Destination sickness (godly desire)

***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 think one of the biggest lies about the Christian life is that Christians think it is a destination rather than a journey.

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We see this view presented by Christians through books written by those who have overcome their struggles and have “made it”.  If you follow their steps then you too can be free of <fill in the blank>.

You know I’ve yet to see a book, let alone a best-seller, where the author mentions that they still struggle with anything of consequence, that they’re still on the journey.  That just wouldn’t sell because people would say that their method can’t be any good as they’re not perfect yet. They clearly can’t be an expert.  Can you see a publisher wanting to sell a book from someone who is not a “success”?

We buy into this lie.  It’s so appealing because God has set eternity in the human heart (Eccl 3:11) and our desire is to be in that place of perfection.  Hence we buy these books, follow the steps, learn the methods but yet struggle.

Maybe when this happens you are an optimist and simply think that this isn’t the right method as it doesn’t “work” for you and so continue on your journey searching for the “right” method/approach/teaching that does work.

Or maybe you’re like me and start believing that since you’re not “there” that maybe you’re not a Christian or maybe you are a “bad” Christian, that you are a sinner, that you are a failure. This is what happens to me when I believe the destination distortion.

This lie causes us to conceal our imperfections from others as otherwise the Church will know that we are not perfect, that we’re not at the destination.  They might even question if we are really saved – as Christians don’t do that sort of thing.

Where does this lie take us?

The only way I can do this is to be extremely vulnerable with you so you can see it clearly.

This week I messed up.  I looked at porn on the internet.  I masturbated.  I then felt rubbish.

I was so ashamed I didn’t tell my wife because I didn’t want to break her heart.  My brother-in-Christ who I can be honest with has gone AWOL which of course left me alone with my thoughts and exposed to the lies of Satan who loves picking off those isolated Christians.
 
“Look at what you’ve done!  How can you claim to know anything about godly sexuality?  How can you help other people to get free when you yourself are not free?  You’re a hypocrite.”

When prayer requests come in I hear “How can you pray for them after what you’ve done?”

So I stop ministering to others.

My focus changes from serving others and looking outward to looking at my sin and wallowing.
I’m no longer pressing onward on my Christian journey.  I have stopped journeying because I’m clearly not at the destination.

This is where this lie takes us.  It causes us to stop.  And Satan wins.

The cure for destination sickness: living in the light

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14

Paul sees this.  Even the great Christian Paul has not arrived but is pressing on to take hold of all that Christ has for us.  We’re all on a journey.  We’re not at a destination.

Yes we have a new nature and are no longer slaves to sin but we still mess up.

..let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)

How do we throw off the sin that entangled me and stopped me from running and caused me to look down at my sin and not on Jesus calling us by name?

We start by confessing what we have done to others.  No excuses.  No justification.  Just truth.  

You know how hard it was for me to tell you the truth earlier?  I wanted to use euphemisms.  I definitely wanted to miss our the bit about masturbation.  But the Father challenged me to be more vulnerable so that more freedom will be released to those who are reading and struggle:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. (Jas 5:16a AMP)

Bringing sin into the light destroys its power over us.  There’s no competition between light and darkness.  When you turn on the light switch it’s all over for darkness.  If we pretend that we’re OK we prevent ourselves from receiving God’s forgiveness and grace.  How can we be forgiven if we’re saying we’ve done nothing wrong?

When I eventually confessed what I had done to my wife.  She looked me in the eye and said “that explains everything!”  She saw that I had stopped pressing forward and was no longer ministering grace to our family.  She knew I wasn’t living in the identity of who I actually am.  A cuddle, a kiss and her subsequent words of love over me bring healing and restoration and release me from my introspection.

So I get up and I start moving forward again.  I’m already closer than I was when I had stopped.  And by His glorious grace I will reach the goal:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)

Can I pray for others?  Yes because my prayers are answered by a powerful and perfect God and not by my own efforts?  Can I help others?  Yes, because I’m not there but I am further down the road of maturity.  By sharing my struggles I can help them to avoid or overcome obstacles that tripped me up.  I can help them go faster and further than me.

Together we will obtain the goal for which we were called if we journey together in the light.
 
Father, I pray for those who are reading this.  That they would find fellow brothers and sisters who would journey with them.  They would find those who would be open and honest about their struggles so that together they can experience your healing grace and be transformed into the likeness of your glorious Son.  In Jesus’ precious name.  The author and perfecter of our faith.  The one who calls us onward in love.  Amen

Gender differences: conflict or complement (godly sexuality)

gender-differences

As we saw in our last post, male and female together make up the full image of God and so both are needed if we are to glorify God.  We saw that they are created different to represent the plurality of our Three-in-One God and they were created for unity.  It was the fact that Adam (man and woman together) were created one and then separated that leads to God saying:

For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother, and will be joined to his wife. And they will become one flesh.
(Gen 2:24 NASB)

Adam who has been split into male and female now seeks to reunite and recreate the unity that existed before that reflects the unity of our God who is also One.

Now this all sounds great until you flip it around.  The corollary of “male and female together make up the full image of God” is that individually a man or a woman do not reflect the full image of God*.  People don’t like that.  People don’t like being told that they need someone else.  It’s the sin of pride and of rebellion that goes against popular culture “you can do it all” attitude.

However, unlike Jesus who is the exact image of the Father (Heb 1:3; Col 1:15) God in His wisdom did not create male and female the same.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have blind spots and we wouldn’t need the other.  We would already be complete†.

The Hebrew words used for their creation testify to this difference.  The man was יָצַר  (yatsar) moulded/squeezed from the earth like a potter does to clay, whereas the woman was בָּנָה (banah) built/fashioned from the side of Adam.  It is also interesting to note that the development of a baby mimics the split of Adam into male and female when at 7 weeks boys experience a testosterone surge which literally destroys the corpus callosum that joins the two hemispheres of the brain. The male baby is cut off from part of himself.

The saying opposites attract actually has a lot of truth to it.

However, without unity in Christ opposites may attract but they can also destroy each other.  My early marriage is an example of this.  You see I was attracted to my wife because she was so different to me.  I’m actually quite introverted whereas she is such a people person.  I like everything predictable whereas she likes surprises.  Yet I am fine with mess but she loves the house looking ordered.  I am a hoarder whereas she is a thrower.  I’m a sorter, she’s a tidier.  I like going to the same places again and again whereas she likes going to different places each time.  You get the picture.

However, when we got married I assumed that my way was the “right” way and tried to make her like me and said her way was wrong.  I crushed the spirit out of who she was.  She too assumed that her way was the “normal” way and so didn’t understand why I didn’t see the things that she did.  Why didn’t I see the mess, why didn’t I wrap up presents, why did we always do the same things, buy the same food and not go to parties?  She became frustrated with me.

We both became unhappy as we both wanted the other to be like us and neither of us were.  And my domineering ways meant the she capitulated and did things my way but actually this didn’t please me as my life became dull and monochrome.  This is no surprise as we were no longer reflecting the full image of God – the plurality in unity – we were no longer bringing Him glory.

Even our children became partakers in this battle.  If one of them said “I like doing… with you daddy” I would take it as confirmation that I was the better parent.  If one of them said “Mummy lets us …” I would take it as an offence.

Fast forward some 15+ years and we are in a different place.  We came to the brink of divorce but a marriage course, the transforming work of the Spirit through courses such Celebrate Recovery and Freedom in Christ, together with sozo and other prayer sessions and just the ongoing maturity through the Spirit’s work means that we are unashamedly who we were created to be.  We recognise that we are different.  But we realise that our differences are a gift to the other and we need to honour that gift or we will become diminished as a result.  We each have blind spots and the other is God’s gift to to show us what they are.

Here’s a silly example that illustrates this.  I always used to berate my wife that she never checked the oil or the tyre pressures.  This was something that I felt I “had” to do because she never did.  But the reality is that God has made me different – so that I see this but she doesn’t.  Therefore my gift to our marriage is to check the oil and the tyre pressures.  She blesses me if she honours that difference “Thank you for checking them – it means a lot to me” (or whatever love language works for you).  I don’t need to resent that she never does this – because her gift to me is something different.  An example is that she always remembers to get birthday cards for friends and family.  This is something I never did before I was married.  So I honour this difference by thanking her and signing the card and encouraging her to send gifts too.

We also celebrate the fact that the children enjoy doing different things with each parent.  They are special mummy things (like going to a coffee shop) or daddy things (like going tree climbing).  We stop them when they say “I prefer mummy because…” and we tell them that God gave them both of us as only then will they see all of God. It’s interesting to see that our children are becoming a beautiful unity of the different characteristics.  For example our eldest daughter is incredibly creative like her mother and is taking art at A level.  She is also very analytical like her father and is also taking maths at A level.  The school is bewildered but we see it as the glory of God.

But remember marriage is a shadow of the heavenly reality – our marriage to Christ (Eph 5:31-32).  Realising that we need the other opens our eyes to the greater truth that we need Jesus: without Him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).  Without Him we are incomplete.  Without Him we will never glorify God.

Father, forgive me that I have resented my spouse’s differences.  Forgive me that I have tried to make them like me or got upset when they didn’t see what I saw.  Help me to honour their differences as their gift to me and let me offer my complementarity as a gift to them.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Further Reading

Culture of Honour by Danny Silk

*A note to single people. Don’t let anyone bash you over the head and say “You need to get married to experience the fullness of God”.  The church community is the body of Christ and is made up of male and female and so you will experience this fullness when living and serving in the church community.

†This is the same in a church.  One person does not make a church.  And Christ deliberately gives different gifts to the members of His Body so that all members are needed to build each other up.  We only mature in community.  Despite our worldly mentality that says there is one person in charge who does it all – this is simply not the case.

Unity not uniformity

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There’s some fantastic laws in Leviticus (no really!) that contain immense truth:

Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals.  Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.  Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:19)

And in Deuteronomy:

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this… Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled…Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.  (Dt 22:5, 9, 11)

Why on earth are these important?

God is Three

Well remember that creation was made to glorify God.  It does this by making known God’s divine nature (Rom 1:20) and since our God is three the different genders, species and materials reflect the plurality of the Godhead.

So anything that seeks to remove these differences actually seeks to destroy how creation glorifies God.  That is why crossbreeding, cross-dressing and the intermixing of seeds and material were prohibited.  Each of these actions ultimately causes the loss of the distinctive characteristics and qualities of the different species, genders or materials.

These differences are especially important in marriage as only male and female together make up the full image of God:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (Gen 1:27; 5:2 KJV)

And in the church, the Body of Christ:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)

The members of the church are different and have been given different gifts and all are needed to express the full image of Christ and all are needed to build up each other (see also Eph 4).

God is love

Intuitively we know that honouring the differences shows love and this reflects our God who is three and whose nature is love.  For example I wouldn’t be loving all my children if I gave them all the same gift of a stunt bike for their birthdays.  My eldest son would be delighted but my three other children would be upset and feel unloved.

We see this in how God deals with the different individuals in the Bible in different ways.  He even heals the same condition (such as blindness) in different ways.  So too the Spirit of love gives different gifts to the members of Christ’s Body, and God created male and female different to each other.  These differences glorify the full nature of the Godhead.

God is one

However our God is also one (eg Jn 10:30).  There is unity in the Godhead hence we use “Trinity” which comes from tri-unity.  And so God is glorified when there in unity amongst the differences.  Jesus prayed that the church would be one like he and the Father are one (Jn 17).  Hence we speak of communion which comes from common-union.  And one flesh (Gen 2:24) comes from the unity of male and female.

Unity is a beautiful and godly thing (Ps 133:1) but the counterfeit to unity is uniformity.  This has been seen throughout history, such as in the Hellenisation of different cultures.  It is more prevalent than ever in our common age under the guise of technological advances or equality.  The world speaks of diversity but to think different is to be classified as sexist or a bigot.  To say anything different is now classified as “hate speech”.  Love has been confused with agreement.

This lie has permeated the church:

  • There must be one “right” way of ministering healing – all methods must be wrong.
  • There must be one “right” way of worshipping – other methods are clearly inferior/not spirit led or unscriptural.
  • There is one “right” way of doing church – all other denominations are wrong/unbiblical.

And so we end up not with unity but competing ministries/churches where each contain cookie-cutter Christians who look the same, think the same and act the same.

It’s easy to understand why.  Because uniformity requires no grace/love for those who are different.  It requires no sacrifice/change in one’s own life.  It’s convenient Christianity.  It’s not taking up your cross and denying self (Mk 8:34).

How can we have unity of differences?

If we return back to those laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy there was actually times when the forbidden mixture of wool and linen was allowed – in the prayer tassels and the clothes worn by priests.  Only priests were allowed to mix the aromatic spices to make the anointing oil (Ex 30:33) and for the mixing of seeds in Dt 22:9 the Hebrew word (bizarrely translated as “defiled”) is qadash (H6942) which means consecrated/holy.

You see the holy unity of differences can only occur through our great High Priest Jesus (Heb 4:14).

Jesus is glorified if there is unity amongst believers (Jn 17:20-23) but it’s impossible to have unity between a zealot and a tax-collector without Christ’s spirit of love.  And so this could only be realised after the Spirit came at Pentecost:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
(Acts 4:32 see also Acts 2:42-47).

It is this unity between differences that glorifies/speaks of God.  That’s why Jesus said “everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).  A sign of a church that reflects Christ’s love is one that crosses social, racial, political and denominational barriers – people who are different – that’s what the world will see as astonishing.

That’s why when Paul speaks of the differing gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor 12 and 14 he speaks of God’s Spirit of love in 1 Cor 13.  And again when Paul talks of the different gifts and ministries in Eph 4 he speaks of unity in love through the Spirit.

Jesus is glorified when there is unity between the man and women in marriage.  And this is only possible through the Spirit of love.  Hence God breathed his breath, his spirit into them (Gen 2:7) and the man, woman and Spirit makes a cord of three strands that is not easily broken (Ecc 4:12).

Only in Christ is there unity in churches and marriages.  But greater than all of these is the truth that only in Christ can there be unity between God and man.  Things so different that could never be together on their own.

Making it reality

So when you become frustrated with someone who is so different to you, whether that be in church or in your marriage, and you find yourself crying out “I just can’t love ” then look to Jesus who cried “it is finished” and through his death broke down the dividing walls (Eph 2:14), ripped the curtain of the temple (Mt 27:51) and brought unity between God and sinful man, Jew and Gentile, slave and free and male and female (Gal 3:28).

Father, forgive me that I want to take the easy route of uniformity.  I want everyone to be like me so I can have a convenient life.  Father, I can’t love them on my own, I need your Spirit.  Help me to honour their differences and to sacrificially love them like your Son sacrificed himself for us when we were your enemies so that we can be one.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

In case you’re wondering about the picture.  It’s all the components of a camera.  Only if all those individual parts are become one do we get the whole camera.  Only together do they give the full picture (pun intended).  So too may it be in our marriages and churches.

Further Reading

  • I am indebted to this Jewish article that first opened my eyes to the significance of Leviticus and its application to sexuality.
  • To read more about oneness in sexuality you can read my earlier post here.
  • I also highly recommend “The Culture of Honour” by Danny Silk that gives some great tips of loving and honouring the differences in the church.
  • And finally I thought this article from relevant magazine on sub-cultures of uniformity in the church rather than unity in love was worth reading.

Immature giftings (godly parenting)

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I had a fight last week with one of my daughters who pushed her brother and then wouldn’t own up or apologise.  She was so stubborn that I had to send her to her room whilst I calmed down.

Back track 11 years to when we had her dedication at church. Whilst it was a good celebration my wife and I were a little disappointed to receive only one prophetic word: they saw her standing on a battlefield after everyone else had given up and gone home. It was an image of perseverance.

As I calmed down I realised that her stubbornness was the immature form of her gift of perseverance*.

So when I spoke to her again, I called out† who she was going to be “You know you are going to be someone who keeps on going when everyone else has given up. You are going to do great things for God because of this,” but then guided her from where she currently was, “but you can also use this great gift that God has given you to keep resisting when you should say sorry.” She grinned sheepishly.  The atmosphere had changed, she saw who she was going to be and in light of that apologised.

As parents it’s all too easy to see bad behaviour as just something that needs to be stamped out and by doing so we can then crush the very gifting God has given them.

We need discernment to see if it is an immature form of a godly gift.

We can see Jesus do this with his disciples – they were constantly clamouring for being first (Luke 9:46-48;22:24-26) but Jesus didn’t rebuke their desire for being first, instead he redirected it.  Greatest means being a servant, greatest means welcoming those you see as “less”.  Their desire for being greatest was an immature form of their gift of leadership.

Here’s a summary of some immature forms of a godly gift that I have discovered so far:

  • daring/naughty – apostle
  • bossy/wants to be first – leader
  • speaks out inappropriately/black or white opinions – prophet
  • gives things away carelessly – generosity
  • stubborn – perseverance
  • overly sensitive – compassion
  • unrealistic expectations – faith
  • dreamer, nonconformist – creativity
  • critical or fault finding – discernment
  • fussy, easily put-out, doesn’t like disturbed routine – administration

If you have others to add to this list then I would love to know – please comment below.

Also as parents we shouldn’t despise the days of small beginnings (Zech 4:10) – that is we shouldn’t look down on a fledgling gift.  For example when my eldest son was about 5, he overheard my wife and I discussing that we were short on money.  He went to his piggy bank and brought us some of his pocket money.  It was such a small amount, like 5 pence, and at that time I’m ashamed to say that I thanked him but refused his offer as it would make no difference.  But by doing so I crushed the beginning of his gift of generosity.  As parents need to humble ourselves enough to accept help from our children.  As parents we want our children surpass us – not remain below us.

It’s only by God’s grace that I later recognised his gifting and let him give his pocket money away.  He gave a £1 to a friend’s dad who had lost his job.  He gives money to the homeless.  He buys sweets for his siblings.  He saves up so he can buy Christmas gifts.  By encouraging his gift of generosity I have found that I want to keep up with him and so he has spurred me on in the faith.

Father, open my eyes to see beyond my frustration.  Help me not to crush my children’s immature gifting but give me wisdom to help redirect them towards their calling.  Help me to humble myself to learn from them and be transformed as a result.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

* I am indebted to David Freeman who first opened my eyes to this whole area.
† For more information on how to call out a child see my previous post here.

How to stop looking at a woman lustfully (godly desire)

*Content warning*
This post discusses desires in a frank but godly way.
desire

All Christian men know the passage:

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mt 5:28)

The problem is we don’t know is how to stop this.

Sometimes it feels like we are wired to notice the bodies of others. In fact we can often be shocked at how much we can be aroused by just looking someone. But as a Christian man, we think “I’m a new creation – I’m not meant to feel this way!”

A brief internet search shows that we are not alone when looking for help to stop lusting after women:

looking-lustfully
looking-lustfully-2

However, the advice given seems to fall into one of three camps:

  • Condemnation/shame/works – you shouldn’t do this, it doesn’t honour God or the woman. Try harder, chop off everything that causes you to sin, etc.
  • Triumphalistic – you’re a new creation, you’re free from this, shake it off as it’s the old you, repeat “I am the righteousness of Christ”, etc.
  • Liberal/humanistic – it’s natural, men are designed the polygamous, there’s nothing you can do about it, accept it as part of who you are, etc.

As well meaning as all of these are, all of them are lacking:

  • Using internet filters to cut things off is helpful but ultimately it’s external and doesn’t change our heart.  And you can’t avoid going out in summer, nor filter the first accidental glance.  Besides self-effort will ultimately fail as apart from Jesus we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).  And so the cycle of shame will begin again and the more rubbish you feel the more you will act out of that identity.
  • Realising your new identity is important – it helps renew our mind (Rom 12:2), and how we act flows out of our new identity. But it’s too easy to treat this as a formula: “I’m saying the right words but it’s not working!” and miss intimacy with the father that changes our heart.  It’s also to easy to become inward rather than outward looking.
  • Whilst we do need to recognise how God has made us as men, we are not animals subject to our biological urges. We’re made in the image of God and our sexuality means something.

So what can we do? How can we take the good in each of these approaches?

First we recognise that God has made us men and has wired us to notice beauty – so when you notice this happening don’t try and suppress it or pretend it’s not there. That won’t solve anything.  Acknowledge it, however realise that the woman is not the goal, but merely the shadow of who our hearts are really looking for.

Second we realise that we are made in the image of God and men are meant to love women sacrificially like Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). We have a higher calling: we are meant to give (love) not take (lust).

Thirdly, we men are made to act not just acknowledge our godly calling to give.  After all we are meant to be co-workers with Christ (1 Cor 3:9). I have found the best way to do this is to pray for the woman we see.  Something like:

“Father, I thank you for this beautiful woman.  I thank you that you created her and that you love her.  I thank you that you have made her to be loved and cherished.  Father I ask that you would pour out your blessing on her, that she would become aware of your presence, that she would find her value in your love and not how she looks….” 

This prayer is not a formula – it’s from the heart.  It’s not a inward prayer “father help me to stop lusting!” which assumes we are still bound by our old identity as a sinner.  It’s a prayer from our new identity in Christ and in line with what we are meant to do as men.

The Kingdom is advancing – and seeing a beautiful woman is an opportunity for it to forcefully advance in our lives as we step into our destiny as men.  Amen.

Speak to the desires of the heart (teach your children godly sexuality)

So one of my boys kept lifting up the skirt of one of my girls to see their knickers.  An excellent opportunity to talk about godly sexuality with them I thought…

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So true to form I followed the principles I give in my workshop and talked about the goodness and the holiness of sexuality with them.  How it’s a good and beautiful part of a lady made by God but it’s also a special part and so we need to treat it with honour.

However he kept on doing it, despite talking about its specialness and despite disciplining him for repeatedly doing it.

I know, I know, I should have called out to God for help sooner – but sometimes we have to get desperate before we find ourselves on our knees actually listening – but He’s so gracious that when I did he gave me the wisdom I needed:

“Speak to the desires of the heart”

You see the trouble was that I was saying all the right things but I was talking to his logical mind rather than his desires.  And if we want to see change then we need to address the desires:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

But the question is: how do we address desires in a godly way?  In the same way as we teach any other aspect of godly sexuality; we talk about the goodness and the holiness of our desires.

You see God made him a boy and so there is a godly fascination and yearning in him for to complete the whole image of God:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6 emphasis mine)

The holiness is the fact that this fulfillment occurs in a covenantal relationship and this yearning is a shadow of our yearning for Christ (Eph 5:32) who is the “desire of all nations” (Hag 2:7).

Since he was only about 5 at the time, I had to keep things a bit simple, so I began:

“There’s something really interesting about girls, isn’t there?”  He nodded.  “God made girls attractive to us so that we really want to find out more.”  I could see that I now had his full attention.

“And that means that there’s something in us that wants to see their knickers.”

“But God made seeing a girl’s knickers to be something special for marriage just like you only get presents on special days like Christmas.”

Now it’s tempting to stop here, but doing so means that we are expecting them to conquer desires by self-effort which is law not grace. So now we need to offer to pray for them:

“But in the same way it’s hard to not open presents until Christmas day, it’s hard to stop looking at knickers.  So we need Daddy God’s help.  Can I pray with you?”

He nodded and the rest is history.

You see affirming the goodness of our children’s desires speaks to their reality, only then can we begin to steer these desires towards their intended goal.

Wired for intimacy part 2 (godly sexuality)

wired for intimacy

We saw in our previous post that babies brains are pre-wired to see faces and in particular their initial focus of their eyes is designed to see only those who hold them close, such as the mother who feeds them.  This is a shadow of the spiritual reality that we are designed to seek our Father’s face who gives us our daily bread and the affirmation of His love for us.

Unlike other objects our brains process faces in a different part of the brain (the fusiform face area) which is dedicated to recognising faces.  Furthermore this part of the brain is given priority over the other image processing areas in the brain, which is why we often see faces in things (called facial pareidolia):

faces in things

Hence advertisers use faces in their images as it is an effective way of getting a viewer’s attention.  Using eye tracking software you can see below how we focus on faces and their eye gaze:

face recognition

Hence the text gets more attention from viewers when the baby’s eye gaze was in that direction.

Now the world will say that this must have developed as a survival technique – so we can spot the faces of a predator in the brush.  However, we know that we are made in the image of God:

“As the Father, Son and Spirit have always know fellowship with each other, so we in the image of God are made for fellowship”  Michael Reeves

We look into another’s face to see the meaning behind their words and discover their true self – their nature and character.  For, as we know, the eyes are the windows of the soul.  Faces are needed if there is to be any intimacy.

Unlike animals*, we make love face-to-face this speaks of the fact that sex is meant to be an expression of intimacy† and it is no surprise that the Hebrew word for sexual intimacy, יָדַע (yada’), is literally translated as “Adam knew Eve” (Gen 4:1).  And in its pure form there is “no shame” as there was complete openness, acceptance and intimacy.

Interestingly, research shows that those who have religious or paranormal beliefs are more prone to see faces in things than sceptics or unbelievers.  This is a shadow of the fact that despite the intimacy of another no human can ever meet our need to be fully known.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:12 emphasis mine)

Jesus is “the Desire of all nations” (Hag 2:7 NKJV).  Jesus is the face that we are wired to seek.

 *After extensive research I can only find two documented cases of animals having sex face-to-face. Both were gorillas and in both cases it was commented on that this behaviour was extremely unusual.

† It is no surprise that since the sexual revolution and the rise of pornography, where sex is seen to be just biological and devoid of meaning, there has been a corresponding rise in sex in positions that are not face-to-face. It is not about intimacy or connecting but satisfying our own urges and getting pleasure.

Wired for intimacy part 1 (godly sexuality)

wired for intimacy 1

Before we had our first miracle baby we read the book “The Social Baby” which shows that even from birth babies are wired to seek faces over other images:

“Within minutes of birth, the baby will turn her head to the sound of someone’s voice, when another sound, even if of the same pitch and intensity, will not attract her attention…the baby is also attracted to faces…Given a choice between looking at a face-shaped pattern, and one with the arrangement of eyes nose and mouth scrambled up, the newborn baby will spend longer looking at the face”

wired for intimacy

Recent research has now identified that the part of the brain used for recognising faces is far more developed in babies and is almost equal to that of adults by even 4 months.

As Christians we don’t believe that this design is merely for survival, we believe that the things made reveal God’s divine nature (Rom 1:20a) for “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1).

In the same way the physical tabernacle was “a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Heb 8:5), this physical realm is a shadow of the spiritual realm.  A baby seeking the face of his/her parents is a shadow of the reality that we as children of God (1 Jn 3:1) are designed to seek the face of our Creator.

“I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor 6:18)

In the Father’s face we are going to find the love, affirmation and protection that we need.

A baby know this – they take delight in looking at faces.  Children know this as any parent who hears a their child say “look at me!”.  This is why God instructed Aaron to bless the Israelites with the phrase “the LORD make His face shine upon you” (Num 6:23-25).

To have God’s face turn from us is to be cursed and cut off from our hearts desire (eg Ps 27:9; 2 Chr 30:9).  Babies know this – they become distressed if there is no response from a parent’s face (you can see an example in this YouTube video).

We are wired to seek the Father’s face, to have His face shine upon us and to have Him respond to us.  But not just a father’s face but the mother’s face too:

“A babies vision is a little blurry at birth but within a week a baby can focus on objects about 8 to 12 inches from his face which is the distance between a mother and baby’s face during feeding.”

One of the names for God used in the Old Testament is “El Shaddai” which is translated as “God Almighty” in places like Gen 17:1 and Gen 49:25.  Now shaddai could be come from the root “shadad” which means powerful (hence Almighty) or “shad” which means breast.  If it is the latter root then “El Shaddai” could be translated as “many breasted one” (sources: here and here).  Implying that God, like a mother, is our comfort, our sufficiency, our nourisher.

Given the current environment there are parties that sit firmly on both sides, each fiercely arguing that their version is correct translation.  The complementarians will argue that it’s a powerful, strong masculine God, the egalitarians will argue it’s a nurturing, tender, feminine God.

I believe that both are incorrect.  Each side only sees one part when both parts are needed*.  You see we are made male and female in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and only both together represent the fullness of God”†:

“Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam” (Gen 5:2 KJV).

Adam was created in the image of God as one being – both male and female (Gen 2:7).  This is a shadow of the heavenly reality of the Father and the Son being intimately one (Jn 10:30) and indeed his nature of Oneness despite many opposing characteristics (eg grace/mercy vs truth/judgement).

Adam was then separated into two: male and female (Gen 2:22-23 the word rib is literally “side”) as a shadow of the plurality of the nature of God (both in the Trinity and His nature).  But designed to become one again (Gen 2:24).   Hence the fullness of the image of God on earth is male and female together as one.

So babies are wired to look into the face of their parents and receive all the love, affirmation, protection, comfort, nourishment from them.  This is the shadow of the spiritual reality of us as God’s children looking to Him (whose nature includes both masculine and feminine aspects) and receive all that we need from Him, our all-in-all:

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev 22:3-4)

* Why then does Jesus say we should call Him father and why is Jesus the Bridegroom if God is both masculine and feminine?  This requires us to understand how sexuality reflects the relationships in the Godhead and between God and man, which will be covered in a later post.

† So does that mean that only married people image God?  Not entirely, because ultimately the one flesh union of a husband and wife is also a shadow of the union of Christ and the Church (Eph 5:31-32).  Perhaps this post might help.  And so if you’re single, you image God by being one with the Body of Christ becoming one with Christ.

Punishment, education or discipline (godly parenting)

discipline 2

Discipline has got a bad press.  It has become synonymous with punishment and punishment has become synonymous with abuse which society condemns.  It is no surprise that society has swung to the opposite end of the spectrum and is overly permissive, giving their children whatever they want thinking this is loving.  Christians have rightly seen the error of permissiveness but often just counter this by talking about discipline in terms of “firm but fair” punishments.

But no matter how fair the punishment is it’s still missing the point as it assumes that discipline is about punishment!

Discipline comes from the Latin word discipulus which means pupil, from which we got discipina which meant instruction and then the word disciple – a follower, a learner:

discipline
In fact it wasn’t until the thirteenth century that the word became associated with punishment and it was due to a perverted understanding of being a disciple – that the body was bad and so must be punished by scourging.

Principally parents are called to disciple their children in the same way that Jesus discipled the twelve and Paul discipled Timothy and others in the churches he established.

However, once we get this idea the next mistake we make is to confuse discipling primarily with instruction and knowledge.  That if we tell our children what to do, if we give them the right information then they will make the right choices*.  After all the “expert” in the world’s eyes is the one who has studied and got a PhD.

This idea is not Biblical it’s Greek.  It comes from Plato’s dualistic worldview that said the spiritual realm (which included the mind) was good, but the physical realm (which included the body) was bad.  This was one of the reasons why discipline ended up as self-flagellation because the ‘bad’ flesh had to be punished!

The Biblical/Hebraic worldview is holistic.  If you want to teach someone you show it.  Jesus didn’t just give the disciples teaching and knowledge.  The disciples lived with him they saw, for example, how he healed and then Jesus sent them out to do the same.

This is why repeatedly Christ said “follow me” not “listen to me”.

This is why we as parents should not be saying “do what I tell you” or “do as I say (not what I do)” but like Paul we should be saying “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor 11:1 NKJV) and “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.  Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor 4:15b-16).

During a prayer time when I was despairing about one of my children I felt God say “be the change you want to see”.  So like Jesus and like Paul I need to live my life openly in front of my children.  I need to model the life that I want them to emulate because God has designed us for discipleship – for copying others.

For example, I want them to learn how to depend on God so I need to show them my dependency on God.  This is why I don’t use a satnav even though I am hopeless at directions.  It puts me in a position where the children see me calling out to God for help in finding the way.  It puts me in the place where I need others to help with map reading.  It puts in a place where I’m on the edge and have to depend on the Spirit to not get frustrated and call for help and if I mess up then my children will see me apologise to whomever is helping. A comfortable life will never come close to modelling this.

* How many times have parents read “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6) and thought this is principally about teaching them the bible and sending them to Sunday school.

Repetition is important (teach your children godly sexuality)

Children with a burnt cooking chicken in the kitchen. Smoke. Fac

So here I am, I’ve given workshops to parents about how to teach godly sexuality to their children.  I live these principles in my own life.  I don’t shy away from talking about sex and regularly have God-focussed conversations with my children about how our sexuality is good and holy.

It’s all too easy after you’ve had one conversation with your children about sex to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.  But just because you had “the talk” doesn’t mean they actually understood what you said.

This was brought home to me when one the mother of a friend of my youngest son said he had told her son that babies were made by the man peeing in the woman’s china.

I was mortified.  I was also humbled and repented of my self-satisfaction.  I learnt an important lesson that day:

Repetition is important, repetition is important and did I mention repetition is important.

I mentioned in a previous post about how talking about sexuality with our children should be “the talks” and not “the talk”.  Well this is another reason why.

It’s just like discipleship – understanding is something that happens gradually over a period of time it’s never a one-time brain dump.

Father may we never tire of sowing into our children’s lives until they grow into a mature knowledge of you, your creation and your nature.