Top 10 posts of 2016

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When I started this blog I sought to share the revelation that God had been giving me on my journey to sexual wholeness and I wanted to help others on the journey and help parents communicate a godly view of sexuality to their children.  I am so grateful for the many messages from readers who have benefited from my writings and my vulnerability.  Thank you so much and I hope I can continue to bless you in 2017.

So in order from least to most views here are the top ten posts of the year:

10. Discipline vs punishment vs education (godly parenting)

This post spoke of how the word discipline comes from the word disciple and is about training.  It was a calling of parents back to the Hebrew way of showing not telling. (56 views)

9. Destination sickness (godly desire)

The Christian life is a journey not a destination.  This vulnerable post spoke about how our obsession with getting “there” leads us to work harder or give up and not to grace. (57 views)

8. Wired for intimacy part 1 (godly sexuality)

This post looks at how, even from birth, babies are wired to seek faces.  This reflects how we are wired to seek God’s face. (59 views)

7. Redeeming Christmas (Godly Parenting)

A post that helps parents make the Christmas celebration more Christ-centred for their children and themselves. (64 views)

6. Calling out your child’s true identity (godly parenting)

The story of Gideon shows us how God calls out his true identity and this serves as a model for us as parents to call our children into maturity. (78 views)

5.   How to stop looking at women lustfully (godly desire)

Another vulnerable post where I share the difference between worldly solutions to lust with a godly approach which has helped me. (86 views)

4. Trump, Clinton or Christ?

A topical post that sought to counter the political spirit that was/is seeking to break the church’s unity and therefore it’s prophetic voice to the world. (142 views)

3. Nothing is impossible (teach your children godly sexuality part 15)

As parents it’s easy to despair and think all is lost. This post spoke on the reality of our God who is able to redeem all things – not just so we are healed/fixed but so that the mistakes become sources of grace to others. (169 views)

2. An alternative ending to the Orlando shooting

A topical and vulnerable post about the similarities between my life and Omar Mateen’s.  His life ended in tragedy, mine in redemption through expressing my same sex desires to Jesus. (328 views)

1. Immature giftings (Godly Parenting)

This post was aimed at parents to help see that sometimes bad behaviour is actually an immature gifting that needs to be directed to its true purpose.  However, many people found this post as a source of grace for them on the journey to maturity – whereas before they had berated themselves – they actually saw they were stamping on their giftings/callings. (1846 views)

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 pretending 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

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:

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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.

An alternative ending to the Orlando shooting

**Content warning: this will be an honest account of some of my sexual struggles during my life and may not be appropriate for minors nor for those of a sensitive nature**

How long do you need to spec a gay bar before committing an atrocity?  1 day, 1 week, 1 month…how about 3 years?

This is how long Omar Mateen had been visiting the Pulse gay nightclub before he shot and killed 49 people.

People are naturally looking for an explanation of what happened.  For some it’s about lax gun controls, for others its about hatred of gays, for some it’s simply about a mentally unstable man.  I’d like to offer a different commentary based on parallels in my life.

The Qur’an is clear that homosexuality is a sin.  Yet Omar had been attending this gay nightclub for at least 3 years and had been having conversations with gay men via a gay dating app.

I would like to suggest that Omar struggled with the issue of being attracted to men and yet knowing it was wrong.  Islam offers no grace, no help to stop sinning, only law.  You must not do this.  What do you do in this situation?  How long can you live under such condemnation before you finally flip and lash out at yourself (through cutting or suicide) or at others (through abuse up to murder).

I understand a little of Omar’s struggle.

I never felt affirmed as a man.  I felt that I was a disappointment to my father and didn’t measure up.  My father-in-law also didn’t see me as a man and whilst I remember joking in my wedding speech that “it’s not so much losing a daughter but gaining a womany-bloke” the truth is I didn’t feel like a “proper” man.  Getting married didn’t fix that.  Nor did becoming a father.  I felt the constant need for approval of a father-figure that I never received growing up.

During my early marriage I acted out by looking at pornographic images of women. I knew it was wrong and I hated myself for it.  I used to take out my anger on my wife.  Often as a defensive mechanism because if she got too close she would expose who I really was and I didn’t want that.  So I’d make out that it was her fault.

However, whilst early exposure to pornography and subsequent masturbation had hardwired my brain to women the yearning for manly approval grew and became more sexual.  I started fantasising about kissing certain men when I was talking to them.  I needed to feel loved and wanted by these men.  But I knew that this was wrong too*.  And I hated myself for it.  I tried to suppress it but it kept coming back.  Just like the way I projected my self-loathing onto my wife due to my pornographic addiction, I projected my self-loathing about my same-sex attraction onto gays.  I would see homosexuality as the unforgivable sin and loathe them in my heart.

Given the similarities between my life and Omar’s – the overbearing father, the religious upbringing I know that this could have easily been my story.

Some will interject now and say “you need to accept these desires as natural and reject this outdated religious bigotry”.  However, to quote CS Lewis:

“He (Satan) 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”

My story ends differently.  Instead of denying my desires I didn’t just accept them and act on them, I expressed them to Jesus.  I honestly told him about my struggles.  As I admitted the truth, I brought these desires into the light and that was when the transformation began.  He opened my eyes to the fact that it was only men in authority that I wanted to kiss.  It was because of my feeling so unmanly, so unworthy, so useless that was the root of my desire to be accepted and loved by authority figures.  Jesus has all authority (Mt 28:18), he is above every power and authority (Eph 1:20-22; Phil 2:9-10) and he loves me (Jn 15:9,12).  As I have been receiving the approval of the ultimate authority I have become more whole.  As I have drunk deep of Christ’s masculinity I have become more manly.  As I have received the Father’s love and approval my desires for men have simply faded away.  I have become complete and whole in Him who is my all in all (1 Cor 15:28).  I know that without this grace I could have very well been Omar.

Omar, I’m sorry you didn’t discover this third way.  I’m sorry you didn’t receive this love and grace that transforms.  I’m sorry that others paid the price for your self-hatred.

Can I recommend my friends blog article on the Orlando shooting that expresses something of the heart of God here.

* It’s not the purpose of this article to defend the traditional Christian view of homosexuality.  Others have done that adequately elsewhere.  Any plain sense reading of passages such as Rom 1:26-27 and a correct understanding of hermeutics will support this.  However, we mustn’t get pushed into the false dichotomy of if I don’t agree I must hate gays.  Hopefully this article expresses this a little though I think Michael King’s post on the Orlando shooting that I recommended above expresses it beautifully.