What You Were MADE for…

Thomas Goodwin, when talking about God’s responsibility and man’s responsibility often employs words like due, meet, and suitable.  Perhaps “suitable” is the only one we still use as Goodwin would.  All are meant to communicate the idea of appropriateness.  For instance, if God created humanity with stomachs, it would be appropriate for Him to also create food for them.  Creating them and then allowing them to starve would be inappropriate, right! ?

For a moment, I want to dig into what Goodwin says about how humanity is made and what God’s appropriate response is to that.  In the end, it will answer the question: What is the meaning of life?  Here’s how Goodwin introduces this point:

If God would create intelligent natures out of nothing, it is appropriate for him to give them his own image of holiness whereby they might be able to know, to love, and to enjoy a communion with him, and happiness from himself, as their chiefest good.*

So, first, Goodwin says that if God is going to make us with brains of our own, with the ability to think as humans (unlike the animals), then it was appropriate, due, even required by His goodness, that we would be able, as those made in the image of God, to know and enjoy Him.  Isn’t that interesting.  Why is that the case?  Why “must” God allow us to enjoy Him just because he made us as thinking creatures?  Goodwin says:

As it was God’s generous gift to give it, so the very nature of humanity required it as convenient, meet, and suitable to our nature, and without it, God’s creation of us would have been imperfect, yea, miserable

See, our intellects, if left alone, without God, would be miserable.  They needed to be paired with a spiritual capacity as well, namely, an ability to know and enjoy God.  This is where it gets really exciting:

For otherwise those vast faculties of understanding and will would have been left empty, like a hungry stomach of a giant, continually craving when it has only crumbs of food, and drops of weak water.  They could not otherwise have attained their main end, or arrived at their convenient happiness, which their very natures were created and designed for, which can be filled with nothing but a communion with God.

Our intellects without spiritual encounter with God, without being able to know and enjoy Him, would be a black hole of despair.  The very ability to think and understand in creatures made in the image of God, in a sense, demands the ability to think and know the best thing/person: GOD HIMSELF, and to enjoy Him!

If God has provided for their bodies, only, and not their souls with those noble powers of understanding and will, they would be deprived of their chief object; they would be shut out from the communication of the life of God, in which their happiness lay.  This spiritual blessedness also must be given, along with those intellectual faculties, by which together they might be able to know, love, and delight in God.

Do you get it?  If God made intelligent creatures,  then it would it be monstrously cruel for Him to withhold Himself from us.   That is the very nature and design He gave us.  He gave us stomachs, so food is appropriate as well.  Just so, in giving us an intellect and making us in His image, so it is appropriate (meet, due, convenient, necessary) that He gives us HIMSELF!  That is what we are made for.  To know and enjoy Him forever.  That is what will fill the giant stomach of our souls! AND, joy of joys, that is what He delights to give us…HIMSELF!

 

*I’ve tried to update Goodwin’s language here for easier reading without in any way changing his meaning and intent.

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Man is a Worshiping Soldier

As we move, within our model, from the center to the 3 secondary roles, you’ll notice a few things.  First, we will discuss how each of these 3 secondary roles relate to the core role of worshipper.  That’s important because if any of these become unmoored from the center, then not only is our understanding of manhood going to be warped, but we are also going to increasingly injure ourselves and others around us.

Second, I will highlight a key characteristic of each secondary role.  Could more characteristics be added? Sure, but my hope is to identify the characteristic at the heart of that role and focus there for simplicity.

Third, I obviously want to show that these are, indeed, roles assigned to men in the Scriptures, so we will explore that in a variety of ways, perhaps through the exposition of a passage and/or perhaps through observing the example of one or more persons in the Bible.

So, then, that brings us to the first of our secondary roles.  I don’t want the order in which we proceed to seem to suggest a priority here, but one of them has to be first, so we’ll start with Soldier.

Men are meant to be Worshipping Soldiers.  What does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that we are men of violence.  I don’t use the word Soldier to in any way refer to actual fighting, so please don’t go out and take up boxing because of me.  Our struggle, our mission, our battle is not against flesh and blood.  So, don’t picture the Crusades here with “christian” knights going out to conquer the invading armies of the Saracens. Then, what do I mean?

A soldier is someone under orders.  A committed soldier follows those orders.  Even in some cases, whether because of devotion to cause, country, or commander, we read of soldiers with such undying commitment that they follow those orders with great joy and wouldn’t choose any other path.  The man of God is like that latter example. Because he delights in God, he is happy to follow God’s lead. He’s not obeying to earn anything or avoid anything. He obeys for joy! If you’re looking for a short book to stir your joy in the Lord, I’d recommend Mike Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity.  I’ve also had Sam Storms’ The Singing God highly recommended to me.

The danger of being a soldier without being a worshiper should be clear.  It would mean having our own mission instead of the mission of the God we so adore.  It would mean using our courage and strength for unholy purposes.  It would mean trudging through life somehow thinking that our efforts earn us something, be it praise, adoration, acceptance, forgiveness, money, or love.  We call that kind of soldier a mercenary.  He’ll fight anyone if the pay is good.

Not for the Christian the man!  No, we love Jesus.  He is the chief of ten thousand in our eyes.  He’s lovely and more to be desired than all this world.  So, it is with JOY that we say, “Jesus, you are Lord.  You are in charge.  I joyfully embrace your call on my life.  I gladly follow you wherever you go and whatever you are doing.”  Read the Gospel of John, notice how joyfully Jesus goes about the Father’s mission.  That is our example, and that is what we’ll look at in the next post.

The Image of God and Real Masculinity

In the last post, we saw three things that help us understand masculinity: that God is real, that He created out of love and not out of need, and that He is intentional.  We saw that those things shape what a real man is and does.  Let’s dig into three others now.

God remains involved in the world He made

In Christ, Paul says, “we live and move and have our being (Act 17.28).”  And in Colossians 1, “For by him (Jesus) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  He didn’t make us then abandon us.  No, we exist “in Him,” meaning that our existence is sustained by His power.  And that’s the clear declaration from Colossians 1.17: in him, all things hold together.

He hasn’t left us to fend for ourselves.  He hasn’t left creation to crumble around us.  He is here. He is sustaining all things. We see this in a really intimate way in Psalm 3:5: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.”  You wouldn’t even wake up in the morning if the Lord wasn’t actively involved in keeping you alive.

And so, real men have staying power.  That doesn’t just mean that they don’t abandon their families, though that’s certainly true, but they also bring a sustenance to those around them.  They aren’t just present, but they are involved in such a way that life flourishes around them. They hold things together. They are a safe place in which others can live and move and have their being.

God takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be

Lamentations 3.37-38 asks, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?”  Talk about responsibility. Good and bad…that covers everything. The Most High is in control. He is actively involved, and he doesn’t shirk His responsibility. And when mankind questions His intentions or His righteousness in what He does, He doesn’t run away, but He answers them.

He comes to Job in a whirlwind to show how good and right He has been in everything that occurred in Job’s difficult circumstances.  He comes to Habbakuk when that prophet questioned whether God knew what He was doing. After hearing from the Lord, all Habakkuk could say as he watched devastation surrounding God’s people was,

17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”

We look at the world and think, “man, this place is a mess.”  But because He’s fully sovereign, we can declare, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28).”

Therefore, real men take responsibility.  And if you’re married, you take double responsibility.  Jesus took upon himself responsibility for all the sins of His bride, the Church.  And so men, even when it’s the fault of your wife, it’s still your responsibility.  You own it, you address it the way Jesus did, by giving all of Himself.  We’ll talk more of this in a later chapter.

I’m made in God’s image

You are made in the image of God.  That could actually be translated “as the image of God.”  You are meant to image forth God in the world. People should look at your life and know something true about God.  Perhaps they see your kindness, your self-sacrifice, your tenderness, or your bravery. And even if they don’t recognize it, they’ve seen a reflection of the attributes of God.

Genesis 1.26 says, “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  So, one point about the image of God is that it plays out in how humanity leads creation.  It is representational.  You are the image of God, therefore, have dominion.

Of course, God’s dominion is a loving, self-giving rule, not a dominating, smash-and-grab sort of rule.  So, the image of God isn’t just about our representation of God in our actions, but it also includes the idea of relationship.  He made man in His image – MALE AND FEMALE.  It wasn’t good for Adam/Man to be alone.  Why?  Because a single, solitary individual couldn’t reflect a God that is 3 persons united in love.  So, when man and woman (two people) become one flesh, they image the God who is Father, Son, and Spirit (three persons) who are one God!

So, those made in the image of God rule, but they do it in a fruitful way.  They are meant to bear fruit. Why? Because that’s what God is like. He gives life.  He overflows. He is a bright, shining Sun who warms the world. He’s a fountain that can’t stop spilling over. So, being made in the image of God requires multiplication.  That’s why it took male and female to really pull it off.

So, men ought to have dominion – a self-sacrificing, servant-hearted rule.  A my-life-for-yours reign. And it should be fruitful and life-giving. What would our relationships look like if men lived out the reality that they are made in/as the image of God?

So, at the heart of every real man is a delight, a relishing, in the God – the Triune, true, and living God – of the Bible, who made him and all things. If that is missing, nothing else in the Model will work.  He is the foundation of what men were always meant to be.  So, again, our the core component of masculinity, then, is authentic, happy worship of the God of the Bible.

Manhood in light of a real, intentional, and loving God

I ended the last post with this statement, attempting to clarify what the God of the Bible is like in contrast to the gods of this world, highlighting 6 things about the Triune God.

However, if I believe in the God of Christianity, the Triune God, I have a God that is altogether different.  He is real (a). He created with intentionality (2). He created not out of need but out of love (3). He created and then didn’t run away but remains active in the world (4).  He takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be (5). And if I’ve been made in His image (6) – to do his works, think his thoughts, and represent Him in the world – that makes all the difference.

Now, I want to take a few minutes to unpack that.  Today’s post will cover 3, then the next post will cover 3.

He is real

I love what Glen Scrivener says about this.  There are 4 answers to the question, “What was there before the beginning?”  Scrivener argues that every worldview can be classified into 4 categories based on how they answer that question.  First, some answer the question with “nothing.”

If that’s true, then what is the consequence for humanity.  We’re an accident. We’re alone in the universe, just happy that some random molecules came together to form our little planet and our little lives.  We came from nothing and are returning to nothing, so what’s the point of manhood? Nothing.

The second answer is, “Chaos.”  Like Buddhists or Gnostists, something bad happened (we’re often not sure what) in the “cosmos,” and we’re the result.  We’re not just “nothing,” we’re the excrement of the Universe. It burped us out. So, men, life is chaos, and nothing really matters.  Do whatever you can to escape chaos, even if that means infidelity or abandoning your family.

The third answer is, “Power.”  Either power itself (big-bang) or an all powerful, solitary deity (the god of Islam or the Titans) caused us.  So, what’s the point of life? Power! Gaining power. Survival of the fittest. Creating a following of slaves and servants.  So, men, feel free to conquer and oppress because that’s what life is all about.

But, the Christian answer is different from every other answer.  Before creation, Christians argue, there was love. There was a Father loving His Son, in fellowship with the Spirit.  We take a sneak peek into Heaven in John 17. We hear God the Son, that’s Jesus, speaking to God the Father. Listen to what they were doing before creation:

17.5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

17.24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

The Triune God, the Christian God, Father, Son, and Spirit were sharing glory with one another before creation.  They were loving one another before the foundation of the world. The were giving to and receiving from each other.  They were enjoying each other. Isn’t that beautiful?! What does that mean for life? That it is the outflow of love, which we’ll look at in a moment.  And for men, it means that whatever characteristics we have, if we don’t have love, then we are not like God, and we are failing at the entire purpose of life.

He created with intentionality

Creation wasn’t a surprise.  It also wasn’t just thrown together like a kindergarten art project.  No, the all-wise God – Father, Son, and Spirit – working in tandem, together created the world and said afterwards, “It is very good.”  The heavens declare the glory of the Lord. The beauty of creation show his power and wisdom. He is intentional, and mankind is meant to live with intentionality within His creation and purposes.

He created out of love, not out of need

God wasn’t lonely before creation.  We’ve already seen that. He also didn’t need people to serve him, to meet his needs.  No, He was just fine without humanity, without creation. So, why did He create? The great theologians of the Church over the centuries all agree, Father, Son, and Spirit created as an overflow of the love they already experienced together.  They had so much love, that they wanted to create a people to whom they could further give their love. A people to fellowship in loving communion with, just like what they already had.

Here’s how Jonathan Edwards put it:  The spouse of the Son of God, the Lamb’s wife (the Church) is the reason for which all of the universe was made…God created the world for His Son, that He might prepare a bride for Him to bestow His love upon; so that the mutual joys between this bride and bridegroom are the purpose of the creation.

Isn’t that awesome!  And so, if that’s the purpose for God’s work, for God’s activity, for God’s leadership over the new world he has made, then that means we men already know the purpose for our own work, activity, and leadership.  Not to be served, but to serve. Not to have our needs met, but to meet the needs of others. Not to acquire and hoard, but to give and pour out.

Come back for the next post when we’ll cover the other 3 points!

The Core Characteristic of Manhood

Welcome back to this series on Manhood.  Today we’re looking at the CORE CHARACTERISTIC of Manhood.  This is central.  Everything else flows from it.  Before we dig in, I wanted to let you know (if you didn’t) about David Murray’s Christian Man Academy.  David blogs over at Head Heart Hand, and this new undertaking, I’m sure, will be the go-to place for Biblical input/resources on Christian masculinity.  So, now, back to the task at hand.

At the heart of every real man must be a heart of worship towards God. But, I have to clarify that statement in two ways.  First, what do I mean by “worship” and, second, what do I mean by “God.”

What comes to mind when you think of worship?  When I ask this, time and again the answer is almost always something that I do.  I bow down. I sing a song. I clap my hands. I give money.  And those things are certainly an outworking of worship.  But, we want to beware of worshiping like those Jesus (quoting Isaiah) rebuked: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”  Going to church, sharing your faith, preaching, praising, and even our day to day work CAN be worship, but only if it flows from a heart of worship, of delight and love for God.

I’m not talking about ecstatic experiences or goose bump praise.  I’m not asking if you enjoy worship, singing, etc. I’m asking if you ENJOY GOD!  Look at these few samples from the Psalms. How did David and others feel about God?

PSALM 73.25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

PSALM 27.4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
 that will I seek after: 
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
 all the days of my life,
 to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
 and to inquire[a] in his temple.

PSALM 42.1-2 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
 so pants my soul for you, O God.
  My soul thirsts for God,
 for the living God.
 When shall I come and appear before God?

This is the language of a lover.  Imagine if I called my wife and said: “Whom have I but you?  Who else could I ever want? I want to gaze upon you. I want to be with you.  When can I see you?” Whew! That’s passionate, deep affection.

I love to read the Puritans.  Men like Jonathan Edwards, Richard Sibbes, and Thomas Goodwin.  The way the talk about Jesus makes me say, “Really? Is Jesus really that good!?!?!”  But, he is.  And friends, these are men speaking of their unashamed affection for Christ.  Do you get carried away as you think about and talk about the beauty of Jesus? Due to cultural shifts, it’s now considered unmanly to speak affectionately about another man, even Jesus, our God and Savior.  And it’s to our shame and our loss.

If Jesus weren’t in heaven, would you want to go?  I hope not. While this series doesn’t have the time or space to unpack the depths of our salvation, let’s see quickly what Jesus says in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”  Do you see it? Eternal life is KNOWING God.

The Christian doesn’t just want forgiveness or righteousness.  No! We want God. We delight in God. We never want to be parted from God.  He is our beloved, the lover of our souls! Heaven, whatever treats it may hold, without Jesus, would be no paradise at all.  Worship of God means nothing less than a heart level love of God.  A warm affection for God.

And that has everything to do with the answer to the second clarification. When I say men should, at their core, be worshippers of God, who do I have in mind when I say “God.”  What God am I talking about.

Now, you may think, “Schell, I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure I know who God is.”  But, do you?  Let’s be clear because what we have said and will say about manhood means that not just any god will do.  Because we will become like what we worship. Take these gods for example:

  • So, if the god I worship created mankind because he needed them (ancient Greek gods for instance), then I will become a needy, self-serving man who demands that others exist to fulfill me.
  • If I worship a god who created mankind, but now keeps his distance (the god of Islam for example), I will be a detached man who produces something (perhaps work, a child, a family) but then stands apart from it as if it must now continue without me.
  • If I believe creation comes from an accident (new-age spiritualism, most forms of evolutionary theory, Gnosticism), then it doesn’t matter how I live. In this view, the fact that I’m a man is an accident any way.
  • Finally, if I believe that creation isn’t a reality (Buddhism, Hinduism), but is a mirage, a façade, then my life isn’t real either, so the best thing I can do is ignore reality and spend my days seeking nirvana – whatever self-actualization plan I prefer.  I will check out on my responsibilities because I don’t really believe in reality.

Does that sound silly?  Think about the cultures that have grown up around those belief systems.  What kind of men did it produce? Were the Spartans known for their Christ-like, self-sacrificing, benevolence?  Does Islam seem to produce a society that is a paragon of love and mutual service between genders? I may be generalizing, but they are true generalities.  So, when a man worships his work or accomplishments, money, sex, or any other heart-idol, we shouldn’t be surprised when he become a detached man, a selfish man, a boy in a man’s body, or a devil.

However, if I believe in the God of Christianity, the Triune God, I have a God that is altogether different.  He is real. He created with intentionality. He created not out of need but out of love. He created and then didn’t run away but remains active in the world.  He takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be. And if I’ve been made in His image – to do his works, think his thoughts, and represent Him in the world – that makes all the difference.  AND, get this, when I see Him as He is, He is so delightful, so attractive, so breath-taking that I want to be a worshiper of THAT God!

In the next post I’ll unpack that last paragraph, but I’d love to hear your thoughts so far!

Reacting to Toxic Masculinities

We saw in the last post that currently, in our culture, two pictures of masculinity are being promoted, both of which are truncated, even toxic.  Here’s how peoples in the culture and in the Church are responding.

Reactions to Marlboro Man

As I write this, it is the year 2019.  There has now been a several years long attempt by much of society, at large, to devalue or redefine manhood.  They believe that they are achieving progress in leaving old stereotypes of gender behind.  Recent news exposing the rampant sexual abuse that has occurred throughout sports, Hollywood, and even the Church seem to demand a new definition of manhood.  They wonder how we can make men be less violent and less sexual.

And because of that, some Christians also wonder if 2000+ years of teaching on gender differences should be jettisoned so that we can have a masculinity that is a little more gentle, a little more relational.  And when men who hold to some traditional form of masculinity walks in the Church, they find that they are not welcome. Watching the news of abuse, we can understand the desire to snuff out bad masculinity, but we believe that this approach starts from and ends up in the wrong place.  They are reacting to bad masculinity by advocating a different, but still bad, masculinity.

Reacting to a Feminized Masculinity

Others in the culture reject the feminized picture of masculinity.  Perhaps it’s because of their own upbringing, where generation after generation of men lived out the ideal of machismo.  Maybe it’s cultural. Perhaps it’s subculture, passed from military father to military son. There are non-religious reasons for wanting to guard the image of Marlboro Man.

But others in the Church is guilty of promoting a false picture of masculinity as well.  In an attempt to stem the cultural tide, pastors and other Christian leaders have often slipped past Biblical masculinity into forms of patriarchy or downright misogyny.  Some haven’t necessarily tried to fight in the arena of ideas on this issue, instead they’ve opted to start literal fight clubs within their churches.  Nothing is as manly as punching another guy in the face, I guess.  Instead of calling men to a robust picture of masculinity, they’ve settled for roughhousing.

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

We meet two brothers in the book of Genesis destined to compete.  One brother, Esau, was a hunter, an outdoorsman of great ability. Jacob was described as “a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”  While not quite “nancy boy” or “girly-man,” the description is intended to show that in contrast to Esau, an animal of a man (even covered in hair as thick as a goat), Jacob was much more at home, actually, at home.

Here’s the thing, neither man was a good man.  Neither exhibited traits of mature masculinity.  They were both BAD examples of manliness. Because manhood isn’t found in things like temperament, facial hair, interests, personality, athleticism, or preference.  It’s found in Christ-like character that results in Christ-like behavior.  Esau was rash, petulant, and selfish.  Jacob was a liar, a cheat, and a thief.

Right now, some in the culture and Church are trying to sell Jacob to us.  Likewise, people inside and outside the Church are promoting Esau.  But those are both bad choices.  Both are toxic options. Don’t sell out to either truncated picture of masculinity. They are selling us a house on bad foundations.  If these two men fit, so well, the descriptions from each of these camps, and yet are bad men, then the definitions must be wrong.

That means it’s not about how much you cry or how much your bench press.  It’s not how deep a voice or how effeminate a voice is.  Don’t choose Jacob or Esau, choose Jesus.  He made man, His Word instructs us as men, and He lived the perfect life as a man, showing us what a real man is.

On both sides of these stories is the decision between being, seemingly, not manly enough or not womanly enough.  That’s a false dichotomy. Let’s leave that behind and move into robust, Biblical masculinity.

What is Holiness?

I think the puritans do such a better job of answering this question: What is holiness?  Their answer may surprise you.  We often think of the Puritans as stuffy, no-fun-allowed sort of folk.  That’s unfortunate.  Surely some of them were that way, just like some of us are, but the best Puritans actually made pleasure and joy central to our faith.  How they answer a question like “What is Holiness?” shows us a little of this.

Before I give you Jonathan Edwards and Thomas Goodwin’s answers, I want to ask how many people today would answer it.  What is holiness?  Is it primarily about whether and how much we sin?  Is it about ticking all the “thou shalt not” boxes?  What about God…what does it mean that He is holy?  Does it, primarily, mean that he can’t allow those who haven’t checked all those boxes in His presence?  I’ve said elsewhere that I often hear people say things like, “God is loving, but he’s also holy,” as if those things are opposites or mutually exclusive.  And that’s part of what’s wrong with our understanding of holiness.  So, let’s look at a couple of Puritans.

First, Jonathan Edwards. I’m going to invite Mike Reeves to share this as he’s who I first heart it from.  Go read his whole article at Desiring God, but here he is on Edwards and God’s holiness.

For the reality is that I am the cold, selfish, vicious one, full of darkness and dirtiness. And God is holy — “set apart” from me — precisely in that he is not like that. He is not set apart from us in priggishness, but by the fact that there are no such ugly traits in him as there are in us.

“God is God,” wrote Edwards, “and distinguished from [that is, set apart from] all other beings, and exalted above ’em, chiefly by his divine beauty” (for the connection between holiness and beauty, see verses like Psalm 96:9).2

God’s holiness, according to Edwards is primarily in His beauty, in His spreading and never changing goodness!  He’s not like us in our meanness, in all our ugly thoughts, words, and actions.  All the ways we hurt and hate others.  Isn’t that so much grander than “not sinning?”  Isn’t holiness as beauty just so much more, well, beautiful!!!

Now, Thomas Goodwin answers this question of God’s holiness as well (Vol 7, Book 1, Chapter 3).  Here’s what he says:

Matthew 19.17: “There is none good but God,” so therefore holy.  He is separate and alone in his holiness in the manner that he is alone in his (good) being.  And if he is the only one who is good, then much more is he the only holy one, for holiness is the height and perfection of goodness; it is so for man, and so in God.*

What does that mean?  It means that, at His core (in his being), God is good.  This is seen before creation ever existed as the Father, Son, and Spirit were in loving communion with one another, John 17 says, sharing glory and loving one another.  Before there were laws to give or keep, God was loving and sharing.  He was GOOD!  His holiness, then, can only be what is core to God.  What sets him apart?  His being, his nature, which we’ve just seen is loving, beautiful, and good.  And that is what sets him apart.  As you may know, holy means “set apart.”  His spreading goodness is what sets him apart, what differentiates God from us.

Holiness, then, according to these two puritans is beautiful goodness.  He’s not hot and cold towards us, he is consistently kind and good.  He’s holy.  In any day, I’m likely to despise and want ill for those that I should most love (sorry wifey and dear kiddos!), not to mention the random celebrity or Facebook stranger with whom I disagree.  Not so with God.  He’s holy.  He’s good.  He’s beautiful.

So, then, the invitation to be holy as God is holy becomes something amazing.  It’s now an invitation to share in the very goodness and beauty of God.  “Come, child, let me share my love and glory with you.  Let’s us experience unbroken, perfect love and fellowship.  Come, enjoy all this…that is, be holy like me.”

*I updated the language for clarity.  Italics are mine.

Two Popular and False Views of Manhood

Before we can dive into understanding God’s view of manhood, we need to understand that we already have our own view of it.  Likely, we didn’t formulate this understanding after methodical reflection and study. No, chances are you were given your philosophy of manhood by others.

For some, it happens in an instant, perhaps when a parent or other relative decides it’s time for you to “understand how things work.”  For others, it’s a slow development, pieced together over time through what is said by family, teachers, schoolmates, at home, in the classroom, and on the playground.  Along the way, perhaps, you reject some pieces you hear and synthesize the others into a composite picture of manliness.

In one set of circumstances, the picture that may emerge, especially for young men who really enjoy sports and other outdoor activities, and from a family that does as well, is that of the Marlboro Man.  A self-sufficient, adventurous, unemotional, rugged man’s man. There are some good things about this man. He’s reliable and hard working. He’s brave and knows how to get things done.  And yet, something’s missing.

When this masculinity is taken to extremes, it can become misogynistic.  It can be cold. It’s hard for those around this man (and for the man himself) to know how he feels at any given time.  He’s an emotional guessing game for them.  By the time you realizes that he’s overwhelmed, he’s half way to a divorce or a mid-life crisis.  And he may not truly feel like a man unless he’s doing something that feeds the image he has of himself.  So, changing diapers takes a back seat to fixing up an old car. This is a truncated masculinity. Some of it is true and beautiful, but it is insufficient.

In a completely different set of circumstances, a boy may be given a picture of manhood that looks strangely foreign to Marlboro Man.  Perhaps he is raised by a single mother and/or his grandmother. Or perhaps he is raised in an environment that is simply trying to blur (or erase altogether) the lines between boys and girls, between masculinity and femininity.  The picture he acquires looks strangely like the picture of a female in his life. She’s kind and gentle. Relationships are important. Her interests aren’t sports or machinery, but shopping and coffee dates.

Perhaps this boy only has women role models in his life, perhaps he naturally gravitates to areas often thought of as feminine, or perhaps he’s been told explicitly that boys and girls are the same OR that boys should be more like girls.  However it happens, he comes to see that real men behave like real women…that there’s no such thing, really, as masculinity. This, too, is truncated – partially wonderful and partially destructive.

Both of these pictures are toxic.  In the next post, we’ll look at how different people are reacting to them and start to see a way forward.

Manhood 1: What is a Man?

“Am I a man?”  From my teenage years well into my thirties, this was a constant question for me.  There seemed to linger, somewhere deep in my soul, the fear that I wasn’t a man. That I didn’t even know what it meant to be a man.

Let’s be clear, the question isn’t, “am I male?”  That was determined about four decades ago thanks to my parents.  What I’m talking about is manhood, or you might call it mature masculinity.  What does it mean to be a man? What characteristics, qualities, and skills befit one so labeled: Man?

Sure, there were cultural markers meant to illustrate when a boy had crossed over that invisible line from child to adult, from a mere boy to manhood.  Every generation has these false markers. Most seem pretty childish to me now, like smoking your first cigarette or drinking your first beer. Others point to experiences that certainly should require a mature masculinity, but neither delivers it nor demands it, such as sex, a first job, getting married, and having a child.

No, this is certain, none of those things make a boy into a man.  We can all think of people who have crossed those boundaries, flown past them even, without acquiring one ounce of maturity in the process.

The older I get, the more I realize that I’m not the only guy asking this question.  In fact, the more men I talk to about these things (manhood, masculinity, maturity), the more I find that there are, in fact, very few men who feel like they have a firm grasp on what it means to truly be a man.  This isn’t just those who grew up without a father. Even those who would describe their father as a “pretty good dad,” say that the topic of manhood and maturity now seems to have been woefully neglected in their upbringing.

They still find themselves asking, “am I a man?”  It’s a powerful question.  It’s also a sad question.

The most fortunate can at least remember having “the talk” with their father.  You know the one, something about birds and bees. I say “most fortunate” with tongue in cheek, because it is a stinging indictment on fatherhood when the only conversation required to be a “pretty good dad” is one about sex.  What an even sadder statement about manhood – is sex really the only thing a man needs to know to be a mature man, a GOOD man…and are you sure you can cover it all in 10 minutes?

Well, from time to time, I still ask this question: am I a man?  But now, it’s different. I am beginning to understand what it means to be a man, a good man, a Christlike man.  I can see with greater clarity the qualities, characteristics, and skills needed to be what God has created me to be AS A MAN.  By His grace, I’m starting to see other men discover who they are meant to be as well, and we are walking together towards greater maturity.  And I hope this series helps you do that as well.

The series is shaped around a “model” for masculinity.  It will provide a visual picture of mature masculinity, and as we unpack it, we will begin to understand what manhood is meant to be.  You will see that the model is really an attempt to show us what God’s good design is for manhood. It is an attempt to see how He has instructed us to live as men.

And here’s the really important part, you’re going to see that the way God has designed manhood is based on something even more foundational, namely, His own character.  Manhood is the way it is because God is the way He is. Your mature life as a man is meant to reflect to the world the truth about God. And only when you understand the truth about who God is and what He’s like, will you begin to understand who you are meant to be and have the desire and ability to live it out.

And when you start to live out of that, that’s when everything changes.

A Model of Biblical Masculinity – Expanded

Hello friends, if you were around about a year ago, perhaps you saw me post something titled “A Model of Biblical Masculinity.”  One of the real burdens on my heart these days is manhood, especially Biblical Manhood.  I was excited to see David Murray announce the launch of his Christian Man Academy.  I also felt it was a good time to start sharing some more on what I’ve written on this topic.  So, below is a slight revision of last March’s post, and I’ll be expanding on some aspect of this model every few days.  So, enjoy!

A Model of Biblical Masculinity

At our church, we host a quarterly time for men to get together and pursue God’s vision for Biblical masculinity, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic.  I wanted to share a little “model” with you that is my attempt to capture, in visual form what Biblical masculinity looks like, as well as some description (as short as I could bring myself to it) of how it all functions together.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A MODEL OF MASCULINITY

I’m a visual learner. I love charts, graphs, maps, and funny cartoon clippings. I also am a big-picture person. I struggle with details, but if you can give me a compelling overview, then I can begin to dig into the details in a way that keeps me from getting overwhelmed. So, when I began to ask, “what makes a good man” I quickly found myself trying to create some type of visual aid that would help me understand the big picture. Out of that, came the above Model.

While we could say much about the different pieces of this Model, I want to show how they all fit together here.

CORE IDENTITY OF WORSHIP

The Model consists of a core identity; namely, living in a loving relationship with the one, true God as a worshipper – one who delights in, who enjoys fellowship with the Triune God.

At the heart of every real man must be a heart of worship towards God. Not just any god will do, however, because we will become like what we worship. So, if the god I worship created mankind because he needed them (ancient Greek gods for instance), then I will become a needy, self-serving man who demands that others exist to fulfill me. If I worship a god who created mankind, but now keeps his distance (the god of Islam, deism), I will be a detached man who produces something (perhaps work, a child, a family) but then stands apart from it as if it must now continue without me. If I believe creation comes from an accident (new-age spiritualism, most forms of evolutionary theory, Gnosticism), then it doesn’t matter how I live. In this view, the fact that I’m a man is an accident any way. Finally, if I believe that creation isn’t a reality (Buddhism, Hinduism), but is a mirage, a façade, then my life isn’t real either, so the best thing I can do is ignore reality and spend my days seeking nirvana – whatever self-actualization plan I prefer. I will check out on my responsibilities because I don’t really believe in reality.

However, if I believe in the God of Christianity, the Triune God, who is real, who created with intentionality, who created not out of need but out of love, who created and then didn’t run away but remains active in the world, who takes all responsibility for what has been, what is, and what will be, and if I’ve been made in His image – to do his works, think his thoughts, and represent Him in the world – that makes all the difference. At the heart of every real man is a delight in the God who made him and all things. If that is missing, nothing else in the Model will work.

3 SECONDARY ROLES FLOW OUT OF WORSHIP

There are 3 other roles that every man must fulfill, represented by the outer circles of the Model. Every man must be a Shepherd, Soldier, and Sage. The core characteristics for these roles are Love, Courage, and Wisdom respectively. Certainly, each man will gravitate towards one of these roles more than another, but he is called to develop in and live out of all three.

And all three need to be tethered to Worship. Because God’s Wisdom, God’s Courage, and God’s Love are completely different from the world’s wisdom, courage, and love. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” If we start from any point other than the God of Scripture, we are hopeless. Our best love, courage, and wisdom, conjured up somewhere other than from the power of God, are faulty, weak, and foolish. And so to move out from that place spells doom. Soldiers will become dictators, Shepherds will love sporadically or with sappy sentimentality, and Sages will use their wisdom for their own good or for no one’s.

FIDELITY TO GOD’S COMMUNAL LOVE, KINGDOM MISSION, AND DIVINE TRUTH

In fact, these three roles are really responses to God. They exist because God exists and is who he says he is. God is love. That is the core of who he is, and so as those made in his image, we too are called to love (Shepherd). He is community, the Trinity, and so we were created to love in community. The Shepherd role reflects the appropriate response (relational fidelity) to God’s communal love.

So too, God is King of a Kingdom, and he is on a mission to establish that Kingdom. As citizens of that Kingdom and co-heirs with Christ, we are drafted into the Kingdom mission. We are His vice-regents. The Soldier role reflects the appropriate response (missional fidelity) to God’s Kingdom mandate.

Finally, God is true. Though every man be found a liar, he will be found true. And he not only knows the truth, but knows what to do with it, so he is also all-wise. His wisdom makes even the wisest man look like a fool. And so, He has given the Spirit of God to each of us, in short, he has given us the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-16). The Sage role reflects the appropriate response (theological fidelity) to the truth of God.

THE BALANCE OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

Not only must they flow out of the heart of a worship, but these three roles also help balance each other. For instance, a Soldier who doesn’t use wisdom (Sage) will lose the battle, and one who doesn’t love (Shepherd) might win the wrong battle or win the right battle wrongly, believing that the ends justify the means. Similarly, a Shepherd who allows love to trump truth (Sage) has actually departed from real love. And a Shepherd, busy loving, who forgets his mission (Soldier) leads the sheep into danger or away from true blessing. Finally, a Sage who loves knowledge and wisdom, but forgets to employ that wisdom for the good of God’s people (Shepherd) and for his Kingdom (Soldier), fails. All three need each other.

THE INTERWOVEN BEAUTY OF THE 3 SECONDARY ROLES

And when they are working together, we see beautiful and critical activities flowing out, illustrated by the 3 outer rectangles. When courage (Soldier) and love (Shepherd) combine, the result is service – sacrificial, humble service to God, His Church, and humanity. When love (Shepherd) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is cultivation – that is, space for the things that make life beautiful and bountiful, from poetry to farming to government that is just. Finally, when courage (Solider) and wisdom (Sage) combine, the result is Christ-like leadership, resulting in the people of God wisely and boldly fulfilling their purpose.

This is just an overview.  I will seek to unpack these primary and secondary pieces in the days ahead, so stay tuned!