Forbidden Friendships – can men and women be friends? (godly sexuality)

male and female

After reading the exceptional book Forbidden Friendships it is my absolute pleasure to have the author, Joshua D Jones, guest post on the topic of whether Christian men and women can ever be friends:

Having close friendships with members of the opposite gender is healthy, biblical and important for spiritual growth. Sadly, in the name of integrity, some churches construct walls that keep us from meaningful brother-sister friendships. These divisions are neither biblical nor in line with church history at its best. And contrary to their promise of safety, adhering to them actually puts us at greater risk of sexual immorality, not less.

Many churches employ the terms “brother” and “sister”—but they are often empty of any real meaning. Some now teach that men and women should never be close friends, believing that mixed friendships will lead into sexual sin or “emotional” affairs. Others may admit that men and women can share friendship—but then they let it die the death of a thousand qualifications. One well-known church website boasts of how none of the church staff ever “has lunch with someone of the opposite sex” or “rides alone in the car with someone of the opposite sex.” Boundaries abound. Sadly, though these rules have become commonplace over the last 20 years, adhering to them does not appear to have made us any purer.

God designed us male and female. We need each other. Marriage and family are not the only places this need should be expressed. If that were the case, single people would be helplessly cut off from the love and fellowship mixed friendship brings. And let’s be honest: we often don’t know what to do with the singles in our midst. In other centuries, Christian celibacy was viewed as a gift and a symbol of the coming kingdom of God. Jesus was single. Paul was both single and thankful for it. Now we pray for single people in hopes they find the magical one and only – giving them advice that is more Hollywood than Holy Word.

In response to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, various high-profile scandals – and the recent changes in marriage laws – many Christians have gotten defensive about marriage. It is right for us to defend the Biblical doctrines of marriage. But in doing so we have exalted the relationship to a godlike status – promising it can fulfil every social and emotional need. In the process, friendship – an institution that was once sacred to Christians – has taken a far back seat to marriage, out of fear that a friend might compete with a spouse. Friendships with the same gender are often neglected, and mixed friendships are seen as taboo.

My wife cannot fulfil the role of all of the sister/ mother relationships that my soul needs. Neither can I replace all of the brother/ father relationships that God may have for my wife in the church. We are not called to be a gathering of tightly defined families for God. We are called to be THE Family of God. It’s true that we must avoid putting ourselves in situations that bring about strong temptation – with either gender. And, yes, cross sex friendships can have pitfalls that we must be wise to avoid. We are naïve if we pretend that our fallen nature always makes this easy. But the possibility of something good being abused or misused is not a valid excuse for avoiding the good thing altogether.

Our new integrity rules are counter-productive because we have genuine needs for healthy male-female relationships. If we don’t get those needs met in healthy ways, we make ourselves vulnerable to seeking them out in unhealthy ways. The man who receives holy female affirmation from sisters in Christ is less likely to search for unholy female affirmation on a computer screen or and improper relationships. The woman who has godly fathers and brothers in the church caring for and encouraging her is less likely to be looking for ungodly masculine love through erotica and illicit interactions. By separating ourselves from healthy interaction with the opposite sex, we are not farther from sin but more open to it.

Contrary to what Freud taught, we can live happily without sex. But we can’t live happily without intimacy. Paul instructs Timothy, “Talk to younger men as you would to your own brothers. Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters” (1 Tim 5:2). The church is to be a place where father, mother, sister, brother, aunt and uncle relationships can flourish – across biological, generational, and gender lines.

Joshua D. Jones tweets, reads, prays, and smokes pipe tobacco in his yellow arm chair in Therfield, England. He enjoys his family and meeting up with his best friends for coffee, food, and conversations about everything and nothing. He gets to pastor Therfield Chapel – a delightful church full of fun and ferocious saints. He frolics in fields of nouns, verbs, and alliterating adjectives over at his blog, sanitys-cove.com.

In addition to his book, Forbidden Friendships, he has just released Elijah Men Eat Meat – a book of short but strong readings for young men based on the life of Elijah.

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Hugh Hefner I’m sorry for what we did (godly sexuality)

Hugh Hefner

Last night Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, died aged 91.

Many in the media are mourning his loss as he was someone who “advocated free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom” and many men are joking that it’s the only death in history where no one will say “he’s in a better place now”.  This is despite the appalling way he treated some of the women in his ‘care’ that girls like, Izabella St James and Holly Madison, are only now starting to reveal.

What are we, as Christians, to make of this man?

Too often we are quick to condemn and despise him for the way he has led so many astray. So much so, that the magazine was losing about $3m annually as its content pales in comparison to what is now available online.

The truth is slightly less black and white. It’s like the parents cursing the next generation for “going off the rails” whilst ignoring that they raised them.

Both Hugh Hefner and his contemporary Alfred Kinsey were raised in Strict Methodist Homes. Kinsey went on to publish “Sexual behaviour in the human male” in 1948 which contained biased research and promoted his view that delayed sexual experience was psychologically harmful and Hefner started Playboy in 1953 and donated millions of dollars to change sex laws and fought a series of cases that lead eventually to Rowe vs Wade and legalised abortion.

In Hefner’s “Christian” upbringing, sex was taboo—the body inherently tainted and “sinful.” Hefner, says that “There was absolutely no hugging or kissing in my family” and so he started Playboy magazine as “a personal response to the hurt and hypocrisy of our puritan heritage.”

You can see the hurt of this expressed in this quote from him in Playboy, Jan 1974:

“The Puritans thought they could simply repress man’s sexual nature, and they reaped a whirlwind as a result. Their code of sexual morality — which became America’s — was nothing more than a set of rules laid down by people who believed that all pleasure was suspect.”

In fact his parents were simply continuing the long tradition that has plagued the history of sexuality in the Church which says sex is holy but it is not good.

What is the consequence of this repression of the goodness of sexuality. Well, as Christopher West puts it so eloquently in his excellent book Fill These Hearts:

“A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or I’m going to die…That’s why the culture’s “fast-food gospel” – the promise of immediate gratification through indulgence of desire – inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the “starvation diet gospel”. I don’t know about you, but if the only two choices are starvation or greasy chicken nuggets, I’m going for the nuggets”

The children rebelled and said sex is good and not holy.

Neither one is correct but we flip-flop between repression and rebellion.

Why is this? CS Lewis puts his finger on the cause:

“[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.”

We as Christians need to get the balance right – it’s so tempting to repeat the same mistakes of our parents and their parents before them, especially as this world becomes more depraved.

Our God given sexuality, like fire, is powerful.  But just like a fire if we don’t light it then the house gets cold and people crave warmth from anything and if we light it outside of the fireplace then we’ll burn our house down.

We must teach our children that our God given sexuality is both good and holy and give them a vision that is so much brighter and purer than anything the world has to offer.

Hugh Hefner, I’m sorry that we preached a gospel that wasn’t a gospel at all but only man-made rules that seem wise but are powerless to bring any change to what we feared (Col 2:20-23).  I’m sorry we then condemned you when you rebelled against one lie and embraced another.  I’m sorry we preached one thing in public but did another in private and never owned up to our faults but kept it all hidden.  Forgive us.

I also recommend Christopher West’s compassionate post on this topic.

Dealing with bad language (godly parenting)

what to do when my child uses bad words
*CONTENT WARNING*
This post will use the bad language that one of my children said.
The purpose is that you can experience the horror but still see how to respond in a godly way.

“I have to teach you a great new card game the boys taught me at my camp!” my eldest boy said excitedly at the dinner table, “It’s called cocksucker.”

Time stood still.

“I’m sorry?” I managed to splutter whilst chocking on a piece of potato.

“cocksucker” he said again.

Maybe my wife and I had misheard, “cobsucker?” I asked hopefully.

“No, COCKsucker,” he said again.

OK….he clearly means the very word we wished he had never mentioned to all of us.

Now the main problem with being a Christian parent is that we can all too easily react to the world’s darkness rather than acting from a Kingdom perspective. The light is so much more powerful than darkness – and so we don’t need to be afraid of what our children pick up. But we do need to turn on the light and help them see things in the light of truth.

I wanted to shout “how dare you use that filthy language in my house!”

Now whilst this would have vented my anger and satisfied my righteous indignation it wouldn’t have helped my son (or the rest of the children gathered round the table) what that word meant and why it was unsuitable. Nor would it have helped him make good choices in the future.

Instead he would have learnt to not share his excitement, to keep quiet about words he hears at school or (in this case) “Christian camp” and then go and seek answers elsewhere.

I want my children to come to me and ask me about what they pick up in the world so that I give (what I hope is) godly wisdom and advice.  This means that I first have to become unshockable like Jesus.

Jesus often knew what people were up to (eg the woman at the well Jn 4:17-18 and Jesus anointed by the sinful woman Lk 7:39) and he hung out with tax collectors and sinners (Mt 9:10) and would have heard coarse language from these common people.  Yet we don’t see any mention of him reacting or being shocked by sin.  Why?  Because sin is no threat to him – he is a threat to sin.  He knew since the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) that sin was a defeated enemy.

So I needed to have a calm and candid conversation with our son that went something like this: “cock is a slang word for a man’s penis.  It’s used to describe how it’s not something precious made by God but something that is used to go anywhere and do anything just like a cockerel struts around and does what he wants.  So you can see what cocksucker will mean.  However, the phrase cocksucker us used to say that they will do want they want and you must suck it up – you must be their slave.”

My son went rather pale at this point when he realised how they had treated him.

“So I think they weren’t being very kind to you.”

My son received this information and was then able to make a wise choice about the word and to his credit he calls the game President instead.

Now in our case it was clear that he had no idea what the word meant.  Sometimes a word might be said to see what reaction it gets or as deliberate defiance.  The first time it occurs we need to have a conversation like the one above and then subsequent times it occurs we can take appropriate disciplinary action.

Good word bad word project

Walker Moore in his excellent parenting book “You want to pierce what?” (which was developed further in his “Rite of Passage Parenting”) talks about the “good word bad word” project he did with his sons.  He got a big bit of paper and divided it into two columns – one for good words and the other for bad words.  Each evening they would discuss words they had met at school that they were unsure about their meaning.  He asked them not to repeat a word they’d heard at school until that point in the day he had told them the meaning and they could decide which column they would go in. If it was a bad word then they chose two good words to replace it and put them in the good word column.

In three years we had every swear word in the English language on the chart.  Eventually we had no more words to add to the bad word column. It’s amazing the communication barriers that go down when you are writing down filthy words with your children.  We also, however, wrote words that carried confusing meanings.  We were able to talk about subjects like homosexuality and abortion before our children reached nine years of age!  Opening up this kind of communication gave my children the knowledge that their parents would not over-react or be shocked at anything they wanted to discuss…without this project, my boys would have endured years of seeing Dad seethe with anger over words they heard at school, and the only lesson they they would have learned would have been, Don’t say the bad words in front of Dad.  Instead they learned that there are things that are good and things that are bad, and they must developed the skills to know the difference.

These skills were then applied in other areas of their lives.

Summary:

  • Firstly, let’s not be naive and think our children won’t encounter these words in their lives – we cannot shelter them from the world – indeed we are supposed to be in the world (but not of it) not separated from the world in a bubble. How can we be salt and light if we keep our salt and light separate.
  • Secondly, let’s not react to bad words – Jesus is more than able to save sinners and cleanse us from every wrong doing.
  • Thirdly, let’s train them – disciple them – and give them the tools they need to make great choices.

If you enjoyed this post then you may also enjoy another post I wrote called “Parenting with faith or with fear”.

Christ, the Church and Charlottesville

49240-broken2bjesus2bwm

There is a war on for our souls and Christians are unwittingly taking the side of the enemy and seeking to do his work for him.

More than ever we need to be wise to wiles of the enemy who is like a roaring lion seeking for someone to devour.

The three attacks that are coming at us are fear, division and hate.

Division

After the events in Charlottesville, the media is forcing us to take sides – we must choose between the KKK or anitfa, between the alt-right or the righteous left, between Democrats and Republicans.  This is a false dichotomy, to quote C S Lewis:

“[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.”

Soon as we choose a side we end up excusing the behaviour of “our” side and demonising the behaviour of the other.  Merely pointing out the flaws in one side, be it left or right, doesn’t make the other one automatically right.  The reality is that both sides are sinful and neither is our saviour.

Salvation belongs to the Lord and not to any political party*.

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Abraham Lincoln

We are called to be in the world but not of it and if we are taking sides then we have become worldly:

For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? (1 Cor 3:4)

In Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, Democrat or Republican, American or Mexican – we are one.  Jesus has broken down the dividing wall and we see in Revelation that every tribe and nation will be worshipping together.  Christ is One and the Church, His body, should therefore be One in Jesus.

Just as the Father and Jesus are One, we are meant to reflect that unity – this will then glorify God (Jn 17:22-23) .  Since there is unity in Christ anything that seeks to disrupt that unity is anti-Christ and so partners with the anti-Christ.**  If our churches have congregations that consists of just one race, or one political opinion, or one denominational belief then we are no longer declaring Christ to the world as we are no longer a unity but a uniformity.

Fear

In the OT the phrase “fear of the LORD” denotes worship of God – giving Him the awe and respect that only He deserves.

However, Satan seeks to make us worship something other than God and so wants us to fear something else.  That’s why idols are often frightening.

You see fear captivates our attention and means that we give something other than God our attention.  And the attention we give something ascribes its worth – this is the definition of worship.  So fear of something other than God is therefore idolatry.  As we give something other than God our fear, our attention, our worship we give it authority in our lives and so we empower this idol†.

“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.” 1 Pet 3:14-15 (NRSV)

The media is a great tool in Satan’s hand to increase our fear.  It only reports the bad because that takes our attention and brings in their advertising revenues.

“Don’t watch the news and you are uninformed, watch the news and you are misinformed” Denzel Washington

As we give fear attention and authority we end up worrying about events and reacting out of fear rather than out of love, power and a sound mind.  If you’re like me you can end up being consumed by events and scour the internet for more information (as if that could remove our fear) and then praying out of powerlessness (“Oh God this is so big!”).

This is completely topsy-turvy.  Christ has triumphed over the enemy and made a public mockery of Him (Col 2:15).  He has been given all authority and so Satan has none (except that which we give him).  Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He laughs at the plans of the enemy and His name is far above any other name so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.

We need to be far more impressed with Christ and His lordship than anything we see in the news.  We are in Christ therefore we are also seated in heavenly places far above Satan – which is why we will crush him under our feet.

Let’s not give a defeated enemy our attention.  If news is becoming an idol then chop it off – fast from it – people have lives thousands of years without it.  Let’s keep Christ front and centre.  Spend time with Him instead.  Ask the Spirit what He is doing and then partner with Him.  Ask the Spirit to open our eyes like Elisha prayed for the eyes of his servant to be opened so he saw the reality of the heavenly armies surrounding the small enemy army.

We have no need for fear in our lives.  We can let Christ’s perfect love drive it out as we trust in His care and His good plans and purposes.

Hate

If we stay divided and fearful we will always end up hating.  But if we rest in Christ and trust Him we can begin to declare His love to the dark world.  We are then able to love our enemies as Christ loved us when we were His enemy.  We are able to partner with the Spirit and see transformation happen as we bring about His Kingdom rule on earth as it is in heaven.

Here is a short clip of Heather Hayes father demonstrating this reality after his daughter was killed in the riots:

* You may wish to look at my earlier post on this area “Trump, Clinton or Christ?”.

**Please don’t get me wrong – there is unity in Christ and not anything else.  Satan seeks a false unity – uniformity – where if we subscribe to one belief system whether that be a political party, denomination or race.  Just like a marriage is unity of two different sexes and personalities, so the Church should be a unity of differences.

†This topic is covered in far more detail in Jonathan Brenneman’s excellent book “What causes needless casualties of war?”

God, Gender and the Google memo (godly sexuality)

google manifesto 1

In the film Jerry Maguire, Jerry (played by Tom Cruise) has a revelation about what was wrong with the sports agency company he works for.  He writes this in a manifesto which he distributes to all employees.  However, the management refuses to accept the suggestions and he loses his job.

Last week a Google employee, James Damore, noticed what was wrong with Google’s efforts to get more women working there and realised how they could make changes to their environment to improve diversity.  He wrote a memo to all employees.  However, the management refused to accept the suggestions and he lost his job.

What was it that they didn’t like?

Well he dared to mention that men and women are different (and backed it up with extensive research).

You can read the full memo here.

Why is this so controversial?  Why was it labelled “anti-diversity” by the press and why was he fired for “perpetuating gender stereotypes”?

Despite the hype, the Google manifesto isn’t sexist or anti-diversity. It’s science (see also here and here).

A little history

God made men and women different to embody His masculine and feminine attributes.  One of the main characteristics that I wrote about in this post is that men embody the masculine transcendent nature of God (outward focussed – doing, taking action, risk taking, creating, initiating, giving, concerned with form (roles)).  Whereas women embody the feminine immanent nature of God (inner directed – being, sustaining, safety, nurturing, responding, receiving, concerned with relationship).

This means that only together do men and women make the full image of God.

This was part of the wisdom of God to ensure that men and women need each other as each has blind spots.  His design was that we honour those differences and create a unity of diversity just like God is a tri-unity.

Satan, who is the anti-Christ, seeks to distort the image of Christ – who is the perfect image of God (Col 1:15).  Adam and Eve, who were already the perfect image of God (Gen 1:27), were tempted to think that by abandoning God they could become like God (Gen 3:4-5).  They sought to create their own image apart from God.

The consequence of this was the relationship between God and man and between man and woman was broken.  The differences that were meant to unite us now divide us.

Instead of loving women as Christ loves the church (Eph 5:25) and instead of using their positions to serve others like Christ served us (Mt 20:26-28) they made women feel inferior.  They no longer valued part of the image of God.

It is no surprise that women rose up against this mistreatment. However, instead of fighting against the cause (Satan, sin and the brokenness that came from these) and therefore seeking to reclaim and restore the image of God – they created another false image.

“Contrary to the world’s view, however, the ‘battle of the sexes’ is not between the man and the woman, one trying to dominate the other – but rather between God and the self-centred desires of the ‘flesh’ in both man and woman.” Gordon Dalbey

Since gender had been used to divide people then women figured that removing gender differences would imply equality and remove division and create unity.  So they put forth the view that all differences (other than reproduction) between the sexes were merely socially constructed.

However any unity created outside of Christ is a false unity – it is partnering with the anti-Christ and so presents a false image of God*.  It also rejects the expression of differences that glorify God (and can also demonise masculine traits such as competitiveness).

It is not unity but uniformity.  It pays lip-service to diversity but as the reaction to the google memo shows, it is incredibly intolerant of any view other than its own.

The flip side to the uniformity view is that:

“If two people were exactly alike, one of them would be unnecessary.”

And one of the out workings of this logic has worked its way out in men being seen as unnecessary for raising children which children have paid a terrible price.

However, in Christ “There is neither … male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28).  Together our differences make up the Body of Christ.  Together our differences display the image of God to our children and to society.  Together we are co-workers and co-heirs bringing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

From a business point of view, which was the reasoning behind the Google memo (and which some have dubbed the Google manifesto), valuing the contribution that both men and women bring will help businesses to thrive.

Each brings something different, each can see the others blind spots.  For example, men tend to be goal-orientated but on its own they can lack people-orientation and end up with an ends justify the means approach.  Women tend to be people-orientated rather than goal-orientated and so can call out this blind-spot.  However, they tend to see and respond to the immediate needs rather than the long-term issues and so men can call out this blind-spot.  Together they will achieve more.  Which sounds Kingdom to me.

However, the flip side of having differences which add to the business is that these differences will mean that gender parity will not occur:

 Source: quillette.com

As Christians instead of getting caught up in these arguments, let us instead celebrate and honour the differences that God has given in men and women and together go build the Kingdom.  To the glory of God.  Amen.

False identities and our true identity in Christ part 2 (godly identity)

False identities

In this second post in a series, I’m going to look at one of four false identities that the Father had to remove as part of my journey to wholeness and discovering who I am in Christ.

***CONTENT WARNING***
This is a vulnerable post about my journey to sexual wholeness and may not be appropriate for minors nor for those of a sensitive nature.

I have been honest about my struggles so that others who were trapped in the same lies of shame can also find freedom and release.  Please handle with care.

False identity #2: My identity is in my sin

Hello my name is John and I’m addicted to porn.

The first time I said those words was like a thunderbolt of revelation.  I knew my life had spiralled out of control but confessing that I was addicted was a bitter truth that had taken years to face up to and finally confront.

The first step of the 12 step program used in alcoholic anonymous and other recovery programs based on it is:

We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviours, that our lives had become unmanageable.

A brief history of my addiction (content warning)

It took over 30 years to get to this point.  From an innocent fascination with scantily clad women in the lingerie section of home shopping magazines grading up to softporn magazines when I was 18 and old enough (and sometimes brave enough) to buy them.

They were my escape from my life which was full of abuse and empty of love.  It might have been an illusion to think these images were interested in me – but the illusion was better than the reality.

Encounters with the Holy Spirit and meeting my wife were transformational and I was free for some time.

But then the internet.

Porn became accessible without even having to leave the house.  I spent hours searching for images to escape the stress of my job and the shame built as I couldn’t tell my wife just how much I had let her down.  So I dumped it on my wife and made everything her fault.  As our marriage headed for the rocks, things got worse as online video became a reality and a more powerful pull.  I started looking at porn at work and even got caught by a co-worker.  I reached out for help and had filters installed on my machines but I couldn’t talk about it in any depth with my “personal pastor” as he found the whole thing bizarre that I would do anything like that.  I received healing for many of my childhood wounds and began to learn who I was in Christ but the addiction was so strong it often felt like I had no choice.  It became a habit where I was looking for porn online (despite the filters) every day and masturbating every day.  “It can’t get worse than this” I though.

I was wrong.

I was so used to “normal” porn that to get the fix I needed stronger fix and so I started watching worse and worse.  Each time I would feel physically sick but soon that would subside and it became a new normal.  I kept trying to reach out to the men in my church asking if anyone else struggled.  No-one admitted they had a problem.  In addition, they were upset that I had even mentioned that at a men’s meeting.  Eventually, I found one man who was not shocked and helped me fine tune my filter on my computer.

But my understanding of who I was in Christ was weak and so I still felt powerless against the addiction.  This belief led me to secretly buy new laptops to use or to use keyloggers to steal the filter password from my mentor.

The shame grew – how could I admit to my mentor and my wife each time I did something like this again.

It was then I discovered recovery groups with xxxchurch.com

After so long, I finally had a community of men who were Christians and who were open about their struggles.

It was with this band of brothers that I could finally fully open up about where I was and receive God’s light into some very dark places.

I sin or I am the sin?

However, it was a short step in my journey from saying I was addicted to saying I was an addict.

But this is a very big difference in my identity.

One says I have a problem, the other says I am the problem.

I had defined myself by my sin not by who I was in Christ.

Whilst admitting I had a problem was liberating, saying I was the problem was a cage.

You see confessing that we have sinned sins brings healing (Jas 5:16) whereas saying we are the sin brings shame.

Shame says this is who I am and nothing can change it.

Like Adam and Eve, shame leads us to hide God and cover ourselves up.

I remember being walked through the story of the prodigal son through prayer ministry and I couldn’t embrace the Father.  I felt I was too dirty.

How do we cover our shame?  In my life I have sought to cover my shame through five ways:

  • Religion – I will cover myself in good works to try to counteract the shame I feel inside
  • Transference – I will put my shame on other people and say it’s their fault that I am like this
  • Rebellion – I am the problem, I am rubbish therefore I act rubbish – I live out my identity of sin
  • Self-harm – I am the problem therefore I will punish myself
  • Distraction – I will try to drown out the voice of shame with sensuality (eg drugs, alcohol) or busyness (eg TV, gaming)

Dealing with shame

We don’t need to cover our shame because Jesus has dealt with shame fully at the cross.
You see, the thing they don’t tell you in Sunday School is that the Roman method was to crucify people naked as a final humiliation.  Jesus was shamed to take our shame.

This is symbolised in the Day of Atonement – there was a sacrifice to deal with the punishment that our sin deserves (propitiation) and there was a scapegoat that was sent out into the desert to symbolise our shame being taken away (expiation).

Jesus was the fulfilment of the Day of Atonement – he took the punishment our sins deserve (Isa 53:4-5) but he also bore the shame of our sins (Heb 12:2; Rom 10:11).

“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Ps 103:12

This is true even if the shame you feel came from someone doing something to you.  Jesus was innocent but was shamed by others.

Our shame only leads us to withdraw from God, but never does it lead God to withdraw from us.

God came to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they sinned – it was them that hid from Him.

In the story of the prodigal son, it was the Father who shamed himself by running and exposing his legs (which in that culture was a really big deal) to embrace his son.  Furthermore, he bore the shame of what everyone would have said about his son’s behaviour.

In Jesus, God stepped down into our world to meet us in our circumstances and our messes.  In the words of Corrie Ten Boom, “there is no pit that Christ is not deeper still”.

Just like in the story of the prodigal son, God doesn’t wait for us to get home and “get it right” before He loves us.  We just have to turn to Him – that is repentance – and he comes running to us even while we are far off.

That’s why Jesus accepted the shame – because of the joy set before him (Heb 12:2) – the joy of seeing sinners repenting (Lk 15:7,10) and expanding the Kingdom (Lk 10:21).

But there’s more.

Cleansed and made righteous

God not only deals with the punishment our sin deserves and takes our shame taken away, He also makes us righteous:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21)

Just as in the story of the prodigal son, when the Father meets us he covers our nakedness in a robe – that robe of righteousness is Christ:

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:26-27)

God looks at us and sees Christ.

This was foreshadowed in the sacrifice system.

When a Jew brought a lamb as a sin offering, the priest didn’t look the Jew – he looked at the lamb.
If the lamb was without blemish or defect then it was acceptable (eg Lev 22:21).

Similarly, God doesn’t look at us for perfection, He looks at His Son – the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7) who was without blemish or defect (1 Pet 1:19) and so God is satisfied (Jn 1:29).

It’s not about us – it’s about Jesus.

That’s why in the story, the father stops his son just before he says “I am no longer worthy to be called your son”.

It’s true, we’re not worthy – but Jesus is worthy for “while we were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) – in fact whilst we were his enemies (Rom 5:10).  We didn’t love him or pursue him first.  God initiated “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).

There’s no way we can earn our salvation – that’s why it is a free gift (Eph 2:8).

The Father sees who we are in Christ as our life is now hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3).  And since Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:20) we too are seated in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

This is the reality.

Living from our new identity in Christ

That’s why we’re told to set our hearts on things above (Col 3:1-4) as that is where our life, our true identity is.

This is also why we’re told to put to death all the things that belong to our old nature (Col 3:5) and throw off the sin that easily entangles (Heb 12:1) – as it’s no longer part of us.  It isn’t who we are any more.

Danny Silk in his excellent book Culture of Honour says that he once stepped on a nail which went through his foot but never did he think “I’m a nail!”  Similarly as a child of light if we discover darkness inside us – we don’t then say we are darkness.  That is as silly as saying “I’m a nail!”  We were once in darkness but now we are children of the light and so we live as children of the light (Eph 5:8).  God has dealt with our sin powerfully and has made us righteous.  We live from that reality – yes we might sin but it’s no longer natural (1 Jn 5:18) – we’re going to fall into righteousness not into sin.

Human children will physically become like their parents not through their own efforts but naturally because of their DNA.

This is a shadow of the spiritual reality that because we have God’s seed in us we will naturally become like Jesus and stop sinning .

No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God (1 Jn 3:9).

That’s why it is fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) – it’s something that grows naturally as we live by the Spirit not the flesh (Rom 8:5-13) and keep in step with what the Spirit is doing in our lives (Gal 5:25).

The battle for our new identity

That’s why Satan will try to get us to fix our eyes on ourselves, on our sin.

Because as soon as we take our eyes off of Christ, things in the natural will look hopeless.  So either we will mistakenly try to fix things ourselves through rules (which are powerless to bring about any change, see Col 2:20-23, and will just result in us becoming proud Pharisees or) or we will give up.  Either way we won’t be living as a loved son seated in heavenly places.

But more than that, Satan wants us to fix our eyes on our sin so that, we will stop running the race as we doubt that we can do anything.  Whereas God has made us co-workers with Him (eg 2 Cor 6:1) planned good works for us to do (Eph 2:10).

This is why we need we are told to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2 NASB).  That’s who were are and we are becoming who we truly are.  The Spirit is working in us (Phil 2:13) will finish the work Christ started in us (Phil 1:6).  We just have to keep in step with the spirit (Gal 5:25), we will be transformed from glory into glory into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor 3:18) until at last we will be like Him when we finally meet Him face to face (1 Jn 3:2).

Summary

You are not your sin.  You are a beloved son/daughter who has been forgiven and made righteous in Christ and welcomed to your true home.  Receive His love, receive His embrace that is dependent on His love not your ability.  Enter now into the party he has thrown for you (Lk 15:23), hear His songs of joy sung over you (Zeph 3:17) and draw strength from them (Neh 8:10).  Let His love transform you:

Fathers love letter soaking video

An allegorical tale about our identity in Christ

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TLP ana and the prince cover

Other posts in this series:

Other relevant posts on this blog:

Taking off false identities part 1 (godly identity)

False identities

In life there are two choices: believe what God says about who we are or to believe what someone else says about us.

In this first post in a series, I’m going to look at one of four false identities that the Father had to remove as part of my journey to wholeness and discovering who I am in Christ.

I am going to be very vulnerable so that I may bring freedom and release to others who are trapped in the same lies that I was. So please handle with care.

False identity #1: My identity is in what I do

God has designed us men to embody his transcendent/outward nature – his “doingness”. As such it is easy for us to mistakenly define ourselves by what we do. That’s why one of the first questions we men ask when we meet someone new is “what do you do?”

We forget that doing flows from being and not the other way round: What I do flows from who I am.

Chapter 1

I was a secondary school teacher for about ten years who was dedicated to his work and had won awards and praise from staff and students alike. But truth be told I was a workaholic – typically putting in 76 hours a week and neglecting my wife in nearly every way.

Whilst I was aware that I was working very hard I never realised the depth of my problem until extreme circumstances exposed what was really in my heart (Dt 8:2-3). For many reasons my wife developed clinical post-natal depression and tried to kill herself. She was sectioned (‘forcibly’ admitted to a mental ward) and I was left home with a baby and a stressful job (which included being attacked by a student). I couldn’t cope and I had a breakdown. It was during this time of brokenness that I heard God tell me to quit my job for the sake of my wife and first child.

I was devastated: “what will I do? All I’ve ever done is teaching!” I didn’t realise it at the time, but the fear wasn’t because I wouldn’t be able to get another job it was because I didn’t know who I was apart from the job.

While I would never want to repeat these events I am so grateful that God allowed me to walk through something this extreme which was the only thing that could expose my problem, separate me from this false identity and then force me to hunger for Him to deliver me and show me my true identity in Christ. Only then would my priorities fall into place permanently.

Since we act out of our identity when our identity is in our job then our worth and value is in the job. Therefore we sacrifice our spouse, our children, our friends and our health to the job to become the best so that we have worth. If anything goes wrong in our job then we will spiral and be stressed/depressed and have no peace.

Ultimately, when our identity is in our job we worship our job. It is no surprise that we sacrifice everything on this altar.

  • Do you define yourself by what you do?
  • How would you react if you had to give up your job or your ministry for obscurity?
  • Is Christ enough for you? Or do you need to get your worth through something else.

God is the great “I AM” (Ex 3:14) who is not defined by anything external to Himself. He is a self-sufficient community of Father, Son and Spirit. When we become united with Christ (1 Cor 6:17) – we become part of that eternal relationship. We are adopted into His family (Eph 1:5) become a children of God (Jn 1:12, 1 Jn 3:1). We can rest in our true identity, there is a place for us as His children.

This story had a happy ending – God provided another job (2 days before our money ran out) which had teaching as part of it but had far less pressure and no students who would attack me. In addition it has a better remuneration and flexibility that allows me to take off time to spend with the family. It is a blessing that I would never have imagined in my former life. And it is more of a blessing because as a Son of God I already have approval and so my work can flow out of that place of peace, this also means that I don’t need to fear others succeeding.

I would love to end the story (and this blog post) there and conclude with the real change that has meant that even though I could make far more money in other jobs – I’m not tempted by them because they would involve sacrificing my family. And that is something that the Father has rooted deeply into me through this experience.

However, the truth is that this was merely Chapter 1 in the story that God was writing in my life. I am still on the journey to wholeness.

Chapter 2

A couple of years into my new job I started thinking that I got it because of my ability and not because of the grace of God. I started thinking that I was better than my colleagues.

This story had a happy ending as the Father has a great sense of humour. One day I happened to find my application letter so I thought I’d look to see how excellent it was (and give myself a well-deserved pat on the back). What I discovered was that in the very first sentence I had majorly misspelt the company’s name! How I was humbled. God is good – there is no way they could have missed that glaring error – this job is most definitely a gift from Him and not due to my feeble efforts.

Again I would love to finish this post here and just talk about the real transformation that happened in my work but after the victory here my identity problem sneaked itself undercover elsewhere – which is very common to us Christians.

Chapter 3

I “baptised my brokenness” – in other words I “Christianised” my problem. Instead of finding my identity in my “secular” job and seeking approval there – I instead sought it within the church – becoming a speaker, a leader, a prophet and many other things. I was so busy doing the work of the Lord that I neglected the Lord of the work. My prayer life was for gaining words for others not listening. My bible reading was studying for preaching not letting it speak to me on its own terms.

God’s cure for this was the same as before – He needed to remove this false identity forcibly so that I could discover my true identity was in being a son.

I went to India and saw more miracles in a week than I had in my whole Christian life. My wife went to Bethel’s school of supernatural worship and tangibly encountered the Father. Normal church life was not enough any more. God also called me to speak more honestly about my struggles with pornography and to teaching children godly sexuality. Very quickly it became clear that the church was not comfortable and we had to choose between conforming or being obedient to our calling. We left the church and were told by one of the leaders that we would “never have any influence” and this curse fed my brokenness.

We started an organic church and I was desperate to make it succeed to prove them wrong but of course it couldn’t until I was made whole. The turning point was when everyone left except two people who were at that time very broken. That was the moment I had to choose.

I said to God “even if there are only ever these two people – I will pour my life into them”.

It was this obedience to Him in the midst of obscurity that changed things around – because as we are faithful with little, God will entrust us with much (Mt 25:21). It’s in the obscurity that character is truly formed.

This story also has a happy ending as the church grew and like David, we saw the misfits and broken people transformed into mighty men.

Chapter 4

However, we did our job of discipling so well that they all left to pursue their God dreams around the country.

Whilst my wife and I were proud spiritual parents, suddenly we found ourselves at the beginning again.

The pattern of transformation on this journey to wholeness had come full circle yet again.

It’s often then that Satan will whisper to us that we are back in the same place – that nothing will ever change.

The reality is that our growth into maturity is helical.

We are going round a mountain on the way to the top. When we come round the mountain and experience the “same place” again – we are actually further up. We have experienced more of the goodness of the Father, we have developed our relationship and our trust in Him and so the “same place” is an opportunity to draw on the grace that He has deposited and go even deeper with Him.

As someone once said: “God never lets us fail a test. He allows us to take it again and again until we pass”.

Each time I yield to Him and let His Spirit have His way wholeness is brought in that area.

Then my journey takes me to a new place where I repeat the process. Just like the Israelites gradually drove the nations out of the Promised Land – so we too we drive out the brokenness until our lives become the perfect image of who we are seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 2:6).

Chapter 5

I love the Father’s great sense of humour. This wasn’t the post I was going to write. I thought I was going to be writing on my other false identities – but I felt His prompting last night to include this area. Each time I was writing this part, He asked me to include the next chapter in my journey and in this final chapter I discover just how much He has hoodwinked me.

Tending the garden of our souls is an ongoing process. Every day we must water the good plants and pull up the weeds. However, sometimes we don’t realise that a new plant is actually a weed until it begins to flower.

At this stage in my life I am dedicated to writing blog posts and books to help others escape the traps I fell linto, so that readers will stand on my shoulders and go further than me.

As I reach this point in this post I realise that God has set me up to show that a new weed has grown up in my life whose root is still the same false identity and it’s only now that I see it for what it is.

I have chosen not to look at how many books I sell or how many people read my posts as I seek to write in obedience to Him only. But I have to confess to you now that I have started to put my identity into what I post on social media.

As a consequence I have started to base my worth on how many likes my facebook posts receive. If I don’t get (m)any then it sends me into a spiral. I confess that I often spend time thinking of the perfect post and the best time to post it in order for it to get noticed. And if I haven’t got anything worthy of notice then I don’t post – sometimes days at a time.

I knew that this was becoming an issue but it’s only as I’ve written this blog entry that I realise its root. Satan wants to tell me that I’m always going to have this same problem no matter what I do. But I am further up the mountain and I have already removed so many of the weeds in the garden of my soul.

Now I recognise it for what it is – I can crucify this part and offer it afresh to the Father to be transformed into increasing likeness of Christ in me – the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

Father, thank you for your continued work in my life. Thank you that I am being transformed daily from glory to glory. Thank you that you will complete the good work you started in my. Thank you for showing me that I have put my identity and my worth in my social media posts. I’m sorry that I’m drinking from a source other than the river of life. I’m sorry that I have sought my value in something other than being you loved child. I renounce this identity and surrender it to you in the name of Jesus. Fill me with your Spirit of sonship that cries out ‘abba Father’ and give me my daily bread to live on. I ask that you would use this post for your glory –that many of your children will be set free and find their true identity in Christ. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

I don’t have to fear this area now. God is more than able. Every time it crops up in the future I just have to confess it, surrender it to Him and receive His Spirit in return. Soon it will be nothing other than a whisper that is devoid of power. For the truth sets us free (Jn 8:32).

PS Now you know – you are most welcome to keep me accountable and ask me “how is it going?”.

The next three posts in this series will actually cover what I originally planned (unless the Father has other surprises in store for me):

  • False identity #2: My identity is in my sin
  • False identity #3: My identity is in my brokenness
  • False identity #4: My identity is in my diagnosed condition