The Cross

I want to wish you all a Happy Easter. Easter is the most personal holiday for those of us who follow Christ.

As we reflect on the journey and story of Jesus let us remember that this is our story and our journey.

When the world tells us so much about what love is, let us remember that this is love, actually.

The Cross from IF : Equip on Vimeo.

The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.

Declaration of Independence

This year was a year of being slow for me. It was a year of stepping back from what I considered, at the time, overwhelming responsibilities. I set aside a few months to rest in order that I could be healthy for the long haul.

So, that was the goal at least. What did I do with that breathing space that I created you might ask?

IndependenceWell, I travelled through more airports than I can even count. I packed my bags and my childrens bags and travelled from one end of America to the other and back again (and again and again). I home-schooled my children in the process. We bought a house here in South Africa and thought, “With all our free energy we need to renovate this thing before we move in!” I spent the days before Christmas packing and moving house.

In the process of almost single-handedly painting the entire house (that includes ceilings, rafters, the whole shabang) I had a moment of clarity. “I think I’m more independent than I first realised… I think I like to do things on my own without any help.”

The fact that this seemed like a small “revelation” is astounding (especially to my husband!). Astounding at my stupidity. Astounding at my blindness. Independent? The Declaration of Independence should be my life’s mission statement because that’s how I seem determined to live.

I start out with such ideals.

Vow: Need people more deeply.
Small Print: But not too much and always on my terms.

Vow: Rely on others.
Small Print: But only so far and use precaution.

Vow: Ask for help more.
Small Print: A good time to do this is when I have attempted it on my own for an extended length of time.

Vow: Trust people.
Small Print: Dangerous territory, use extreme caution. Only if absolutely necessary and all other options have been exhausted.

When all the other options have been exhausted I’m simply left exhausted.

This is my tendency and I’m starting to realise that it will always be my battle to fight. I’ve grown and come so far. But, for this sojourn on earth, my temptation will always be to go it alone. There will be seasons of healthy and wonderful interdependence but I need to have safeguards against veering off-road and heading into the wilderness.

I know this isn’t everyones temptation. Some of us cling too strongly to others in unhealthy and (at times) destructive ways. We make individuals our gods, the ones we think will bring us wholeness and healing.

If only ______ helped me, I would be ok.
If only ________ loved me then my life would be full.
If ________ leaves me my life will be over.
Only _______ truly “gets” me and understands me.

These are all signs of unhealthy dependence. Their mantra about people is captured so well by Jerry Maguire, “You. Complete. Me.”

All of the above statements make me throw up in my mouth a little. Sorry.

I’m just so independent.

There’s a support group out there for y’all who truly believe this dysfunctional dependency is love.

I’ve got my own support group… just me, myself and I attend it. Perfect. Heaven. Dysfunctional.

This is the catch of how God designed life.

We cannot be whole and healthy through people.
We cannot be whole and healthy without people.

Our saviour cannot be people (or a person). Our Saviour does not work apart from people.

My dear, lovely Jesus. You’ve got my number and I know it.

I’m trusting God to rid me of this “Declaration of Independence”. I’m thinking that I need a “Declaration of Asking for Help Next Time I Decide to Paint My House From Top to Bottom”. It’s a step in the right direction, right?

What about you? Are you looking to others to define your worth and value? Or are you reaching for a barf bag just reading that sentence?

Photo Credit: Rob Walker

5 Observations on Porn Stats in 2014

I would like to caution those reading this. The following post is explicit. I am looking in to the reality of pornography today. If this topic triggers in you your own struggle with porn, past sexual abuse or some sort of relational pain in this area… I would encourage you to refrain from reading.

It’s that time of year again… the porn stats have been released. For normal people this is no big news. But, I suppose, I’m not normal!

I consider pornography one of the most damning and damaging drugs out there. Porn is not just college boys looking at a Victoria Secret catalog. Who knew we would arrive at the day where we wished that is all we were looking at.

Pornhub is the #1 pornography site in the world. They are in the business of selling porn and these stats show they are succeeding immensely. Pornhub has an interesting practice of releasing very detailed statistics of user behaviour on the their websites. It is a bragging sheet basically… “Look at how much porn we can sell, we are awesome!”

Each January, I take time to sit down and read through these stats. It is not for the faint of heart. As a teacher on relationships and sexuality, I consider it very helpful and almost essential to being effective. That is definitely not true for everyone.

For most of you, simply save yourself from the stomach turning and nausea inducing report.

But, for parents, educators, and Christian workers here are my 5 observations on the Pornhub 2014 report.

1. Porn Use Has Not Maxed Out

Pornhub reports 18.35 billion visits last year, with people viewing 78.9 billion videos (15 billion more than 2013). That is 11 videos viewed, in 2014, for every single person on earth.

Remember, these stats are from just one porn portal. It is the biggest but definitely not the only one. The United States, UK, Canada, India and Germany round out the top 5 nations generating this traffic.

Porn use has not slowed down or reached it’s pinnacle. There doesn’t appear to be any end in site to the growth of this industry.

2. Paedophelia is Becoming the Norm

For 2013, the number one search term was “teen”. Yes, you read that correctly. The most watched porn was paedophelia. Yet again in 2014, “teen” was still the most searched term worldwide.

Being turned on by underage girls is now considered standard and average porn.

The implications of this are enormous. What does this mean for Dad’s who are looking at porn of girls who look just like their 9th grade daughter? What does this mean for teachers in this same boat?

Remember, “teen” is not people searching for 18 and 19 year old boys and girls. It is searching for children that look 12 and 13 years old. How this does not cause an outcry in our nations is beyond comprehension

If you think that men viewing underage girls for sexual pleasure is unusual, read again. This is the the most common porn people look at. The implications on all levels of parenting, educating and ministering is enormous and needs to be openly discussed.

3. Is Pornhub Altering the Statistics?

A friend pointed out to me the lack of search terms such as “child”, “daughter”, “toddler”, etc. She suggested the possibility that Pornhub is purposely altering the statistics to remove these terms.

Remember, pornography is progressive. You do not get one picture, print it out and look at it for the next 20 years. It interacts with the human brain in the exact same way as cocaine and heroine (at the same time!). Just like you need more drugs to get the same high, so you need more porn of variety and extremity to get the same pleasure sensation.

Since “teen” has been a standard search term for a number of years (even if not #1). I would like to make a bold statement that I agree with my friend. I firmly believe Pornhub is purposely hiding stats which reveal the prevalence of “socially unacceptable pedophilia” (“teen” being acceptable but “child” not yet acceptable).

I can’t prove it but I strongly believe there are stats in the area of pedophilia porn that they are not releasing.

4. Intimacy Avoidance is Deep

There were a few unique stats that stood out to me.

  • The #1 day people look at porn is Mondays.
  • The #1 comment on porn videos is “love”.
  • Top category of porn for women: various forms of lesbian sex.
  • Most increased search terms for women: “bondage”, “rough” and other forms of violent sex.
  • The #4 most searched term for Americans is “cartoon”.

There are many reasons we pursue sexual deviancy. I speak to a lot of students about “intimacy avoidance” (or fear of intimacy). Looking at these stats, I am reminded that we are broken and have few tools, capacity or maturity to engage in intimacy. Healthy intimacy is desperately needed to deal with life’s stresses, pain and challenges. Instead, we use porn as a form of “intimacy avoidance”.

Monday is the least favourite day for most people (but the most favourite for porn!). Mondays brings the reality of life, hard work, stress, financial needs after a weekend of being able to “check-out” from reality. Instead of engaging in healthy intimacy to deal with this stress… we turn to porn. Feel better for a moment and off we go.

The view of “lesbian” sex by women is interesting because the stat is way out of proportion to those women who self-identify as a lesbian. This stat lines up with what I have observed in talking to women. Homosexual experimentation is rapidly on the rise amongst those who do not identify with the label “homosexual”. Increasingly, friendship amongst women involves sexual experimentation. In line with that, heterosexual women are regularly engaging in lesbian porn.

The sexualisation of friendships is becoming the norm for women. Increasingly, intimacy=sex in women’s friendships.

Heterosexual women are sexualising even normal friendships. More and more, intimacy=sex. As women, too often, we do not know of any other way to engage in intimacy with each other apart from sexualising it.

Can this twisted understanding of “intimacy=sex” be captured any more vividly than by the word “love” being used to describe how much every enjoys looking at teen girls or violent sex against women?

More and more we are sexualising our every day relationships.
More and more we are de-humanising our sex through violence and cartoons.
More and more we are sexualising and dehumanising the word “love”.

The fear of intimacy and inability to truly know it and engage in it runs so deep. We need to start an honest, real and true conversation on intimacy. The current unexplained use of the word by the church is not helping or adequate for those sitting in the pews.

5. Family is the Next Frontier

Lastly, family is the next frontier. The most striking fresh news from these stats is the incredible rise of sexual turn-ons by family members. Terms such as “Mother”, “Mother in law” and “step-mom” were popping up everywhere. I believe this will continue to develop in the years ahead to the rest of the family. Even a top search term for women was “old man”… a term that can be associated with fatherly figures in their life.

Mix this reality with the standard turn on of underage girls and we have an atomic bomb of abuse about to explode in new proportions.

Where Does this Leave Us?

If you have made it to the end of this let me extend my apologies. The picture is not hope filled or positive.

Let us turn to a God who is not surprised by this report nor unable to overcome. May we engage with God with a fresh commitment to face reality.

The path of porn is a pursuit of death and not life.

It is not life to the young boys and girls being trafficked to supply this drug.
It it not life to the young men and women being used for lust and then cast aside.
It is not life for our marriages.
It is not life for our spirits and souls as we use others to feed an ever addicting monster.

In the midst of that reality, let us be carriers of hope. Truly, there is always hope because there is always Jesus.

Other Articles on Porn from ThisIsLoveActually.com:
Porn 101: Waking Up
Porn 101: Marriage Edition
Porn 101: Parenting Edition

Photo Credit: Kristina Alexanderson

The Beginnings of Friendship

I read the most surprising thing in the Bible last week. It not only seemed strange but I always believed the opposite was true. As soon as I read it I stopped, “I am going to have to think about this one… that makes no sense to me.”

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him”
Psalm 25:14

I must have scanned over this many, many times over the years. I looked at it with fresh eyes.

Friendship with God is connected to fear of God.

I don’t know about you but I’ve heard quite a few “fear of the Lord” sermons in my lifetime. I’ve even read a few books on the topic. None of them left me feeling like God’s friend. Not in the least bit. In fact, I’ve often heard in these sermons, “Stop making God merely your buddy and friend… we need to have a healthy fear of God and his holiness!”

That’s not what God says. He says friendship is for those who fear.

What am I getting wrong? Why don’t those two legos fit?

Then it struck me.

Friendship is Being Known

The holiness of God is deeply connected to God being God, not a mere man. God being perfect in all his ways. Being righteous and unchanging as opposed to sinful and fickle.

When we come to God as a Holy God, we are basically saying, “Ok, you are not an idol that I make in my own image. You are the true God that is who He is. I don’t shape you, you shape me. I don’t decide who you are, you reveal who you are.”

This is the beginning of friendship, isn’t it? To know someone for who they truly are. For someone to be vulnerable enough to be truly themselves without hiding.

I don’t step in and say, “To be my friend, you actually need to be like this.” When that is said, there is no possibility for friendship.

Marriages often go through phases where one of us wants to change the other. Sometimes the phase turns into a lifetime. We think in our mind, “If only you would be a little bit more like this or a little less like that.” When I go down that path, the creeping distance between my husband and I is almost tangible. Even though I never said a word of it to him. I am not allowing him to be who he is.

So, friendship with God is not just connected to his closeness and humility, it is deeply connected to his holiness. For Him to be who He is, and us to humble ourselves and allow Him to reveal that, is the beginning of true friendship with him.

Friendship is Standing in Truth

Holiness is also deeply connected with truth. I don’t see scripture refer to holiness without truth being deeply weaved in. Lies, deception and sin do not go together with fear of a holy God.

God’s holiness is also his sinlessness. We can be friends with God because there is not sin and deception.

The same cannot be said of people and our friendships. Friendship with anyone is fraught with difficulty because of our fallen nature. On offer is to enter the realm where I see who you are in Christ and also see who you are apart from Him.

Perhaps that’s why poets through the ages have always said finding a true friend is so rare. It is a scary and dangerous path to tread.

When I am messy and sinful I’m not just saying, “Accept me!”. I also say, “I’m allowing you to see parts of me you won’t approve of it all!”. It’s risking that we will choose to steadfastly communicate through the hurt and pain that comes with seeing people for who they truly are.

Friendship is standing in truth for one another despite how dark the circumstance.

Where does friendship with God begin? With me humbling myself and saying to God, “I want to see you for who you truly are, not who I want to shape you in to.” It’s realising that truth makes this possible and sin would destroy it but for His grace.

Where does friendship with one another begin? With each person humbly saying, “It’s safe here for us to expose who we truly are… even when it gets ugly and painful. Stand in and for truth on my behalf and I’ll do the same for you.”

Friendship with the Lord is for those who fear Him. It’s more true than I first realised.

Photo Creditfr: Elizabeth Albert

Finding Contentment

Contentment is a fickle thing. It is something we seem to seek after but rarely attain. How many people do you know regularly say, “I’m just content. Content with my life in all areas.” It’s pretty rare to hear.

It’s the old carrot and stick routine, dangling out in front of our faces, always just out of our grasp. But, wouldn’t life be great if we were content?

I just finished reading Genesis, a favourite of mine. It always strikes me that, from chapter 37 onwards, Joseph dominates the story. He’s a chapter hog in Genesis (classic younger sibling, always seeking attention).

Adam and Eve get three chapters.
Noah gets four chapters.
The Tower of Babel get’s one.

Those are all important events but none get as much press as the ongoing saga of Joseph.

As I was reading yesterday, I was struck, the whole Joseph saga started with jealousy. None of Genesis 37-50 would have happened if Joseph’s brothers hadn’t been jealous. That’s how it all started. Jealousy.

Because of jealousy Joseph got sold into slavery by his brothers.
That triggered him going to Egypt, being put in prison and having the whole dream saga.
Those dreams triggered him getting recognised by Pharaoh.
Because of that, he got a pretty powerful role which led to the rescue of Egypt and the Israelites from famine.
Which led to the whole slavery thing.

I’ve always overlooked that it all started with jealousy. This unseen emotion, when acted upon, triggered a whole sequence of events that resulted in a nation in slavery.

Jealousy is a heart attitude that just simmers and stews. Eventually it can shape our actions in ways we can hardly identify. How often are we sitting in a mess and wondering, how the hell did I get here?!

I wonder how many of those situations actually started with jealousy.

God has been driving a nail into my own jealousy and envy for years. I want to be content. Truly, though, how can I get there if I’m not brutally honest about what prevents me from getting there?

The big lie is that if only I could obtain that object of desire (a material possession, a type of marriage, a person, or children or gifting or talent) then I could be content.

This makes my contentment about just obtaining enough of _________.

If only I could only have a certain home. If only I looked a certain way. If only I had a personality like that. If only.

A chase ensues.

If only my circumstances were better. When this financial season of hardship passes. When the stress at work subsides. Circumstances never seem to line up to our bidding though. But we can always buy more stuff!

If only I had that certain car and nicer clothes. Getting that certain car becomes getting the house with the bigger yard. Then we realise material possessions don’t satisfy, life is about relationships!

If only my kids behaved in that certain way. If only our spouse would become like that certain person. But changing and manipulating others also doesn’t satisfy so we work on ourselves first. Isn’t that what Oprah taught us to do?

If only I could look like that certain person (cue the Juice Fast and fresh commitment to Paleo). If only I could conquer that certain issue (2015 IS THE YEAR. I’M DOING IT. SERIOUSLY. THIS YEAR! I’M MAKING THE CHANGES! OK, 2016 will do also. Whatever. Cue guilt and self-loathing.)

The reality? Chasing the desire is an illusion. The reality is our “if only” has become an idol. The idol will do what idols always do, enslave us to a lifetime of hard labour with no end in sight.

Contentment cannot be achieved through attainment or abandonment.

Finding contentment through attainment is simply consumerism.

Finding contentment through abandonment (of desire for anything) is humanistic Buddhism. That is, we selfishly try to destroy our desire for anything because all of life is just an illusion… this is not the Gospel my friends.

The Apostle Paul speaks of being content no matter what the circumstance or situation.

Why?

Because, contentment starts and ends with God.

How?

Jesus satisfies our deepest longings. We no longer try to find contentment in things or people that can’t truly satisfy. We no longer try to satisfy our longing for meaning through a job. We no longer try to satisfy our deepest longings for identity through people’s approval of us.

Jesus gives us new desires shaped according to both his humility (I don’t need or deserve everything) and his goodness (The Father is able and willing to give good things to His children).

The Holy Spirit empowers us to be both generous (re-shaping of our hearts from consumers to generous givers) and content in all circumstances.

I’m happy to say that I’ve seen God work in deep ways in my heart. I recognise quickly how my envy and jealousy will just lead me deeper into slavery instead of contentment and joy. I lean on him more willingly. This is encouraging to me when envy knocks on the door of my heart.

What about you?
Do you struggle with envy and jealousy?
In what ways does God want to journey with you towards contentment and peace?

Photo Credit: Evan P. Cordes