Are We Too Heavenly Minded?

That is a question I’ve been spurred to think about recently because of reading a sermon by Richard Sibbes called The Hidden Life.  Of course, the question really stems out of the quote “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good,” which I probably quotes a number of years ago, but now see how silly it is.  Sibbes’ sermon is based on Colossians 3.3-4.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It is an amazing sermon, and I want to work through it a bit in my own reflections as well as here with you.  If you’d like to read it, you can do so here.  If you’d rather listen to it, then I’ve got something for you as well.  Upon my first reading, after about 2 pages, I said to myself, “I’ve got to record this!  This is so good, and it needs to be preached.”  So, friends, I recorded the sermon.  You can find it here.  I hope I represented the heart behind it in my reading, and I hope it encourages you.

What you’ll notice is that Sibbes argues that these 2 verses are not only the grounds for, but also the way to live out the commands of verses 1-2 and verses 5-10.  In other words, verses 1-2 which tell us to be heavenly minded and verses 5-10 which tell us to put to death what is earthly in us are two sides of a coin – the coin of the Christian life, you might say.  And they are things we should do because of the truth of verses 3-4, and also things that we CAN do because of verses 3-4.

So, because of the truth that we are hid in Christ and will appear with Him in glory, we seek to be heavenly minded, knowing that it will produce in us the greatest earthly difference in our lives, in our churches, our families, and our neighborhood.  It’s a masterclass on preaching the Gospel to ourselves.   And it exposes the shallowness of a statement like “you’re too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

Please listen to the sermon and let me know what you think!  In my next post, I’ll try to outline the sermon and make some initial comments.

 

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Overcoming Sin through Holistic Discipleship

Image result for transformed from glory to glory

Sorry for the break, but here we are with the final installment of this series on overcoming sin.  The first part discussed the role of boundaries in our walk with Christ and the second talked about becoming fluent in the Gospel, seeing how the good news speaks to the specific heart idols with which we struggle.

In this post, we will discuss the 3rd and final layer…that of Holistic Discipleship.  You will notice looking at the pyramid that this piece is the largest, the foundation.  That is because when this piece is strong and well established, the other two pieces are almost unnecessary.  Let me elaborate.

When someone, especially a man, is struggling with a particular sin, we tend to make that single issue the only thing we are focused on.  If we struggle with lust, we read books about it, join groups about it, and have boundaries and accountability around it.  When we read our Bible during that time, we are usually either looking for passages about that struggle OR trying to apply other passages to it.  We become consumed with fixing that particular issue.

While the heart behind this is good, I’m suggesting that it’s unhelpful.  It takes our eyes off of God, his love, his tenderness, his glory and goodness and focuses them on our sin, to the exclusion of the rest of our spiritual lives.  There is more to discipleship, to knowing God than simply fighting lust or pride or greed.  There is the fullness of God, his Word, and his works to be explored.  The deeper we go in all the fullness of God, the stronger our walk will be.  The more we delight in him, the less of a pull we will feel from the world.  Think of 2 Corinthians 3.18…how are we transformed?  Not boundaries…not even by identifying our heart idols, as good as both of those things are.  But how are we changed?  By gazing on Jesus.  By spending time with Jesus.  By seeing and learning to enjoy Jesus!  That’s where transformation happens and we do that through spiritual disciplines and partaking in the ordinary means of grace.

Remember in our first post, we talked about an athlete.  Putting up boundaries is like wearing a cast…it helps keep us from hurting ourselves even more.  The second layer, Gospel  Application, when applied to that metaphor is like physical therapy.  Like an athlete rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, with repetitive and focused movements, it is the focused application of the Gospel for the rehabbing of our heart idols.

This third layer is different, it’s the total body work that an athlete might do to maintain health and strengthen their bodies.  Cardio, stretching, weights, balance, agility, sprints, etc.  They all exist not for rehab so much as overall health.  Similarly, our prayer life, time in the word, memorization of Scripture, listening to the preached Word, Christian fellowship, worship…they are all meant to keep us healthy and build up our spiritual strength.  When an athlete is holistically healthy, she is less likely to be injured.  When the body is strong and fit, it doesn’t need a cast.  So to, the spiritually healthy don’t need boundaries (though they may still have them), and they don’t have to spend a ton of time on Gospel application for one, single besetting sin because they are daily destroying heart idols as they appear through regular and holistic spiritual disciplines and the ordinary means of grace.

So, if you have a besetting sin.  First, set up boundaries.  They will make it harder for you to hurt yourself and others.  Second, with the help of others, discern the heart idol(s) that is at the root of your besetting sin.  Understanding why you find that sin so attractive and what the Gospel has to say to that.  But don’t forgot, along with that, do not give up pursuing a holistic maturity through the normal means of grace.  Don’t navel gaze.  Lift up your eyes and see Jesus, your righteousness at the right hand of the Father.

Fighting Sin – 2nd Layer

In our previous post, I started sharing about fighting sin.  I went on to unpack the role that boundaries play in overcoming sin.  In short, they are important in that they create opportunity and space for growth, but boundaries do not change the heart, so they are never the whole answer.  That brings us to the second layer.

The second layer to overcoming sin is Gospel Application.  What is that?  Gospel Application is the heart work of asking, “why am I so attracted to that sin?”  If I’m angry all of the time…why?  If I’m filled with lust…why?  What is the pay-off?  And there’s always a pay-off.  We don’t do things, as humans, unless we want to.  This reflection is how the heart idol behind our sin is exposed.

Once I understand why I do what I do (and you might need help discerning that), I begin to look at that heart idol through the lens of the Gospel.  What does the good news have to say about my idol.  It may say, “you’re trying to save yourself with your chronic, idolatrous overworking.”  It may, instead, say, “Your idolatrous desire to be loved and accepted by others is a sad, false, little copy of the huge love that Jesus offers you.”  It has an answer to any guilt, shame, regret, longing, or need you believe you feel.  It really does!  At our church, we call the ability to apply the Gospel to specific needs, circumstances, etc. “Gospel Fluency.”

Of course, this is where the fight really begins.  Satan and your flesh and the world do not want you to give up your sin for the One who truly loves you and can satisfy and heal your broken heart.  So, we muster up Gospel knowledge to bring it to bear against ongoing temptation and desire.  We commit time to meditate on God’s Gospel promises!  We memorize scripture that will declare His truth to us.

CLARIFICATION: I haven’t said this yet, and I really should have from the very beginning.  We cannot fight and win against sin alone.  First, sin must be exposed before it can become light (Eph 5.13-14).  Until sin is exposed, we can’t even start to fight it.  And exposing sin means confessing it…it means telling another person, “I’m trapped and I need help.”  Second, isolation is breeding ground for our own desires and lusts.  Bringing someone else into the equation automatically means that I’m not alone anymore just to do whatever feels good in the moment.  Three, others will have wisdom and encouragement for us.  They will help us discern the heart idol, discern Gospel application, and remember the Lord’s benefits (Ps 103.2).  Finally, we were never meant to live alone.  God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit.  He made us to reflect that, not by being alone, but by being in relationships that matter.  Chances are that we are in the predicament because we isolated to begin with, we refused to share what was happening before things got so bad.

So, TOGETHER, we search our hearts and bring the Gospel to bear on our idols.  In the next post, we’ll look at the the final layer of overcoming sin.

Three Layers to Fighting Sin

Struggling with sin is hard!  And we all want to feel like we are becoming more like Jesus.  That growth of character and heart is what Christians have called “sanctification.”  The Bible has much to say about sanctification, especially the letters of the New Testament to the new believers around the Roman empire who had just come to faith.

This growth can be hard.  And I think it is made more difficult when we believe wrongly about how we grow as Christians. If I believe that sin is overcome by sheer will-power, then life is going to be quite difficult.  I’ve gotten to walk with some folks, recently, for whom victory over a particular sin was slow in coming or who were downright hopeless.  As I dug a little deeper, they each seemed to believe, at least subconsciously, that they were losing to sin because they just couldn’t muster enough effort.

At the center of these thoughts is this question:  “As Christians, what do we believe about how people change?”  And a related question: “What can I do to grow in Christlikeness?”  Here’s how I’ve begun to think about this.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I see that there are 3 layers of activity that we need to think about when we consider fighting sin or growing in Christlike character.  And these three layers – they accomplish different things.  I’ll deal with the 2nd and 3rd layers in a later post, but let’s look at the first one here.

Layer 1 – Boundaries

Often when someone is struggling with a particular sin, they will think through what boundaries they need to establish.  If they struggle with drunkenness, they avoid the bar.  If the struggle is pornography, the research internet filters, etc.  This is a Biblical step.  In Proverbs, we are instructed to avoid altogether the temptations of the prostitute for instance: 5:8 Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.  When Paul instructs the Corinthians to “flee” from idolatry or from sexual immorality, it gives the impression of putting a lot of space between us and the object of our temptation.  Run! Don’t go near it!

So, we should create boundaries that will help us stay as far from sin as possible.  Flee!  Sometimes the problem is that we try to choose boundaries that won’t require too much of us.  I’ve seen many people choose a boundary that was completely ineffective because they needed much more distance from their sin.  For the man addicted to work, changing jobs might be necessary.  And that’s demanding.  For some women addicted to streaming entertainment, they need to not only remove the TV from their bedroom, but also from the entire house.  Flee!

This is a good layer, but this layer does not change your heart.  Read that line again because it’s very important.  Jesus said, “if your eye causes your to sin, pluck it out,” but it’s clear from the rest of the Sermon on the Mount that it’s not the eye that causes us to sin…it’s the heart!  That is where all sin resides.  Boundaries do not deal with the heart.  Instead, they simply help clear the immediate danger out of our context so that we can then have space to engage in the heart.

Imagine an athlete, perhaps a quarterback in American Football, who injures his shoulder.  Before anything can get better he has to stop using his arm.  He has to protect it from further external harm.  Boundaries are like casts.  They don’t make you a good quarterback, but they can create a context in which healing can start.

At the same time, if we think that simply adding internet filters will change the lust in our hearts that drives us to look at pornography, then we are in trouble.  Brothers and sisters, the battle has only begun when we’ve built good boundaries.  We have a cast, but we are not yet healed and healthy and holy.  In Christianity, holiness begins in the heart.  It begins by replacing and destroying former loves and former idols.  And that is what Layers 2 and 3 are about.

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.

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.