind of a super sin--
Jim: --that's it's above all others. There definitely is a political--
Jim: --fight going on in terms of rights and we get all that. I tend to think God is looking so far beneath all of that.
Dennis: I do, too.
Jim: That's almost like noise.
Jim: I know some people. I don't mean to offend anyone. These are important things, but people souls are far more important. And when you look at that, I have a couple of questions for you. One, how did you trust somebody--
Jim: --after being dealt so much mistrust for all those years, from the point of being 5-years-old, your father, the men in the church that talked so harshly, hatefully about homosexuals right in front of you, not know what you are struggling with, to the man who abused you in college: the Christian in quotes who came forward to want to be your friend and then made sexual advances toward you, to the point where you were going to take your life. And now another guy comes into your life saying, "No, no; I'll pick you up when you get knocked down." How did you have capacity to say, "Okay, I'll trust this guy?"
Dennis: Well, it uh in a nutshell, he laid his life down for me.
Jim: And you could feel it.
Dennis: I could feel that--
Jim: It was real.
Dennis: --he didn't care what anyone thought.
Dennis: It was very real. Here's a guy that that had no skin in the game as far as I could tell. He was gonna prove the love of Jesus to me.
Jim: Before we move to that moment, how it really--
Jim: --happened and the way you got more cemented and rooted in your relationship with Christ, talk about the cultural moment just for a second.Talk about our attitude in the church toward that community and help instruct us to express God's care, His truth, His love maybe in ways that we haven't even thought about it. We're so entrenched in the fight, Dennis--
Jim: --that I'm so worried we're missing the bigger picture. Instruct me. If you were sitting down with me over coffee right now and I was saying, man this doggone people. They're trying to take our rights away. These people are evil. They're rotten. They're horrible. What would you say to me?
Dennis: Well, and to the first question, the cultural attitudes of the day when I was growing up was like Monopoly. If you're homosexual, you do not pass go; you do not get to collect $200. You get to go straight to hell. That was really the attitude.
What my friend displayed to me was what I would really challenge the body of Christ to step up to the plate and do. You don't have to have gone through homosexuality or drug addiction or whatever you want to fill in that particular blank with to help somebody else out. You just need to know the answer and be willing to get involved in the messiness of that person's life and see that's what my friend did. He said "I don't care how messy you are. What the messed up parts of your life are. Let's just dive in together. Let's just do this together and let's walk towards Jesus together. That's all he did. I just needed to see somebody that thought I was valuable enough to lay down their own life for me.
Jim: Talk about that person's character. Was he coming out of brokenness? Did he have experiences in his life?
Dennis: He came from a broken home, very much so--
Dennis: --and just all manner of brokenness in his own life. I didn't necessarily know all of that at the time, but he certainly demonstrated the grace of God to me. It was like he understood at some level the roots of my sin.
Here's the cool thing that I discovered through the years is, I had the glorious opportunity to grow up on a farm. And my dad would hand me a hoe and say, "Okay, I want you to hoe the weeds in this garden, but I want you to something. Don't just chop off the top son; I want you to get to the root." Homosexuality wasn't my main thing. It just wasn't.
I knew that there were roots that had led me to homosexuality. So, I needed to get to the roots and for me, the roots were what you've already expressed: my need to know that I mattered to somebody else. And I …you know, people ask, you know, "Why do you, after your concerts and ministry times stay 'til the last person's there, even … even if you're dog tired?" I said, "Well, here's the deal. People need to know they're worth something.
Dennis: Even if I have no words to say to them, my just paying a little bit of attention to them, just communicates value to them and worth to them.
Dennis: So, I figure I've done my job if I can point people to Jesus, Who really does give the most value possible.
Jim: Dennis, man, I want to say a couple of things that might be really hard-hitting.
Jim: And slap me down if you think I'm wrong really.
Dennis: (Laughs) Sure.
Jim: Because again there are really two things that are running through my head. One is the lack of humility in the church to understand one simple thing: that we're all sinners, saved by grace. Man, there's just a conviction that I have about that, that we tend to act like we're perfect and that we're gonna hold the culture accountable to some kind of perfection that we can't even live up to?
And then we manifest that to other people and it's a turnoff, 'cause they can't do it either. They're more honest with themselves than we are. And it … it just isn't healthy. And I'm sitting here thinking about this in the context of homosexuality or adultery or "the big David sins, murder, I mean you mentioned them earlier.
Jim: How do we get to a place in the church where we can say, "We're all broken," rather than, "Look at me; I'm perfect"?
Dennis: I think every believer needs to take a good hard long look in the mirror and just be honest. What would keep me from revealing the hurts of my own life? What would keep me from being that honest with somebody else? I don't know why I'm thinking of this, but 1 Corinthians, verse 9 to 11, basically lists a list of sins and homosexuality just happens to be one of them, but it's not No. 1 on the list; it's not the last on the list. It's just in the list. And it says such were some of you. I believe every believer needs to look at that list and take stock because one sin separates us from God. That's all it takes and so, we're all in the same boat. And if we don't think we are, there may be an issue of pride and we need to deal with our pride.
Jim: Let me ask this last thing and then we'll get back and wind the story up, 'cause it's beautiful what the Lord has done in your life and testimony. Why do we, as human beings, why do we lean into Pharisaism? What pulls us in that direction? I mean here, 2,000 years ago, these men that were well-esteemed in the culture, they're paying their tithes. They dressed every day. They got up and kissed their wives and put phylacteries on, wound things around their arms and forehead to prove they were religious and faithful to God. They were probably really straight arrows.
Jim: I mean, really, they were. And they got applauded for it and, "Wow, look at those men!" and "Aren't they esteemed?" And Jesus just went after them--
Dennis: Sure He did.
Jim: --like a hound dog, saying, ""You guys, you got it on the outside; you got nothin' on the inside." How can we, 2,000 years later, having it written down for us, so easily repeat that same mistake?
Dennis: [The] first thing that comes to my mind, honestly, is just pride. We don't want to be seen as we really are and because that might mean we're not that lovable; we're not that perfect; we're not that whatever. The bottom line is, God loves each of us right where we are and if we can ever grasp that, then there's nothing in this life that we cannot overcome. And there's no reason for a believer to not be as honest as somebody in the world. We have every reason to be honest because we have the One who is capable of setting every person free and redeeming. And so, I don't know if that answers your question.
Jim: It does and so many people who are rightfully are rooted in truth, that we're not talking about moving away from truth. Whenever anybody hears empathy or hears a heart for the broken-hearted, the hardliners will often say, "Ah, they're moving away from truth!" They're not mutually exclusive. You can be honest with people. You just don't have to be mean-spirited--
Dennis: That's right.
Jim: --in when you do it and that's the problem.
Dennis: Yeah, it's like when you're making soup. You know, we talk about being the salt and the light of the world, but you don't put just salt in the soup or you can't even taste it. And so, I choose to be salt, but I choose to flavor my soup with the love of Go, as well.
Jim: That's right.
Dennis: So, we've gotta get to that place where we are salt. We are light, but we gotta temper it all with the love of God.
Jim: Well, I love Romans 2:4, which comes right behind a tough chapter in Romans 1 about sexuality, but then Paul says, do you not know it's God's kindness that leads you to repentance?
Dennis: That's what … that's what led me to repentance.
Jim: Think of that! That's what breaks the heart--
Dennis: Very much so.
Jim: --because the one tool the enemy cannot deal with is the love of God.
Dennis: Yeah, the church did not love me right where I was; Jesus did.
Jim: Get back to the story--
Jim: - then. There you are. You've got this great soul mate walking with you--this friend who's gonna pick you up when you're down. Take us through the growth of the story there.
Dennis: Around the same time that my friend confronted me, that band I had spoken of earlier, Second Chapter of Acts, was going to be at the University of Oklahoma. I could not afford their new record, so I get there early enough so no one could see the good Baptist boy sneak in with his tape recorder and three blank tapes.
Jim: (Laughs) Set it right there, whoops!
Dennis: He's gonna get a three-album set that night! It's called bootlegging. It is illegal. It is sin, but this is how merciful God is, because He allowed me to record the moment of my redemption. I listen to it all the time now. It's why my story stays so fresh. I don't live in the past, but I get to go back and relive it in a very, very unique way.
I got there early, got my seat and lovin' the concert and they get to a song called "Mansion Builder." The chorus just simply says, "Why should I worry? Why should I fret? I've got a mansion builder, Who ain't through with me yet." Then they stop singing and Annie Herring begins to speak. And there's 4,500 people in this auditorium, but it's like she's speaking right to me, 'cause she said something very significant in that moment. She said, "The Lord has put it on my heart that there's somebody here tonight who's gone through things they never dreamed they would have to go through in their life.
So they began to sing and my heart begins to break, because you have to understand I thought homosexual sin was too vile for Jesus to take on the cross, 'cause that's what the church had actually communicated to me: "God can't handle homosexuality" and here's this lady telling me just the opposite now.
And so, on the tape you hear them singing and me begin to sob, because my heart is broken, I realized in that moment, I place not just my sin on the shoulders of Jesus, I place myself there with Him. I am crucified with Christ and that just flooded my mind and I'm sobbing by the time this song is over, 'cause I see myself not only crucified with Christ, I see myself buried with Him and the next thing I know, Jesus is standing at the head of my tomb and He's saying, "Dennis Jernigan, come forth, but you leave the old you in the grave, because he's dead now."
Dennis: So I did. I walked out of homosexuality that night. That doesn't mean the temptation stopped right away. Temptation defines no man. Jesus was tempted in every manner just as we are, yet without sin. So that cleared that up for me very quickly. The Lord said, "If you'll follow me, then I'll show you how to be free. You're as free as you're gonna be in faith, son. You're free. You're born again. You're a brand new creation."
That's what he did with my homosexual thought as well. "Son, I created you to be a heterosexual being, so I want you to get with some men who have never struggled with same-sex attraction and want you to learn from them and I'll lead you to them."
So, over a two year period, the Lord brought so much healing into my life that by 1983, He gave my me wife Melinda and we just celebrated 31 years of marriage together.
Jim: How many kids?
Dennis: Nine kids and five grandkids so far, so I like to share about my family because in my mind, that's what the enemy of God was trying to rob from me.
Jim: Boy, it's so true.
Dennis: Very true.
Jim: Somebody told me, actually a Catholic monsignor. He said, "You know, In the Catholic church what we believe is that Satan so despises God, the Father, choosing to manifest His divine nature in human beings and He does that in male and female--that the two shall become one flesh; It's a divine act that He's done--
Dennis: Very much so.
Jim: And Satan so despises it, that's why he attacks it, because it reminds him every day that God has put His blessing, His divine nature into human beings and not the angels. And it's something for us to ponder. Dennis, we have run out of time.
Dennis: Of course.
Jim: And what an incredible story. Let me ask you, though, right at the end. You have a tombstone on your property and I think it'd be a fitting place to tell us why.
Dennis: Well, a friend of mine just wanted me to have a gift that would remind me of who I am and whose I am at any given moment. This tombstone, it's down on the front of my property. I live on a hill and you can see the house, but I put the tombstone out by the road and it says, basically, "The man who lives in the house on the top of this hill died to sin on November 7, 1981 and rose to a new life, new identity in Jesus Christ." I put it by the road so people could, they do this all the time. They slow down, "Well, who's buried there?" Well it's me. It's my old self. He's dead and gone.
Jim: It is a great reminder of what has taken place for those of us who have put our trust, our faith, our hope, in Christ. Dennis, people right now are saying "I need that peace. I need that relationship." Can I ask you to pray for those that are broken--
Jim: --like us, that are searching and have not yet found the Savior? Can you pray for them?
Dennis: Sure, I'd love to. Father, I thank You, first of all, for all that You did to get to us. Thank You for wanting us so much that You'd send Your Son to take all our sin, all our brokenness, all our hurt upon Himself. And I ask You to show each person listening to this broadcast exactly what that looks like or could look like for them.
And Father, I ask You to reveal yourself to them. Just surprise people with Your presence. Reveal Your Word to them. And Father, I just ask You to bless those who listen with all that You are, with healing, with peace, with joy, with restoration, with redemption.
And Father, I ask You to create in this listening audience, just the awareness that You are here and that You're approachable.Thank You for Your son, Jesus Christ.Thank You for those who are listening in Jesus' name. Amen.
Jim: Amen. Dennis Jernigan, songwriter, musician, son of the Most High.
Jim: Thank you for being with us.
Dennis: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
John: There is so much that we've touched upon in these past couple days and if you're at that point where you need a trusted friend like Dennis Jernigan had, someone to come alongside you in the journey toward healing, I hope you'll take that first step by allowing us to help you here at Focus on the Family. Talk to a counselor about your past and request a booklet called "Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God's Family." It'll walk you through those steps toward finding hope in Jesus. You can contact us when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
And then you can download that "Coming Home" booklet and get a copy of Dennis' story as captured in a 90-minute DVD called Sing Over Me. You'll find those resources at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . And in fact, we'll send that DVD to you of Dennis's story, when you make a generous donation of any amount to the ongoing work of Focus on the Family today. Just ask for it when you call.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, when we'll hear from Dr. Kara Powell on some practical ways that you can build a foundation of lasting faith for your children, as we once again, provide trusted advice to help your family thrive.
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