OBU alum Dennis Jernigan, an internationally known songwriter and speaker, visited Bison Hill Wednesday, Feb. 22, to share his story with students and advocate the use of worship to overcome struggles throughout life.
Jernigan played the piano as he spoke, quoting John 8:32, a Scriptural passage about the truth setting people free. He said he has met many people who quote the verse but have no idea how to walk in freedom. His message, "The Various Paths of Worship," follows OBU's current chapel theme, "The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship," based on the book by Christian author A.W. Tozer.
Sharing his personal experiences, Jernigan gave students a brief overview of how his life developed in the midst of a struggle with an unwanted same-sex attraction. After a traumatic experience as a young boy, he began to "believe little lies," he said. Although Jernigan could hear a song on the radio and play it on the piano by age six, he did not view his musical ability as a gift from God. He was harassed at school, and he consistently sought affirmation, so he played sports to please his father.
As Jernigan grew, he said he felt very alone and lost. He often felt condemned by people he looked up to, but he found friendship and protection through the young men on his basketball team, who he said "wouldn't let anybody touch me."
"My life was basketball, avoiding people to beat me up, going home and playing the piano for three hours because nobody could touch me there, then going to sleep," Jernigan said. "And in my sleep, I could make myself dream."
Through fanciful dreams, Jernigan said, God was painting a picture of rescue every night.
Jernigan attended OBU as a music major and saw many glimpses of God during his years in college. He continued to struggle with his unwanted attraction, having never confessed his inward anguish. Battling suicidal thoughts, Jernigan finally admitted to a mentor that he felt trapped in bondage. After being betrayed by the same mentor, however, Jernigan felt he had no other choice than to live a double life, hiding his struggles and learning to live with them.
After graduating from OBU in 1981, Jernigan found solace in singing through the Psalms. He attended a worship event that changed his life, freeing him from years of bondage. He said he finally believed God was perfectly capable of dealing with his sin and forgiving him for it.
"The most-asked question in my life is 'Was your healing instant or a process?'" Jernigan said. "The answer is 'Yes.'"
"In an instant I was made a brand new creation," he explained. "The process is like Lazarus: for over 30 years now, guys, I've been walking toward Jesus, fully alive in Christ, but like Lazarus, still bound in the old grave clothes, I need help. I've needed help getting them torn off, but God has been faithful in doing just that."
Jernigan finished his time of sharing by singing a song of deliverance over the students, asking those who needed healing to stand, and for the surrounding students to lay hands on their classmates and pray as he sang. More than half of the students stood together, their arms around one another and their heads bowed in prayer, as Jernigan sang.
"It's gonna be all right now," Jernigan sang of God's love. "Just trust me. You must let go, or you will never know any deeper love in Me."
Jernigan has been married to Melinda Hewitt Jernigan, also a 1981 OBU alum, for 27 years. Together they have nine children. For more information about their ministry, click here.