I AM…

I AM ….. Andre, an Educator, a Caucasian male, a husband, a father, a counselor, a pastor, an exercise fanatic, a shame-breaker, a creative, an INFJ … the list can go on and on.

Why do we need to give ourselves titles and define our identities? What effect can they have on ourselves and others?

In Exodus 3, Moses had that enlightening moment with God, when he heard God speaking audibly from a burning bush. In his attempts to fathom the mission God had called him to, Moses was perplexed that he should go back to Egypt (where he was a wanted man for murder), ask Pharoah to release the Israelites (Pharoah’s cheap labour force), and gather the Israelite nation (his people that were not too accepting and embracing of him), and lead them out of Egypt. In, what I would consider sheer frustration at the thought of how he could garner the favour of Pharoah and the Israelites, Moses asks God, ‘who should I say, has sent me.’

To his surprise, God responds by saying, “I AM who I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3: 14). Moses responds obediently to God’s commission, and after some confrontations with Pharoah and regular moments of needing to assure the Israelites that God’s plan would prosper, he leads them out of Egypt. As the ‘I AM who I AM’, guided Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt in miraculous ways, one of the most significant things that happened was that they found their identity as a nation in the desert and eventually overcame and inhabited the promised land.

While counselling, I find too many people carelessly using the phrase ‘I am a/n…’. The consequences of some of these statements have been very destructive. ‘I am unwanted’, ‘I am stupid … owed … unworthy … insignificant … a genius … flawed … demon-possessed … powerful etc.’ Part of the reason for this, I believe, is because only God has the right to say He is the ‘I AM’. When we dare to make a judgement about ourselves and label ourselves I am …’, we are taking His role, and this is very dangerous. In Romans 9:19-20, the Apostle Paul says: ‘But who do you think you are to second-guess God? How could a human being moulded out of clay say to the one who molded him, ‘Why in the world did you make me this way?’ (TPT)

Paul is making it clear that when we give definitions of ourselves that oppose those of God the Father, we are denying our creator (the one who molds us). Simply put, when we do this we are acting out of rebellion, and we are living in idolatry (we place our perceptions of who we are above those of God, our maker). Most of us call ourselves things because of pain, shame, guilt, sin, and hurt that has remoulded what God intended, BUT, God’s definition of us is true, and we need to stop denying ourselves this gift – we are His beloved children in whom He is well pleased! (Matthew 3:17)

When we say ‘I am’, I believe it always needs to be in the context, or perspective, of THE ‘I AM’, and who He says we are first. If we allow our sin, pain, and their consequences to define us, we deny our true identity. All people that have experienced pain, guilt, abuse, shame or any kind of struggle (physically or emotionally) need to be carefully and compassionately cared for, but in such a way that they will always find their true God-given identity, and drop any self-imposed definitions that undermine the ‘I AM’.

This obviously has great consequences for us as we engage the world in which we live. So many new names defining gender identity have been, and are continuing to be created. Gender is one aspect of our sexuality, and research clarifies that our gender differentiation, definition and identification are formed from conception, at birth, and around 3-years-old (Lemmer, 2006: 126-134).

The ‘I AM’ is pretty clear in Genesis 1:27 that definitions around gender of being a man or woman are simple (and within each, diverse), but I fear that we have erred on idolatry and decided that we need to be the ‘I AM’, and formulate identities that are complicated, and are far removed from His simple, loving definitions. It’s no wonder we live in a world full of confusion and struggle concerning gender. We need to be careful.

The most exciting thing about seeing ourselves through the eyes of the I AM is that He reveals facets, sides, shades, textures, colours, melodies and tones that are ‘us’, that without Him, we’d miss.

Whose we are, is more important than who we believe we are. In the context of the ‘I AM’, we, like Moses, can face the trauma of facing our Egypts (circumstances that caused our past hurt, pain and slavery), the Pharoahs (ungodly authority figures in our lives), and even the Israelites (those close to us that have hurt us). God, the ‘I AM’, is more than enough. We do not need to try and redefine who we are because of our pain. Let’s rather see our pain through the perspective of the ‘I AM’. In so doing, we can completely trust His simple definitions of who we are, and find healing and freedom.

I am only the I AM’s.

Sources:

Lemmer, J.  2005. Identity and sexuality. Sexology SA. Pretoria, South Africa

Don’t be a pain – let it work for you! (2)

Don’t be a Pain – use it! (2)

Ignoring our pain will cause us to become a pain – whether it be to ourselves or those around us. Sexual pain is one of the deepest forms of pain and often results in unhealthy sexual ways or thinking that creates even further pain. In my previous blog, I spoke about embracing our pain. May you become one of those who has the courage and strength to do that.

One of the most sobering moments for me as a white South African pastor was when I attended a conference that considered the African male identity. Apart from hearing some heart-wrenching stories in which African men had experienced intense pain, I was introduced to a restoration process that has meant much to me and helped many of my clients. The conference explored a strategy of freedom through which male Africans need to progress so that they can find healing from the pain of Colonial supremacy and patriarchal domination. The suggested stages of real healing and recovery include:

  1. Identification and discovery of the depth of the wound.
  2. Identification of the consequences of the wound.
  3. Healing and recovery from the wound (Reconciliation).

In many African countries, the first stage of identifying the depth of the wound has been addressed (in South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation commission played a significant role in this). Unfortunately, the long-term consequences of the wound have often not been explored and empathised with. So, in many countries that have experienced deep pain, citizens are angry because the longed-awaited reconciliation and recovery is still not a reality. In many cases, this is because the consequences of wounds have not been understood and felt. So, the much-desired recovery and reconciliation has not been realised.

 

As a sexuality counsellor, while the conference experience was difficult, it has helped me to guide people, more effectively to find freedom from pain. I have seen the need for people to follow these three stages of recovery to find freedom from sexual trauma or pain. In order to follow this process, we need to take down our defences and allow the Holy Spirit to shine His light into our hearts so that we can be honest with our pain. This can be painful in itself, but the freedom is well worth it. So, if we follow this strategy at a personal level, it can look something like this:

Identification and discovery of the depth of the wound.

Accepting and quantifying the depth of a sexual wound is painful and needs the gentle love of the Holy Spirit to remove some of the encrusted infected scabs of unforgiveness and shame. Once clients have been able to accept this pain and meaningfully release and forgive those that may have caused it, the Spirit’s healing balm can be applied and soothing repair can begin. Forgiving others and repenting of the lies and beliefs that the victim has allowed to dominate his/her existence becomes easier now. This process is also like healing ointment flushing out the wound. This process can take a moment, days, months or years – it is delicate, but in the hands of Jesus, the True healer, no time will be wasted.

Identification of the consequences of the wound.

Like any physical wound, a scar often forms which becomes a limitation to future activities. In the same way, the scars of an emotional or spiritual wound limits our capacity and ability to engage life. Assisting clients to quantify this limitation also helps them to fully accept and embrace the new life they can now enjoy. Walking with a limp validated Jacob’s calling because it marked his fight with the angels and rooted his calling to something ‘beyond this world’. In the same way, our limitations and scars are not signs of failures, but root our calling in the redemptive power of God. God’s world is an upside world. Our limitations become His opportunities and in the same way, the consequences of our pain and wounding become His opportunity for the miraculous to be manifest. It’s not easy to count the consequences of our pain, but it is helpful to realise the redemptive gift they become in the hands of our miracle working God. God is always up for a circumstance to confound the wisdom and limitations of this world, and our acknowledgement of the consequences of our pain becomes the fertile ground for this to happen.

Healing and recovery from the wound (Reconciliation).

Only once we have allowed Jesus, the wounded, gentle healer into our wounds, and allowed Him into their consequences, can we fully find recovery and reconciliation. It is always our choice and I have had the privilege of helping many through this process.

 

Sexual wounds are often the deepest kind of wound. They also tend to have the most painful consequences. Because of this, when we allow Jesus into them, we will find an outpouring of extravagant love that will bring bucket-loads of freedom, healing, refreshing and hope. My prayer is that you can take that step towards recovery. This is using our pain!

Don’t be a pain – let it work for you!


Everyone experiences pain at some stage in their lives. Unfortunately, in the sex-negative world in which most of us have been raised, the mere suggestion of sex and sexuality can sometimes be very painful. We need to change this view, but this will have to include us identifying, quantifying, feeling and finding healing for our pain. Sexual hang-ups and addictions (especially porn addiction), are rooted in pain and we need courage to face it and find freedom.

Pain is an essential part for our existence as human beings – without it we cannot protect ourselves. Congenital analgesia is a medical condition where children are born with a genetic malfunction that causes them to not feel any pain. In some sufferers of this condition children have landed up playing sport with broken limbs; suffering septicaemia from undetected appendicitis or internal damage; chewing into the nailbed of a finger causing it to rot with the need for amputation, or struggling to distinguish between food and the tongue with ghastly results.

Just as this is the case in the physical, it is also the case for us emotionally and spiritually. If we are going to be healthy people, and enjoy healthy relationships, we need to know that pain is essential for us to know our boundaries, and how we can love.  If we do not acknowledge our pain, realise its extent, care for it and nurture it to healing, it will cause us to choose unhealthy means to make us feel better. In short, we need to claim our pain and find healing from it. Intrinsic in this process is the fact that we become human, compassionate and highly dependent on God. It gives true meaning to what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:3

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Nowhere in scripture do we find God’s people finding any freedom by running away from their pain. On the contrary, it creates more pain and ultimate destruction. One of the definitions of addiction is: finding a comfort; a band-aid; some kind of panacea for pain. It is very rewarding to help those struggling in their sexuality to embrace their real pain and find true healing through Christ.

Many Biblical characters chose to embraced and see God redeem their pain.

  • Moses ran away from his pain (from Egypt into the wilderness), but after his burning bush experience returned to it and freed the Israelites.
  • Ruth chose to embrace the pain of moving with Naomi to a foreign land without a husband, work or protection. This choice caused her to find favour with Boaz, her Kinsman redeemer, and she became part of Jesus’ bloodline.
  • In the New Testament, Peter, who denied Jesus three times, faced this pain, and Jesus reinstating Him as the ‘rock’ on which the church would be built.

While there is no doubt that God wants to redeem every bit of pain we go through, we must not believe the lie that God is the instigator of pain. Pain is a bi-product of sin and there is no sin in God – He is love. However, because of sin (our own personal sin, that of others and the world’s sin) we experience pain so that we can know where there is disequilibrium in our lives, and pursue healing and freedom. In John 16:33, Jesus says, ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ Pain is inevitable, but as believers we are overcomers through Jesus! Jesus suffered intense pain in Gethsemane and on the cross as He endured the pain and assault of every evil demonic force. On the cross, Jesus’ pain was very real. Without acknowledging, embracing and learning from Jesus’ pain, our freedom would be cheap. As we embrace, acknowledging, learn from, and pursue God’s healing of our pain, there is redemption and more of God’s Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven.

Becoming responsible with our pain by allowing God’s kind love to transform our hearts to forgive and be healed is challenging but also exciting. Healthy, positive sexuality should be the reality for everyone. If this is not your reality I trust that you will take heart and know that your pain does not have to define you – you can be healed from it – your pain can become your gain – use it!

The naked truth about Shame

God has this covered … in more ways than one.

As my husband counsels people who are burdened with shame or struggling with relational intimacy in marriage and friendships, I have pondered the issue of hiding secrets. I went to Genesis 3 to read about the first time a person felt the need to hide. I found there that God’s intention for His relationship with mankind was to be intimate without shame.  When man picked that forbidden fruit, he became self-conscious. Chapter 3 verse 7-8 says, “Then the eyes of both (Adam and Eve) were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” ESV

 

What I noticed anew in this story, is that when they realised they had done something bad, they tried to fix it themselves. Imagine trying to sew underwear out of bits of plants!! The thought of how to do it, to make a flexible, comfortable, non-scratchy garment to cover… ‘there’. The creativity was woven into man’s framework because he was made in the image of the Trinity, but imagine the brain scrambling that went on that day to complete a garment, made entirely from organic material, before the sun went down. Is this where the idea for ‘Project Runway’ was born? Or rather, project runaway?

 

I cringe to imagine the sight of those two appearing before the loving Father with scratchy, badly made and desperately inappropriate undergarments! I imagine them tentatively creeping out into the open, wide eyed and nervously afraid in the hopes that He would not notice their ill-fitting garb. Well, that backfired!  He not only noticed, but He modeled perfect parenting. 1 – He did not laugh. 2 – He asked questions. In typical human response, man blamed woman who blamed the serpent. Shame usually leads to blame, but this is no laughing matter to God. It caused God to shed the blood of an innocent animal – the first sacrifice – to cover Adam and Eve’s shame.

 

God, the first clothing designer, took the skins of animals (Genesis 3: 21) to cover the shame of their nakedness. There is so much shame and pain and humiliation around nakedness. Bullying, mocking, teasing and crass joking about private parts has been part of the human existence since Eden, but God’s plan has always been to restore this to healthy respect, cherishing the beauty of what He created. So much so that the underwear saga is raised  again by the Psalmist who prophesies about it in Psalm 22. If you have ever been sexually abused or mocked or humiliated or bullied in front of others, go and read the lyrics of this song / Psalm and know that you are not alone or abandoned in the heart of the Real Father. This verse is acted out in human flesh hundreds of years later.

 

The Creator’s plan for intimacy without shame was so precious to him that He sacrificed another perfect and innocent being, Jesus Christ, His Only Son, The Lamb of God, more than 60 generations later. What was the Son of Man wearing on the cross? PG rated pictures and movies cannot expose the shame that Jesus took – publicly humiliated as he was dragged, half naked, through the streets and then exposed, arms wide open, naked on top of a hill during a national festival. To top it all the military guys, the men of men, jeered at Him and, without realising it, fulfilled Psalm 22, as they gambled for His underwear: vs 17b -18 “They look, they stare at me. They divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my garment.” (AMP). This garment was, no doubt, sweaty and bloody after the torture he had been through the previous day. What terrible shame! This perfectly, seamless item of clothing woven in one piece of expensive fine linen, was an ultimate and intimate indication that no shame is EVER too great to keep you out of the Father’s love.

 

In Ezekiel 44. 17-19 there was a specific instruction to the priests ministering in the inner courts of the temple. “When they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments….and linen undergarments around their waists. They shall have no wool near them lest they sweat. (Remember how Jesus sweated in the Garden of Gethsemane). And when they go out to the people, they shall put off the garments in which they have been ministering and lay them in the holy chambers … lest they transmit holiness to the people with their garments.” Even the garments that the Son and Priest of God wore at the cross, were significant in revealing the holiness that God makes available to me and you at this beautifully horrible exchange.

 

You were designed to be loved and accepted and protected and covered by the Creator family: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son took your place so you can have His. He was the ‘first fruit’ of heaven and He became the cursed fruit (cursed is the one hung on a tree) so that we could be restored to the garden and live freely in the presence of the creator God. So, walk freely in this restoration because… God has you covered.

A way out (from porn addiction)

Shame and guilt is the most common result of porn addiction. Attempts to break free are so often hampered by a focus on behavior when we’re told: ‘get rid of your smart phone’; ‘put spy-wear on your internet devices’ … and so it goes on.

While management is important, Porn addiction is just that – an addiction, and the addict behaves the way he/she does because there is so much pain in a part of their life that in the instant of it being touched, unwanted, care-less, embarrassing behavior is the consequence.

To break any addiction, we have to start with considering ‘misbeliefs’ we have about God our maker, and ourselves. Often these are created through painful experiences in life, and whenever the emotion of those experiences is touched, we are overwhelmed and we behave in a way that we sometimes don’t understand.

So if you are in this place today, start by considering your belief system. Maybe you want to check out your beliefs about fascination by answering these questions for yourself:

  •  Did God really give us a longing to be fascinated?
    • If He did not, then why are we fascinated?
    • If He did, then How has he gifted me to fulfill this longing in a wholesome way?

As you answer these questions, you might want to consider Revelations 4 in the Bible, and consider how very fascinated every living creature is in Heaven.

Now just before you finish reading – what healthy fascination did you have when you were about 6 years’ old.  Maybe you can pursue that fascination in the next two days, and  allow that to focus your attention, especially when you are tempted to look at pornography.

Next blog we’ll consider some more ‘misbeliefs’. May you know rich favor as you reroot yourself into real truth.