Him!!!

According to scripture the most profound analogy in human experience regarding what following the Lord is all about is marriage. If we therefore understand the marriage relationship, and we can to a significant extent, we will also understand more clearly what we need to know regarding our Christian lives. And I want to home in on what I believe to be the single most important thing that goes wrong for us in both regards.

Because we are sinful everything is skewed, and the work of the Holy Spirit is, in part, to un-twist that twisted-ness and be all the time returning us to the straight and narrow of clear thinking. And one of the ways our thinking is lacking is our tendency to miss the whole by mistaking it merely for the constituent parts. Let me explain.

With marriage comes a great many duties and responsibilities. There are, of course, all the fun bits, the cuddly bits and exciting bits, but there are the less fun, and cuddly and exciting bits too. Marriage takes a lot of hard work and commitment, to say nothing of stuff like bringing home the bacon, raising the kids, painting the house, getting the car serviced, putting the fences back up after a storm, visiting Auntie Flo often enough…and a gazillion other things! Such are the numerous constituent parts of marriage. But none of them, however important, right and necessary they may be, are what a marriage actually is, or about. My marriage is about one thing and one thing only….though of course it’s not a thing at all! It’s a person! My marriage is solely, completely and one hundred per cent about Belinda. It’s about my wife! It’s about the woman I fell ridiculously head over heels in love with and couldn’t imagine ever being without! Everything else, that is, the resultant constituent parts that go to make up that life together as man and wife, are purely secondary! They are merely what loving my wife means in practical terms! My marriage is decidedly not about them! My marriage is about one thing, and one thing only….my wife!

And of course our parenthood is likewise solely, completely and one hundred per cent about our daughter. It’s about Bethany. Raising her has meant, and still means, that there are a gazillion resultant constituent parts involved in the practical outworking of that parenting, but none of those resultant constituent parts comprise what we are actually about as parents. No! Our parenting is about Bethany herself! It’s solely, completely and one hundred per cent about her! I trust you can see where I am going with this!

In the summer of 1971 Jesus revealed Himself to me, and I was utterly undone! In a moment of time I went from not knowing Him to knowing Him as if I had never been without Him. Ever since then my life has been about one thing and one thing only…Him! The relationship we have together results in a great many duties and responsibilities that fall upon me, and I have known much failure over the years in seeking to carry them out. But not one of those duties and responsibilities must ever become what my life is actually about. My life must only ever be about…Him! Following the Lord has many resultant constituent parts, but just as I seek to fulfil my duty as a husband because marriage is all about my wife, so anything that ought to result from following the Lord should do so solely because it’s about Him, and not merely for it’s own sake, or because it’s right or proper in itself.

Possibly the most subtle idolatry of all is when the duties and responsibilities of Christian discipleship actually replace the Lord in our lives, and our focus becomes our discipleship (a subtle manifestation of the very self we need to crucify) as opposed to Jesus Himself! Just as we sometimes need to fall in love with our wives all over again, so do we, as followers of Him, need to return to our first love.

That night I came to know the Lord I started to both believe and do all the right things. Not perfectly, of course, and all these years later I still have a very long way to go. But everything nonetheless changed that night and I began to think, live and behave completely differently. But I did so not because I had embraced some new philosophy, or been persuaded by a doctrinal position or some attractive morality. No, I changed because I had come to know Him, and I have ever since had to battle my tendency to let even the resultant and constituent aspects of following Him usurp His place on the throne of my life. How easily, and how sadly my discipleship becomes about me and what I believe, think and do, rather than solely, completely and one hundred per cent about Him!

As a husband I am faithful not because I want to be a good husband, but because I love my wife! It would be a nonsense, of course, to say it’s therefore OK to be unfaithful, or to be a bad husband. Indeed, such would be a complete and total betrayal of the very thing marriage is: that is, loving your wife! But we must nonetheless be careful lest we mix up the resultant constituent parts of the outworking of married life with marriage itself! Marriage is solely, completely and one hundred per cent about your spouse! Indeed, if you didn’t have one then you wouldn’t be married in the first place, would you?

Should a Christian, then, seek to live a holy life in obedience to the comprehensive teaching of scripture? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Him! Obedience to scripture and living a holy life is just the result of understanding that and following Him! Should a Christian seek to be a light to the world by way of being a witness to unbelievers? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Him! Being a witness to unbelievers is just the result of understanding that and following Him! Is it important to be well grounded in the objective doctrinal truths of scripture? Of course! But that’s not what being a Christian is about! Being a Christian is about Jesus! It’s about Him! Being doctrinally or theologically sound, or however you want to put it, is just the result of understanding that and following Him!

So there you have it! Being a Christian isn’t about believing the right things, or doing the right things. Neither is it about not believing and not doing the wrong things! It’s simply about Jesus! It’s about Him! Believing and doing the right things, and not believing and doing the wrong things will follow on as the resultant constituent parts of ongoing discipleship; but none of that is what being a believer, in essence, is actually about. Being a believer is actually about the One in Whom we do believe! It is about Jesus Himself! Just as my marriage is about my wife and my parenthood is about my daughter, being a Christian is about Him!.

When we start to think in terms that following the Lord is about us and what we do, our obedience, works and faithfulness, we have fallen into a trap. We are then, as scripture would put it, walking after the flesh; and to the extent we are ever thinking that it is about us and what we do by way of serving the Lord, then all we can do is perform in our own strength, inevitably experiencing the failure and sin which will always result! But when we are simply looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and realising that it’s all about Him, and not us at all, then that is when the constituent parts naturally fall into place, and His life becomes manifest in us. It is a truth sadly un-comprehended by many believers, but holiness (sanctification) is not something we are meant to produce in or of ourselves. Holiness is Jesus just being Himself in and through us, with us out of the way.

Should there be obedience, good works and faithfulness in our lives? Of course! But not because we think that such things are what being a Christian is about, because they aren’t! No! Being a Christian is the realisation that what it’s all about is Jesus! That it’s solely, completely and one hundred per cent about……Him!!!

 

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Rapture Ruptures

We had a really good discussion at our church gathering yesterday on the subject of the timing of the Rapture relative to Jesus’ future bodily return to earth. Two views were represented: the Pre-Tribulation Rapture position and the understanding that the Rapture coincides with the Lord’s bodily return; that is, the Post-Tribulation view! (We were careful to ensure that the Mid-Tribulation and A-Millenial views got a mention as well, even though none of us hold to them.) Perhaps not surprisingly no-one was persuaded by an opposing view to their own, but it was, as usual, a joy to be able to talk about it together with mutual respect and honour, plus the freedom to be able to agree to differ, relationships being thereby strengthened, instead of, as is so often the case with Christians, being put at risk.

It is of great sadness to me that so many such secondary matters become the cause of Christians falling out with each other and even saying unpleasant things about each other, and both as a brother in the Lord and because of my function as a Bible teacher, I have always crawled over broken glass in order to try to help folk understand how wrong it is for such things to happen. I have further become aware over the last two or three years that a veritable war of words has broken out over end times issues specifically between believers who hold to either the Pre-Tribulation or Mid-Tribulation positions, some of whom I have known personally and who were previously at one in both fellowship and ministry. But I now hear the language of ‘heretic’ and ‘leaven’ being used of people simply because they have a different understanding of the timing of the Rapture relative to the Lord’s bodily return. There are some things which I think really do need to said about this.

Firstly, it is simply a fact that no-one knows when the Great Tribulation is going to start. There are Christians who think they know, of course, but they are as deceived as were those who similarly predicted that it would happen within a particular time-frame now actually gone and in the past. And should any such prediction of a particular time-frame end up being proved correct, then it will simply be in the same way that broken clocks tell the right time twice a day. Let us be clear, these events might begin tomorrow, or they might not happen for another hundred years…or even longer! The only thing we can now with certainty is that these events are closer now than when scripture was written! So here, I would argue, is the deal!

If the Great Tribulation and Rapture don’t happen in our lifetime, and they might well not (they hasn’t happened for the last two thousand years, so what are the odds of it being us who are alive when it does?), then the issue as to whether or not the Church goes through the Great Tribulation is a bit irrelevant as far as we are concerned. So in the light of that simple fact the idea that Christians should end up falling out over it becomes just ludicrously ridiculous! But say it does happen in ur lifetime, what then? Well, if I am right and it turns out that the Rapture does come first, then those Christians who currently believe that the Church goes through the Great Tribulation will be absolutely delighted, to say nothing of extremely relieved, to be Raptured instead. (No losers there then!) But if it’s me who’s wrong and I wake up one morning to find that the Great Tribulation has started and that I was therefore, by definition, completely wrong about the order in which it’s all going to happen, then I will look to the Lord for grace and mercy to endure tribulation and difficulty just as I do every day anyway and have always done! (So no losers there either!) And even if that means I have to then face the worst tribulation I have ever known, then how would that be any different to the many Christians suffering imprisonment, torture and martyrdom in various parts of the world even as I write?

Don’t get me wrong here though: I make no claim to being anything other than a fully rehearsed coward, and I may well fail the Lord in being willing to die for Him. (One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible is when Jesus says that if we’re persecuted then we should flee, and I shall have little trouble being a good example and leading the way on that one! If you’re unsure what to do just follow that trail of dust; it’ll be me taking the lead like a good elder should and running away faster than anybody else!) But whether the Church goes through the Great Tribulation or not is absolutely irrelevant to the simple fact that any believer could be persecuted at any time, and that we have no guarantee of immunity from such ever happening to us. All we can do is to trust that the Lord will give us the grace we need to go through whatever we have to at any one time, persecution included. Just remember that whatever happens to us we are going to end up with the Lord in glory! So absolutely no losers there either!

May we be mature enough not to let such secondary matters divide us, and to learn respect for honourably held differing understandings regarding issues that just aren’t as clear cut in scripture as some like to imagine they are. I heard it put well by someone recently who said that belief in the future bodily return of the Lord is a camel, but the order of events leading up to it, the Rapture included, are gnats in comparison. And of course the conclusion is obvious: when believers who are united in their belief that the Lord is going to return one day end up separating from each other over the secondary issue of the timing of the Rapture, then they are indeed straining at gnat’s and swallowing camels. The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is biblically just so much more important than having to have agreement concerning things such as the timing of the Rapture, and there is no legitimate reason for believers breaking fellowship and separating over such. There needs to be separation over unrepentant sin, of course! And for serious heresy too, by which I mean denial of the basic tenets of the Christian faith! But separating over the order of end time events and rupturing over the Rapture? Man, it’s time to get serious!

 

Creation: From Chaos to Order!

When I consider the account of creation as reported in the early chapters of Genesis it seems to me that the first thing the Lord did was to create ‘raw’ energy which He then ordered, step by step, into the finished product. It took 6 days! And if that is a problem to you then be assured that the only reason He didn’t do it in 6 minutes was because He knew no-one would believe Him! But that aside, what’s happening here is that order is being systematically formed out of the initial chaos of raw energy, each day of the creation process establishing greater order until on the sixth day, with the crowning creation of a man and a women, the process was completed. Creation: from chaos to order, one step at a time!  Further, at the end of each part of the process; that is, at the end of each individual day of creation, the Lord declared the process up to that point to be good. But once Adam and Eve had been created, once the process was fully completed, the Lord then declared the finished product to be very good!

So we see in the physical creation of the universe that the Lord worked from chaos to order, declaring each stage as being good in and of itself, but with the completion of the final stage being declared very good! And of course this is extremely encouraging news for those of us who have been made a new creation in Christ Jesus. As with the physical creation, we have been newly-created at conversion in the chaos of our unbridled sinfulness (justification), immediately followed by the ongoing process of then being progressively set free from the power of that sin in our lives (sanctification), thus bringing about more and more the order of the increasing holiness of the life of Jesus within us. Sanctification is simply the process of the Holy Spirit progressing the newly born-again believer (the new creation) from unbridled sinfulness to increasing holiness, but doing so progressively one step at a time! And the encouragement we take from this is that, as with the creation of the universe, the Lord doesn’t view the process in terms of the remaining chaos of sin in our lives being bad, but rather that the order thus far attained is good!

We can therefore be greatly encouraged in our struggle against sin. We obviously mustn’t ever turn a blind eye to the sinfulness that remains in our lives, or pretend that it isn’t there, or that it doesn’t matter! Of course not! I have no encouragement whatever for carnal Christians who are blasé about their sinfulness, and who are not in repentance and sorrow regarding it! No! But for those believers who are Heaven-bent on living godly in Christ Jesus, and who are therefore prone to being overly sorrowful concerning the sin that remains, and who therefore don’t sufficiently rejoice over that which the Lord has already accomplished in them by way of sanctification, I bring the encouragement of affirming that the Lord sees the discipleship of such a one as being fully good, and not in any way bad. He doesn’t merely see the sin that yet remains, but rather with joy in His heart, and with great pleasure in us, sees the godliness now present in us which was once absent. And when we are with Him in glory on the other side of death, He will pronounce the very good concerning us, given that we will then be free of sin entirely.

If you are a carnal Christian who is lax concerning your sinfulness and not living in vital and careful repentance of it, then the Word of God to you is:

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” (James 4:4-10)

You don’t hear those verses taught on very much, eh? But if you truly are living in humility and repentance before God, then His Word is somewhat different:

“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews12:4-11)

I don’t imply for one moment that I never need that rebuke from James, but my aim is to more and more to be counted worthy of the affirmation and encouragement from the writer to the Hebrews. If you aren’t serious about struggling against sin then sentiments such as these will merely seem negative and overly introspective to you: but if you are serious about your struggle against sin they are a veritable lifeline of hope from the Holy Spirit!

 

A Brief History of Political Correctness as Originated, Developed and Perfected by the Christian Church in Order to Defend and Protect It’s Unbiblical Beliefs and Practises!

Political correctness is, if you think about it, just the way in which people who don’t want to be disagreed with shut down debate by insulting anyone with a different viewpoint so as to discredit them. The result is that no-one listens to what those who have been thus discredited are actually saying. I call it intellectual fascism, and it’s what keeps the engine of western cultural liberalism well-oiled and running. And of course Christians and Christian values are often the target for it. And why not? If we are to go by what the Bible says, as opposed to the cultural brainwashing so many believers today seem to have undergone, then it should be obvious to us that this is a good thing. Disciples of Jesus are, I thought, supposed to be unpopular! We are a threat to, and therefore a target of, godless society. So it’s good if we are despised and rejected; as long, of course, that we are being despised and rejected for godliness and not just for being not very nice people. (As I have said before, there are an awful lot of extremely unpleasant Christians around!) Being stigmatised in unpleasant ways is a sign that we are being faithful to the Lord Who is, after all, the One actually being hated. Because of our affiliation with Him and His values we are simply sharing in His sufferings. Rejection and animosity from those around us is the Lord’s vote of confidence in us, and a sure sign that Satan has us in his sights. But nevertheless, as the victims so often of political correctness, Christians are quite understandable never going to endorse it.

But I must caution us here to be careful that we are not being the most dreadful of hypocrites. As Christians we are obviously pretty much agreed on the fact that political correctness is, for the above reasons, a bad, dishonest and completely unjust thing; yet the simple fact of the matter is that Christians had political correctness down to a fine art long before modern liberal western culture even existed, let alone developed it’s own version of it…we just call it something different! Throughout church history, whenever questioning Christians, however biblically legitimate their questioning and challenge might have been, have been perceived to be a threat to either established doctrine, church practise, moral behaviour, or the authority of whatever hierarchy is in place at the time, it has virtually always been the case that the issues raised get buried through the simple tactic of those protecting the status quo smearing and discrediting them. Serious examination of any such issues considered to be a threat is thereby curtailed on the grounds that those raising the issues are discreditable Christians who ought not to be listened to.

Scripture calls this behaviour exactly what it is, false accusation and slander! Many Christians do it all the time and seem to think little of it, but when modern cultural liberalism does it they call it political correctness and disapprove! Think about it! Modern liberal political correctness automatically accuses those who, for instance, believe in the family unit and God’s design for marriage, of being homophobic bigots, whilst any who support controlled immigration are labelled xenophobic racists. And of course anyone who is glad that Donald Trump is the president of the United States and not Hilary Clinton is obviously a neo-Nazi-supporting-Klu-Klux-Klan-sympathising-white-supremacist! You silence your critics by nailing them to the wall with a barrage of extremely unpleasant accusations whether such accusations are founded or not!

The Christian version works like this though: Any believer who questions the mainstream Christian ‘system’, or who challenges the powers that be, irrespective of how biblically based their challenge might be, or how completely unbiblical what they are challenging is, are automatically labelled troublemakers and accused of being deceived, divisive and merely rebelling against authority – the authority of those they are challenging, that is! The Christians who so automatically and regularly commit this slander obviously claim to be ‘guarding the faith’, ‘preserving sound doctrine’ and ‘protecting the Lord’s work’, but of course they are doing no such thing! They are simply protecting themselves and their own positions! It’s just the Christian Church’s version of modern cultural liberalism’s political correctness; that is, a well proven technique of using slander and false accusation in order to keep the status quo intact, and to protect the powers that be from challenge. Those constituting whatever the threat is perceived to be are neutralised with smear and innuendo, being thereby demonised through the agency of the constant repetition of slander and false accusation concerning them. Whether such accusations are founded or not is never addressed, the sheer power of the suggestion of such smears usually being enough to do the job by sticking in people’s minds.

Most Christians deplore the fact that liberal cultural political correctness demonises honest folk who are merely adhering to biblical values, making them out to be malicious bigots and prejudiced oppressors. Yet the monumental hypocrisy of the Christian Church is that many of those same Christians are party to doing exactly the same thing to other Christians whose only crime is to question and challenge, on the clear basis of the Word of God, things in mainstream Christianity and church life which are not in accordance with the teaching of scripture. Christians who quite understandably deplore being themselves demonised by secular culture nevertheless feel free to do exactly the same thing to other Christians whom they perceive to be a threat, thus demonising them. However appalling the slander of the current cultural liberalism’s political correctness against those who adhere to biblical values is, I gotta to tell you that I’ve known Christians to be accused of far worse by fellow Christians simply for teaching from scripture things they didn’t like! Christians who stand firm on, and emphasise, those aspects scripture which most other Christians are rejecting, whether pertaining to church life, family life, or any of a myriad other aspects of biblical teaching will, I guarantee, be the victims of this from their fellow believers. (I’ve been called a few things myself from time to time!) I’m just thankful that Christian leaders today can’t have ‘dissenters’ imprisoned, tortured and put to death any more. What they can still do though, and do without shame, is to simply replace literal bodily assassination with character assassination! Remember, the aim of political correctness is clear and simple: to demonise any who disagree or challenge by labelling them accusatively so others don’t take them seriously or listen to them!

Christians who are secure in the Lord and in their biblical convictions have no desire to sling mud at those who disagree with them. They have no need to slander others, nor to defend themselves when slandered. They are content to simply present their case from scripture – though they will certainly do so with both emphasis and urgency – and then leave it to others to make up their own minds. Whenever you see one Christian slinging mud at another Christian in the hope that at least some of it sticks, it tells you precisely nothing about the one being targeted, but absolutely everything about the one slinging the mud.

The Word of God condemns false witness and slander in no uncertain terms, yet such sins are commonplace in the lives of Christians and virtually completely un-judged by the churches they are part of. Indeed, it so often the leaders of churches who are precisely the guilty ones. The New Testament makes it clear that slander should be met with church discipline, and that we should not fellowship with any believer who is guilty of it should they remain unrepentant. Heed the words of Paul:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11. Emphasis mine.)

Man, what a thing! Modern western liberalism has the Christian Church to thank for developing such an effective means of suppressing unwelcome truths by simply demonising those who voice them: political correctness!

Please, Whatever You Do, Don’t Misunderstand This Post!

In these days of Gay rights and Trans-Gender equality what I am going to write in this post could be badly misunderstood; but I’m willing to take that risk because I think there is something that very much needs to be said, but which I have never heard anyone other than myself actually teach! So here goes!

In my travels over the years I have met a lot of Christian men who I really do think need to get in touch with their feminine! You see, we men suffer from a generic male problem which we all too often just pretend isn’t actually an issue. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that, by and large, men – Christian men included – are the most appalling and insensitive blockheads!

However, before I am summarily disfellowshipped by just about every male friend I have for saying this let me make it abundantly clear that I am not going to be implying anything that in any way transgresses the divinely created gender order, or blurs the distinction between them. Absolutely not! Men are men and women are women, and no-one is clearer on that than I am: but there are nevertheless some fascinating verses in the Bible that have a very clear bearing on this. The first example I will give concerns Jesus Himself, and the second Paul the apostle. We consider first the Lord Himself:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

Notice how Jesus here describes His sensitivities and longings in the most blatant of female terms; that of a hen with her chicks! Not because He thinks He’s a woman, of course not, but because femininity is forever associated with the more tender emotions of human experience. He therefore uses a feminine picture in order to communicate that such was the nature of His desires regarding the rebellious Jews, and that what He was feeling towards them were emotions of tenderness, longing and maternity. Now to Paul:

“We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7)

Wow! The Greek here suggests the nurture given by a nursing mother to her baby. Speaking of the time he, Silas and Timothy spent with the saints in Thessalonica, Paul says that they related to them like breast-feeding mothers. And guys, it just doesn’t get any more feminine than that. He then goes on to say, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (v8)

I am not for one moment suggesting that this means that Christian men should be over-emotional, sentimental, wishy-washy or irrationally illogical thinkers. Not at all! There obviously are ‘wimpy’ men, Christians among them, who need to seriously get in touch with their masculine side and who need to stop behaving like old women; but what I am saying here is that even though men ought to be strong, definite and bold leaders of their families and situations, they should also know what it is to be gentle, tender and sensitive to the feelings and situations of those around them…their wives and children especially!

So fear not, I haven’t converted to gender-confused liberalism. No way! I remain an avowed and committed believer in patriarchy! However much evangelical feminists wish it were not true, God is Himself (not Herself) unchangingly male, and patriarchy is His clear order for creation. He is the father of spirits, not their mother. Therefore, when such a God becomes a human being, there can only be one possible outcome; that is, He becomes a man and not a woman. Evangelical feminism falls and self-destructs at this very first post: Messiah was a man, and could not, by very definition, have been a woman! As scripture says, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (Emphasis mine.) Salvation could never have been through faith in the Lord Jessica Christ!

What I do believe though is that manhood ought to be represented and thought of in terms of a somewhat more delicate and chivalrous bygone age. I am, after all, both English and male, and it thus behoves me to ensure that, at all times, and in all places, I behave like the English gentle-man that I am! And there you have it! Embedded in the very word ‘gentleman’ itself is the heart of true manliness: gentleness, sensitivity and tenderness! I put it to you that without being in touch with this ‘feminine side’, men who are strong, capable and able to lead – as well they ought to be – will inevitably become the complete blockheads I am here warning against,  instead of the gentlemen God created them to be. Only when you combine strength, authority, leadership and boldness with gentleness, sensitivity, tenderness and a heart of compassion, do you truly have the Lord’s idea of a real man! A man such as men were created to actually be, the ultimate example being the fact that never was there such a man more-so than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The shortest verse in the whole Bible is, “Jesus wept.” That Jesus had no qualms or inhibition about crying in public tells us something absolutely wonderful about Him.

Guys, we need to be in touch with our feminine side! As already stated, there are men – even Christian men – who haven’t even got in touch with their masculine side yet, and who need to just man-up, but it is not they whom I am here addressing. I am addressing those of us who do know what a man is supposed to be, and who do rise to that challenge, but who are still missing the importance of this other side of the equation. It is incredible indeed that needed male feelings, sensitivities, gentlenesses and sensibilities are referenced in God’s Word in blatantly feminine terms.

I sure hope I have taken you all with me on this, and that I haven’t overly put anyone off! Or even worse, caused anyone to actually want to object! But if you do want to object then all I can suggest is that we settle it like men:

Handbags at dawn it is, then!!!

The Ezekiel Factor

“The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for  seven days.” (Ezekiel 3:14-15)

The intent of the above verses follows on very much from the previous post concerning Jesus’ view of Nicodemus and the uniqueness of each individual. Two vitally important things are inter-twined in them! The first is that Ezekiel had already received the heart of the Lord concerning the situation into which he was being sent in order to speak the Word of the Lord; but the second is that he also then had to embrace, feel and share the hearts of the people in those situations before uttering a word!

The Hebrew of the text conveys the idea of the silence of deep mourning, anguish and distress. In other words, it wasn’t enough for him to feel what the Lord was feeling concerning the people he was being sent to, he had to also feel what they were feeling in the situation, thus sharing in their pain and distress, before delivering the burden of the Lord to them. Hence the need for him to sit silently with them for seven days so that he could become properly identified with them, share their hearts, and feel their pain. This is what compassion is: to enter into the distress and anguish of those you are seeking to share the Lord with. It is to feel their pain, to vibrate in sympathy with the distress they are going through, only then bringing to bear any truth or wisdom such as they need to hear. It is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians when he says that believers should “weep with those who weep.”

This is yet another facet of a theme that anyone who knows me will know that I return to again and again: the biblical relationship between grace and truth, stated elsewhere by Paul in terms of the need to “speak the truth in love.”

We should never just dole out truth and advice left, right and centre, irrespective of how true and scriptural that truth might be, or how biblical, inspired and wise the advise. No! Not in a million years! We are to rather bring the Lord’s heart to bear on the hearts of whoever His burden through us is for. This means that, like Ezekiel, we must first actually receive His heart and mind concerning whatever the burden might be, but then become one with, and feel the pain of, those for whom the burden has been given. This is what intercession is, and what compassion actually looks like. It is to become one, and to vibrate in sympathy with, the pain of those to whom we are called.

Truth is obviously always objective, but what we are highlighting here is that so often we lack this subjective emotional element of actually feeling for people, of resonating in identification with their hurts, joys and fears. It is not mere sentimentality because what we are speaking of issues from, and will always apply, the objective truth of God’s Word. No! It is rather to become more and more like the God Who feels the pain of every man, woman and child whom He has created.

At the heart of everything God is, and has done, is incarnation. In the Lord Jesus He has incarnated Himself into every aspect of human life. And this He has done because not only is He the God of Truth, He is also the God of all Grace. And what this issues in is a principle that underlines everything concerning the manner of His dealings with us, and it is simply this: God beats the problem by becoming the problem! Think about it! What was the problem? Human beings! A fallen human race! So what did God do? He became a human being called Jesus! He beats the problem by becoming the problem! But of course it’s so much more than just that because what was the underlying problem that had made men, women and children a problem in the first place? Sin! Human beings are a problem because of their problem with sin! So what did the Lord do about that?

“God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21. Emphasis mine.)

In our relationships with both unbelievers and our fellow Christians with whom we fellowship, incarnation is at the very heart of how we should live, and the kind of people we should be. Seeking to identify with those around that we might feel what they feel. That we might vibrate in sympathy with them, and sit where they sit, overwhelmed among them, in order to discern, and then meet, their needs.

“And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for seven days.”

 

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews…”(John 3:1)

This is one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible. Let me tell you why. Remember, these words, although penned by John, were actually penned by the Holy Spirit through him. Certainly John wrote them, but so did the Lord. And the wording tells us something very wonderful about how He thinks and sees things. Notice that it doesn’t merely read, “There was a Pharisee…” Or even, “There was a Pharisee called Nicodemus…” No! It reads, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus…”

Do you see the point? Do you get what’s happening here? Can you see the sheer individual personableness of it? Jesus doesn’t look on this guy as just someone else who wants to talk with Him. Nicodemus isn’t just another Pharisee with some questions. No! To Jesus Nicodemus is a unique individual human being. Not just another person, and certainly not just another Pharisee. He is Nicodemus! An individual! A specific, particular and completely unique, unrepeatable walking-talking, living-breathing man…called Nicodemus!

It’s so easy to just see folk as just a collective societal grouping, rather than the actual individual each of them are. There are no blurred faces in bustling crowds as far as the Lord is concerned. No anonymous faceless men, women and children – mere social security numbers in the modern day corporate culture of western impersonality. No! There are only individuals to Him, each created quite knowingly, particularly and specifically by Him, each face and name having been called individually to mind as He suffered on the cross for each and every one.

There are, of course, those Christians of a Reformed bent who don’t believe He died for everyone, and although I don’t share that view from scripture, I do at least understand why someone might. But the alternate view, that He died for all, can, if we are not very careful, equally mislead us. I most fully believe that Jesus died for each and every human being throughout history, but I don’t for one moment also think that this suggests that He died for everyone-in-general-and-nobody-in-particular! Do you see the point? It has then become completely impersonal; as if the Lord suffered and died for the corporate collective human conglomerate, as opposed to suffering and dying for you, for I, and for the little girl who lives next door, and the construction worker down the road, and that chap who fixed that leaking pipe in the kitchen last year…..

Let us make sure that we have this as clear in our minds as anything could possibly be: the Lord Jesus Christ did not die for everyone-in-general-and-nobody-in-particular! He suffered and died with your name on His lips, and – oh happy day – with my name on His lips, and Belinda’s name, and Bethany’s name, and that little girl’s name next door whom I just mentioned……and that construction worker…..and…..and……..!!!

We should never think of people as just being people. You can’t love a crowd, or have compassion on some corporate conglomeration of humanity, and just leave it at that. It must boil down to showing compassion in real terms, to giving actual and practical help to those individuals who comprise that crowd. Individuals who need to be loved one by one, each in turn, according to their particular and specific needs.

It is sad beyond words that Christians have, historically, embraced the completely unbiblical practise of having numerically large churches, as opposed to the numerically small house-based churches we see in the New Testament, thereby adding to this very impersonality which the Lord so dislikes in human experience. The impersonality of a crowd can, sadly, feel safer to people! You can hide in a crowd! You can keep your head down in a crowd when things are tough and when difficult stands need to be taken. Moreover, you can keep the sin in your life, but which the Lord wants to deal with, nicely hidden away, and keep living a hypocritical double standard without anyone really knowing that you are not at all, in day-to-day life, the person you present yourself as being to that impersonal crowd (they came them congregations) in church on Sundays.

But of course the price you then pay is the loss of being able to truly love, or to be truly loved by, those around you. In such a scenario of the church crowd (congregation) no-one really knows anyone else well enough to even make a significant start at loving them, let alone see that love through to the end with them. Little groups here and there will make attachments with each other, of course, but then what of those who get left out? What about the ones whose loneliness and pain cuts all the more deeply precisely because they are alone whilst surrounded by so many others?

Whenever you meet someone, whether for the first or thousandth time, whether a fellow Christian or convinced atheist, whether a Muslim or Buddhist, whether a Capitalist or Marxist…..whether gay, straight, bi-……perhaps even a Democrat or Republican, make sure you look them square and fully in the eye knowing that the one looking back at you is a unique, one-and-only, unrepeatable, one-off human being, created specifically and intentionally by the Lord to not be anybody else, the mould having been completely discarded the moment He was done creating them. Indeed, someone precisely whose name was on His lips as He suffered and died for them.

There is, ultimately, and meaningfully, no such thing as corporate humanity; just innumerable unique particular and specific individual human beings, created in the image of God, all of whom being in almost indescribable need of love, compassion, friendship, repentance and salvation! And that need for love, the love of God lived out through the lives of His people, is why Christians should be the kindest, friendliest, most helpful, personable and easy-to-get-on-with people anyone could ever meet.