Redeeming Christmas (Godly Parenting)

 king-size-bed

The God of festivals

God loves celebrations, festivals and feasts.  In the Old Testament God proscribes seven annual feasts for the Israelites:
  1. Passover
  2. unleavened bread
  3. firstfruits
  4. weeks (pentacost)
  5. trumpets
  6. Day of Atonement
  7. Tabernacles.

This is in addition to the New Moon feasts, Sabbath year feasts and Jubilee feasts.  Indeed part of their tithe was a saving to celebrate these occasions (funny how Pastors don’t mention that part!).  God loves celebrations as it’s a reminder of His goodness and faithfulness to us in the past and it’s a taster of the heavenly wedding banquet to come.

As Christians who are like our perfect Father, we should also be a people of celebration.  However, Christmas has been taken by society and changed into a consumerist beast.
As a parent I want my children to experience a godly celebration but I don’t want them to get sucked into a selfish mindset and miss the grace that’s available to them.
Here are some ideas which I hope will bless you and your family and enable you to redeem this celebration and put Christ back into Christmas.

St Nicholas

We never wanted to lie to our children about Santa as they may then think we were lying about other aspects of Christmas or Christianity.  However, we also didn’t want them to miss out on this aspect.  So how do we redeem this?

On Christmas Eve we read them the story about St Nicholas about how he gave his money to help the poor (here’s the Amazon link to the book we use but it’s out of print and the prices quoted are just silly).  After reading about it we then do the same as St Nicholas.  We put some money in envelopes†, one for each child and then ask the children to ask the Father to tell us which house number to deliver to and what message he would like to say.  We then go out together and post them and run away giggling.

In addition, we still do stockings at home.  Our children also get to pretend to be St Nicholas to us.  So I give them the presents for my wife’s stocking and they get to wear a beard and put them in her stocking.  She then goes into her room feigning surprise – “who has put presents in my stocking?” and the children giggle.  We then repeat this but this time she gives them presents to put in my stocking.

We then tell them that we will return the favour when they are sleeping.  “Will you wear the beard, daddy?” “Of course” I reply winking.

Who’s birthday is it?

It’s so easy in the excitement of giving and receiving presents that we forget whose birthday it actually is!  So two things that we do to help.  The first is that just like at any other birthday we have a cake and we sing happy birthday to Jesus.

The second is an idea that I read in the excellent testimony from Floyd McClung “Living on the Devil’s Doorstep”:

 As is normal on a birthday, we give presents and tell the recipient how much we love and appreciate him.  But this time it is Christ’s birthday, so we “give gifts to the Lord!”  After a time of prayer and praise, we take turns to bring our presents to Jesus.  It may be a new song, a newly written poem, a personal Scripture, a drawing, painting, or performance of a new drama.  One time a group got together and bought a table-tennis table for the rest of the community.  They figured God would delight in seeing the enjoyment their brothers and sisters got from it!  All of us choose the most personal way we can of expressing our great love for Jesus and our joy at being able to celebrate His birthday.

So typically the children make some craft or put on a show.  I often write a song or poem and my wife creates something beautiful.  It’s a great opportunity to ensure Jesus takes centre stage.

Advent

Personally I love the advent candle that has the names of Jesus on – that we burn at dinner and talk about.  However I saw this picture and thought it was fab:
reverse-advent-calendar

Christmas hampers

Alternatively, we just prepare a Christmas hamper for a local needy family and deliver it to the recipients.  We have an excellent local charity called Besom, who allow us to actually deliver the hampers.  This is so important as I want the children to experience the joy of giving and meeting people whom something we take for granted means so much.

I want to ensure that my children aren’t insulated from the world around them – they need to experience first hand those who have less to balance out media which shows those who have more and fuels the spirit of covetous. To quote one of them after a visit, “why don’t they have any carpet in their house daddy?” – such a precious question to talk about how much we have.

Waifs and strays

Usually we pick up those who are on their own and invite them to stay over Christmas Eve and share Christmas with us.  Jesus’ birth brought in all sorts (shepherd’s renowned for their lies and Pagan astrologers) and Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt.  God is the friend of the widow, orphan and the foreigner (eg Dt 10:18) and so our celebrations should, just like in the OT, welcome those:
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Lk 14:12-14)

Giving starts young

It’s easy to think that our children need to be older until they can give gifts – or that we buy it for them to give to their siblings.  But to quote King David “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sam 24:24).
We want our children to experience to cost and joy of giving.  So they might make something or, a common idea in our family, is to give a token that says something they might do for the other.  Such as one of their chores around the home (eg laying the table or washing up) or a game or treat that might do (eg take them to the park to play soccer or play a board game with them for 30 minutes).

Budgets

We have a budget that we won’t exceed (if you’re interested it’s £10 for all of their stocking and £30 for all of their other gifts).  For many years we spent a silly amount of money on stuff that didn’t really bring happiness.  Once we brought in the budget it not only simplified this Festival and removed the covetousness, it also forced us to be creative and thoughtful with our budget (See the tokens idea above).  We let our children know this budget – so when they ask for outrageous things we can simply say that it’s outside our budget but we can give you the £30 cash towards it and you can save up.  This instils the concept of saving and working for reward.  Though often the children realise that just having cash won’t be as much fun.

No lists

This last idea we’ve just started.  Often our children would compile lists of what they want.  But we have found that these are driven by fads, ads and wants.  So we experimented with asking them not to make lists.  This does two things.  First it forces us to think and listen and ask ourselves what would bless them.  It’s so easy to just throw money but not thought.  Secondly, we get to help our children experience a taste of our heavenly Father who knows us intimately and gives us good gifts.  They learn to trust that we love them and know them well enough to choose things that will match the way God has made them (eg one year I bought my eldest son some wood and nails as God has given him such a practical gifting – he then used this to make a skateboard ramp).
I hope that these ideas help you out – if you have any more ideas then please do share them in the comments below to bless other parents.  May you experience God’s love during this season.

† We go for £50 in each envelope as we want people to experience a taster of the lavishness and the overwhelming grace available to us through Jesus and also so the children see that we give away to others more than we spend on each of them.

*Please note that I am an Amazon affiliate which means I receive a small commission if you buy a book after using my link.  This helps me offset the costs of publishing.  It doesn’t influence my recommendations of the books I recommend though.

Gender differences the key to understanding God’s nature (Godly Sexuality)

gender differences

In previous posts we have seen that male and female together make up the full image of God and so both are needed if we are to glorify God.  We also saw that they are created different and yet designed to become one to represent the tri-unity of our Three-in-One God.

We also saw that God in His wisdom did not create male and female the same so that we are dependent on each other to see our blind spots and so we need to honour the differences.

In this post we look at how God also separated Adam into male and female to embody the polarity of His character.

A God of opposites

Have you ever struggled to understand God?  Have you ever struggled to assimilate the seeming contradictions/polarity in His nature?  For example:

  • How can He both far above all creation (transcendant) and yet live within us (immanent)?
  • How can He be a terrifying consuming fire and yet beautiful?
  • How can He be a mighty warrior and yet the Prince of Peace?
  • How can He be both judge and the source of grace?
  • How can He be both working and resting?
  • How can He be outside of time (the initiator) yet responsive to our free will?

This is so hard to understand that we can find ourselves just focussing on one of the aspects (eg His grace) to the exclusion of the other (eg His judgement).  But this then means that we are not seeing his fullness and we have to ignore or “explain away” passages that don’t fit our view (eg we only recite Ex34:6-7a “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. and omit the rest of verse 7: Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”).

The names we use to describe these opposing/polar characteristics of God are masculinity (transcendant, consuming fire, warrior, judge, doing, initiator) and femininity (immanence, beauty, peace, grace, being, responsive).

Sex: A Creation of opposites

Now since Creation makes God’s divine nature known (Rom 1:20), we would expect this polarity to be reflected throughout Creation and this is evident in the two sexes of (nearly) all creatures; male and female.

Since mankind is made in the image of God we would expect to see this polarity most especially prominent here:

…God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Gen 1:27 NKJV)

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable (neged) for him.” (Gen 2:18 emphasis mine)

The difference between male and female is expressed most clearly through the Hebrew word translated “suitable” (NIV, NASB) or “comparable” (NKJV) or “fit” (ESV).  The word neged נֶגֶד means “part opposite; specifically a counterpart”, “what is in front of, corresponding to”  or “opposite to each other are set things to be compared” .  The root of this word is nagad נָגַד which means “to be conspicuous, tell, make known” , “to bring to the light” “to stand boldly out opposite” .

“Masculine and feminine can be understood only in terms of each other; basically they are opposite and complementary qualities. They are like darkness and light. It is very hard to understand darkness except in terms of light, and light except in terms of darkness. They are two extremes on a continuum.” Robert Siegel

Since our physical bodies make visible our invisible God, then the transcendent masculine and feminine aspects of God (who is Spirit) are expressed through the physical separation of Adam into the male and female sexes.

“The masculine can only be understood in relation to the feminine…One gives meaning to the other.” Alan Medinger

It was only after this separation that Adam recognised his true counterpart “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” (Gen 2:23a) it is only then after naming (which in the Hebrew culture means understanding their nature) all the animals, that he finally understands who he is and can name his split self “she shall be called woman (‘ishshah),for she was taken out of man (‘iysh)” (Gen 2:23b).  He exists now in two complementary parts that require each other to make sense and we created two but belong together as one:

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”(Gen 2:24 emphasis mine)

Only when a man and woman come together in unity can we truly see the full image of God.  Only when the masculine and feminine are both expressed and honoured in the marriage relationship or in the body of Christ or in society will we see God.

If we suppress the feminine then we have a God who initiates but is far off, holy, judgemental and we get a religion of works.  If we suppress the masculine then we have a God who is peaceful, one with nature, all about relationship and accepting of everyone without requiring any change.  Clearly neither is better than the other as neither represents the full nature of God:

“[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.” (CS Lewis)

But if God is both masculine and feminine why is He principally described in masculine terms?

This is a good question and will be addressed in a future post.  Suffice to say, because of the meaning of gender that we have just begun to unpack, God is so masculine that we all are feminine in relation to Him.” (CS Lewis) This is why the Church is described as the Bride of Christ.

War on gender is a war on the nature of God

There is an enemy who seeks to distort the nature of God.  He started back in the Garden of Eden with “did God really say?” (Gen 3:1) and hasn’t stopped since.  He is the anti-Christ who seeks to destroy anything that glorifies Jesus and this will include mankind who is made in the image of God.  In particular, since the marriage of male and female is a prophetic declaration about the nature of a our Three-in-One God then there is war on marriage.

I want to take time to quickly look at three worldviews which seek to destroy the image of God:

The first is that the physiological and psychological differences in men and women are simply a consequence of evolution and therefore merely a by-product of survival.  For example, men were hunters so are strong and have focussed vision and so on, whereas women were gatherers and hence notice colour hues and have a wider field of vision.

Such reductionist thinking not only removes the glory of the differences but leads us to think that the differences are dispensable in the modern age where we have moved beyond such struggles.  We cannot agree with a view that says their purpose is merely to survive (ie be independent of God) as we believe their principle purpose as image-bearers is to glorify God.

The second worldview advocated by the women’s liberation movement is that all differences (other than reproduction) between the sexes are merely socially constructed.  This is understandable view – after being made to feel inferior rather than being respected as equal and valuable image bearers – saying that there is no difference would therefore imply equality.

But such a view not only ignores the evidence from neuroscience and the commonality of gender behaviours and roles common to all civilisations throughout history, it also rejects the expression of differences that glorify God.  Worse since it postulates that men created these roles to denigrate women, it demonises the masculine traits (such as competitiveness) and falls into the equal and opposite error trap quoted above.

“Contrary to the world’s view, however, the ‘battle of the sexes’ is not between the man and the woman, one trying to dominate the other – but rather between God and the self-centred desires of the ‘flesh’ in both man and woman.” Gordon Dalbey

Equality does not require uniformity nor is it desirable.  For example as a parent I desire to love all of my children equally – but I wouldn’t want to remove their differences to ensure that were the case.  To do so would destroy something that is integral to their very being.  So too with gender.  Yes men and women are equal but God has made them different to reflect the polarity of His nature and His purposes for us.  Let us celebrate those differences and by doing so celebrate the full nature of our glorious God.

The third and final worldview is dualism espoused by Plato: the body and thought/spirit are separate, with the thought/spirit being the true self and the body a hindrance.  This was then refined in Descartes’ phrase “I think therefore I am.”  This view says that my existence, my true identity is what I think about myself.  Hence my material sexed body is immaterial and gender is merely a state of mind.

This anti-Christ spirit was refuted in the letter of John.  The godly Hebraic worldview is holistic – we are embodied spirits or spiritualised bodies.  Our bodies express our true nature – they make visible the invisible.  Being male expresses the transcendent quality of masculinity and being female expresses femininity.  This is how we can understand God through what has been physically created as the physical realm is a shadow of the heavenly reality.  The physical world reflects spiritual truths.

In future posts on this topic we will take time to explore the richness of masculinity and femininity and seek to honour both parts equally in our marriages, the body of Christ and the world.  It is my hope and prayer that this will provide a plumbline for those like me who struggle with their sexuality, that it would lead to a deeper respect for the opposite sex as an equal image bearer of God and that it will help us to see God more fully.

Please note that I am in the process of moving “godly sexuality” and my other blogs/writings together under one website johnspencerwrites.com

Parenting with faith or fear (godly parenting)

parenting-with-faith-or-fear

A couple of weekends ago I took my son on a dads & lads weekend.  Since the car journey was about 4 hours to get to the activity centre I brought some conversation starter questions with me.

One of them was “what is something I always say to you?”

His reply to me was eye-opening.  Without hesitation he listed off “drink more, you look tired you should go to bed early tonight and get off your electronic devices”.

He spoke the uncomfortable truth.  Now each of these are important to me and it would be so easy for me to justify my nagging:

  • A friend of mine got kidney stones and was in agony.  He warned me to drink more to prevent the same happening to me.
  • At university I stayed up way too late which meant I was too tired to deal with life and as a consequence got into all sorts of problems.
  • I had an addiction to computer games which meant that in the early years of my marriage my wife was a computer widow.

Surely these are legitimate concerns.  But the truth is my nagging doesn’t come out of wanting the best, it comes from a place of fear.  I am concerned/worried/fearful (whatever I choose to call it) about their future and rather embarrassingly I realise that I haven’t taken these issues to God in prayer.

And so this is why this post has been delayed a week.  Sure I could have written what we should all do without actually doing it – Christians have been doing this for centuries – but I thought I would actually taste and see that the LORD is good and then pass that on to you.

Whenever something threatens us or those we love we always have two choices.  We deal with it in our own resources or we go to the place where change actually happens: on our knees (2 Cor 10:4-5).

If we choose the former and take control we will get stressed, we won’t be at peace because the truth is that we have no control over how the future will turn out.  We’ll end up nagging our children (or worse) out of fear.  This will do one of two things: they’ll think we’re over reacting and therefore ignore us and get their guidance from others (who may not have their best interests at heart) or they’ll become captives to fear too.  Neither of these are what we want for our children.

Where do we go from here?

Firstly we need to be honest with ourselves and our Father about our fears.  They need to be expressed to Him not to our children.  We don’t need to play games with Him as He already knows what we need before we ask Him (Mt 6:8).  So why pray at all if He already knows? Because by expressing our fears to Him we deepen intimacy.  We open ourselves up to more of His presence in our lives and that’s when we start to experience His peace and transformation.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7)

 So why don’t we ask God for help?  Or why do we ask for help but still try to keep control of the issue?  Because fundamentally we doubt either His goodness or His power or both.

We don’t have to be anxious as He’s a good father who gives good gifts to his children (Mt 7:11).  He isn’t frightened but laughs at the plans of His enemies (Ps 2:4).  God created Adam and Eve even though Satan had rebelled and would seek to lead them astray.  He wasn’t worried as Christ was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).  The solution was already available before the problem even arose!  There is no contest between light and dark.

If you’re still struggling with seeing His goodness or power then in Philippians it says:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think about such things” (Phil 4:8)

Unplug the news and internet clickbait that feeds our fears.  Read testimonies and plug into what God is doing around the world.  As you do, then your hope will rise as you realise that He is good and He is on the throne and He can bring about transformation that you seek.

I’m not writing this as someone who just says these words.  There are two times which stand out in my life where I experienced the “peace of God which passes all understanding”.  The first was when I was friends with my wife-to-be.  I was her teacher and she was my student.  We had both knew from God that we were going to marry, but we also wanted to do things right.  So we were waiting until she left school before we would date.  We were open about this and went to the head of the sixth form to let them know.  However, being careful one of my other students saw us in a car together.  We were worried that they would assume that something sordid was going on and we were so fearful of what would happen despite us doing the right thing.  I remember getting on our knees together and praying.  My wife had a picture of angels surrounding us in protection and I felt that Psalm 34 was for us which was the same message:

I sought the LORD and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.  Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.  This poor man called and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the LORD encamps those who fear him and he delivers them. (Ps 34:4-7)

The peace of God hit us like a wave.  And the outcome?  The student saw us both in the car but was somehow blinded so that they didn’t recognise my wife-to-be even though they knew her very well.  Amen.

The second time was when my wife was rushed into hospital in excruciating pain.  There they discovered that my wife had an ectopic pregnancy and were going to rush her into surgery.  We were devastated.  We didn’t want to have to choose whose life to take and we begged that God would receive Rachael before she went to surgery.  We phoned our church for prayer and I remember in the midst of this maelstrom a peace descending on us – a calmness that we just couldn’t explain given what was happening around us.

The outcome?  My wife had a visit from a kind doctor who said he had watched the surgery via the uplink and showed her images of Rachael who had burst the fallopian tube and had died.  Though it was sad we were so grateful to God.  When we asked to see this doctor again, no-one knew of him.  When we asked if we could have maybe a photo from the uplink video we were told that there was no video taken.  The Father in His infinite goodness sent my wife an angel to give her comfort and let us know that He had answered our desperate prayer.

I won’t pretend it was easy as we walked through our grieving process but I bought worship DVDs that we sat and watched with the volume up so our senses were filled with songs of Him.  We sought out worship songs of lamentation so we had something to sing to Him in this time when we couldn’t sing many other songs.  And He met us there over this time.

We’re nothing special.  The same can happen for you so that you can experience a feast in the presence of our enemies (Ps 23:5).  We can feast on His goodness and provision whilst our fears are looking on.  God loves our children more than we do.  He has better plans for them than we do.

So what happened with my son?

Since prayer I have found myself calmer inside.  Even though I still have boundaries on the time he can spend on his devices I’ve found that it’s coming out of a place of peace and so I’m more flexible and kinder than I was when I was in total control*.  I am operating now out of a place of faith that God has good for my son and am working in light of that rather than out of fear of the worst.  It’s meant that our relationship has improved – there’s more fun – it’s weird that by giving up control I have found more freedom to love.

I’ve also been honest about my failing my son by not trusting God’s working in his life and asked him to pray for me if I start losing it again.  Which he does.  I don’t need to fear this as I’m not the boss, God is.  And my job as a parent is always to point to the true Father than I am a mere shadow of.

May you experience the same freedom as you give your fears to Him.  May you operate out of a place of peace as you trust that He has the ending already known even if the route is not the one we would have chosen.  In Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ But he refused saying ‘people will pretend to be your friends and take advantage of you and you’ll end up losing everything.  Stay at home where you’ll be loved.’  The son did so, as he had no funds to go elsewhere but he always resented it and never learned the true depth of his father’s love for him.”

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like this one where I talk about God renewing all things.

*Please understand that this is not a blind faith that says everything is going to be ok and does nothing to bring about God’s holy will – we are co-workers with Christ we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done”.  The difference is whether we are operating out of faith or fear, out of trust or control.  And that makes a difference to whether we are parenting with grace and the spirit or law and the flesh.

Trump, Clinton or Christ?

broken-jesus-wm

We have just witnessed one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in American history that has the potential to destroy everything.

Even though I’m British and started watching as an outsider, I eventually found myself taking one side.  This led me to question a sister-in-Christ when she held a different opinion.  I did this in such a way that I hurt her deeply even though it was genuinely not my intention.  I sought to overcome this by subsequently blessing her and giving her a prophetic word, but the damage had been done and she was unable to receive the grace I offered because her heart was closed to me.

I only realised this today when the Spirit showed me that I had been infected by a political spirit that is seeking to divide brother against brother and church against church.

Each of us has been deceived into thinking that one of the sinful candidates is America’s saviour.

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Only Jesus is the saviour of America or any other nation, only He has the power to change hearts, transform atmospheres and bring healing and reconciliation.  Only He can do anything of lasting value that’s why He said “apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5).

Let’s update what Paul said in his letter to the Corinthian church:

Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ…You are still worldly. For since there is…quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Trump,” and another, “I follow Clinton,” are you not mere human beings?  What, after all, is Trump? And what is Clinton? Only servants…
Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight…So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Trump or Clinton or Johnson or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God
. (1 Cor 3:1, 3-5a, 18-19a, 21-23)

We have everything we need in Christ.  God can work regardless of who’s president.  Indeed some of the greatest growth in the early church came under the persecution of the Emperor Nero.  The Chinese church has seen most growth under its atheistic persecuting government.  To think that God is not able to being about change unless we have our candidate in power is to have too big a view of the world or too small a view of God.  To think otherwise is not faith but fear.

But let’s step and look at the spiritual reality for our battle is not against presidential candidates but against but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

Why does Satan seek to divide us with this political spirit?  Because the oneness of the church brings glory to God who is Three in One.  It testifies to the world about Jesus:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:20-23)

The Spirit of Christ can bring unity regardless of church tradition or politics or race or class and as the time for Jesus return gets nearer there is a clearer call for unity as One Bride ready for her Bridegroom.  We are seeing it in the UK where churches are coming together not by committees but by the Spirit of Christ causing Christians to work together to bring about transformation in their communities.  The spirit of jealousy that meant church fought against other churches for members is dying as we seek first His kingdom and not ours.  We are therefore seeing more people turn to Christ as they are seeing a love that transcends barriers and as the Church body receives the blessing that comes from unity.

The political spirit is an anti-Christ spirit – it testifies against Christ.  Hence it seeks to divide those united under Christ.  Or it seeks to bring unity under someone other than Christ.

A body without a head is horrible.  A body with a different head sewn on is a freakish Frankenstein.  Both are only going to bring fear.  Neither are going to bring unity or attract people to Christ.

How do we Christians come against this political spirit?

Firstly, we need to repent of this worldly thinking:

Father I am sorry for agreeing with a political spirit, I’m sorry that I have sought to replace Christ with someone else.  I’m sorry that I have sought to point out the superiority of my views.  I’m sorry that I have not been humble and have not valued others above myself (Phil 2:3).  I have sought to be right rather than righteous.  I reject this anti-Christ political spirit that is seeking to destroy me, your church and your country.

Next we need to apologise to those we have hurt.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Mat 5:23-24)

Notice in this passage that we go if someone has something against us, not if we meant to hurt them.  We’re not going to get unity by trying to convince the other side that we didn’t mean to hurt them nor by showing them how they’re wrong.  People think with their heart not their head.  You start by loving them and love always seeks to make the first move.  Apologise for the hurt you have caused.  Don’t do it conditionally waiting for them to apologise back.  Also don’t apologise for hurting someone and then seek to justify your position.  Just apologise:

“I’m sorry for any hurt I have caused you in this election.  I’m sorry for putting politics before Christ.  I’m sorry for wanting to be seen to be right.  I’m sorry for not loving you like Christ has loved me.  Please forgive me”

This is the beginning of our ministry of reconciliation – by taking the lower position.  Healing comes through our brokeness as we mimic Christ whose body was broken for us to reconcile us to the Father.

Thirdly if you can seek to share communion with your brothers and sisters – as that is a prophetic act that signifies our common union under Christ.  It speaks a powerful truth against the lies of the political spirit.

Once we have done this and got right with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ and are operating again as His Body under the true head we are now ready to pray for and serve our nation.  Seek to bring His shalom wherever you go.  His peace, His wholeness and well being.  However that might look.

I’m seeing the church stopping for those who are worried and giving them a hug and consoling them.  I see them bringing in chocolate to the office to share to bring joy.  I see people giving doughnuts to protesters and telling them that they’re loved and its going to be OK.  I see people standing up against fear in conversations and reminding them that there is hope – Christmas is the perfect time for this.

As any prophet – I only catch a glimpse.  If you see more of how we can bring God’s shalom at this time then please feel free to put it in the comments below.

Destination sickness (godly desire)

***CONTENT WARNING***
This is a vulnerable post about my journey to sexual wholeness and may not be appropriate for minors nor for those of a sensitive nature

I think one of the biggest lies about the Christian life is that Christians think it is a destination rather than a journey.

destination-sickness-2

We see this view presented by Christians through books written by those who have overcome their struggles and have “made it”.  If you follow their steps then you too can be free of <fill in the blank>.

You know I’ve yet to see a book, let alone a best-seller, where the author mentions that they still struggle with anything of consequence, that they’re still on the journey.  That just wouldn’t sell because people would say that their method can’t be any good as they’re not perfect yet. They clearly can’t be an expert.  Can you see a publisher wanting to sell a book from someone who is not a “success”?

We buy into this lie.  It’s so appealing because God has set eternity in the human heart (Eccl 3:11) and our desire is to be in that place of perfection.  Hence we buy these books, follow the steps, learn the methods but yet struggle.

Maybe when this happens you are an optimist and simply think that this isn’t the right method as it doesn’t “work” for you and so continue on your journey searching for the “right” method/approach/teaching that does work.

Or maybe you’re like me and start believing that since you’re not “there” that maybe you’re not a Christian or maybe you are a “bad” Christian, that you are a sinner, that you are a failure. This is what happens to me when I believe the destination distortion.

This lie causes us to conceal our imperfections from others as otherwise the Church will know that we are not perfect, that we’re not at the destination.  They might even question if we are really saved – as Christians don’t do that sort of thing.

Where does this lie take us?

The only way I can do this is to be extremely vulnerable with you so you can see it clearly.

This week I messed up.  I looked at porn on the internet.  I masturbated.  I then felt rubbish.

I was so ashamed I didn’t tell my wife because I didn’t want to break her heart.  My brother-in-Christ who I can be honest with has gone AWOL which of course left me alone with my thoughts and exposed to the lies of Satan who loves picking off those isolated Christians.
 
“Look at what you’ve done!  How can you claim to know anything about godly sexuality?  How can you help other people to get free when you yourself are not free?  You’re a hypocrite.”

When prayer requests come in I hear “How can you pray for them after what you’ve done?”

So I stop ministering to others.

My focus changes from serving others and looking outward to looking at my sin and wallowing.
I’m no longer pressing onward on my Christian journey.  I have stopped journeying because I’m clearly not at the destination.

This is where this lie takes us.  It causes us to stop.  And Satan wins.

The cure for destination sickness: living in the light

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:12-14

Paul sees this.  Even the great Christian Paul has not arrived but is pressing on to take hold of all that Christ has for us.  We’re all on a journey.  We’re not at a destination.

Yes we have a new nature and are no longer slaves to sin but we still mess up.

..let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)

How do we throw off the sin that entangled me and stopped me from running and caused me to look down at my sin and not on Jesus calling us by name?

We start by confessing what we have done to others.  No excuses.  No justification.  Just truth.  

You know how hard it was for me to tell you the truth earlier?  I wanted to use euphemisms.  I definitely wanted to miss our the bit about masturbation.  But the Father challenged me to be more vulnerable so that more freedom will be released to those who are reading and struggle:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. (Jas 5:16a AMP)

Bringing sin into the light destroys its power over us.  There’s no competition between light and darkness.  When you turn on the light switch it’s all over for darkness.  If we pretending that we’re OK we prevent ourselves from receiving God’s forgiveness and grace.  How can we be forgiven if we’re saying we’ve done nothing wrong?

When I eventually confessed what I had done to my wife.  She looked me in the eye and said “that explains everything!”  She saw that I had stopped pressing forward and was no longer ministering grace to our family.  She knew I wasn’t living in the identity of who I actually am.  A cuddle, a kiss and her subsequent words of love over me bring healing and restoration and release me from my introspection.

So I get up and I start moving forward again.  I’m already closer than I was when I had stopped.  And by His glorious grace I will reach the goal:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6)

Can I pray for others?  Yes because my prayers are answered by a powerful and perfect God and not by my own efforts?  Can I help others?  Yes, because I’m not there but I am further down the road of maturity.  By sharing my struggles I can help them to avoid or overcome obstacles that tripped me up.  I can help them go faster and further than me.

Together we will obtain the goal for which we were called if we journey together in the light.
 
Father, I pray for those who are reading this.  That they would find fellow brothers and sisters who would journey with them.  They would find those who would be open and honest about their struggles so that together they can experience your healing grace and be transformed into the likeness of your glorious Son.  In Jesus’ precious name.  The author and perfecter of our faith.  The one who calls us onward in love.  Amen

Gender differences: conflict or complement (godly sexuality)

gender-differences

As we saw in our last post, male and female together make up the full image of God and so both are needed if we are to glorify God.  We saw that they are created different to represent the plurality of our Three-in-One God and they were created for unity.  It was the fact that Adam (man and woman together) were created one and then separated that leads to God saying:

For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother, and will be joined to his wife. And they will become one flesh.
(Gen 2:24 NASB)

Adam who has been split into male and female now seeks to reunite and recreate the unity that existed before that reflects the unity of our God who is also One.

Now this all sounds great until you flip it around.  The corollary of “male and female together make up the full image of God” is that individually a man or a woman do not reflect the full image of God*.  People don’t like that.  People don’t like being told that they need someone else.  It’s the sin of pride and of rebellion that goes against popular culture “you can do it all” attitude.

However, unlike Jesus who is the exact image of the Father (Heb 1:3; Col 1:15) God in His wisdom did not create male and female the same.  Otherwise we wouldn’t have blind spots and we wouldn’t need the other.  We would already be complete†.

The Hebrew words used for their creation testify to this difference.  The man was יָצַר  (yatsar) moulded/squeezed from the earth like a potter does to clay, whereas the woman was בָּנָה (banah) built/fashioned from the side of Adam.  It is also interesting to note that the development of a baby mimics the split of Adam into male and female when at 7 weeks boys experience a testosterone surge which literally destroys the corpus callosum that joins the two hemispheres of the brain. The male baby is cut off from part of himself.

The saying opposites attract actually has a lot of truth to it.

However, without unity in Christ opposites may attract but they can also destroy each other.  My early marriage is an example of this.  You see I was attracted to my wife because she was so different to me.  I’m actually quite introverted whereas she is such a people person.  I like everything predictable whereas she likes surprises.  Yet I am fine with mess but she loves the house looking ordered.  I am a hoarder whereas she is a thrower.  I’m a sorter, she’s a tidier.  I like going to the same places again and again whereas she likes going to different places each time.  You get the picture.

However, when we got married I assumed that my way was the “right” way and tried to make her like me and said her way was wrong.  I crushed the spirit out of who she was.  She too assumed that her way was the “normal” way and so didn’t understand why I didn’t see the things that she did.  Why didn’t I see the mess, why didn’t I wrap up presents, why did we always do the same things, buy the same food and not go to parties?  She became frustrated with me.

We both became unhappy as we both wanted the other to be like us and neither of us were.  And my domineering ways meant the she capitulated and did things my way but actually this didn’t please me as my life became dull and monochrome.  This is no surprise as we were no longer reflecting the full image of God – the plurality in unity – we were no longer bringing Him glory.

Even our children became partakers in this battle.  If one of them said “I like doing… with you daddy” I would take it as confirmation that I was the better parent.  If one of them said “Mummy lets us …” I would take it as an offence.

Fast forward some 15+ years and we are in a different place.  We came to the brink of divorce but a marriage course, the transforming work of the Spirit through courses such Celebrate Recovery and Freedom in Christ, together with sozo and other prayer sessions and just the ongoing maturity through the Spirit’s work means that we are unashamedly who we were created to be.  We recognise that we are different.  But we realise that our differences are a gift to the other and we need to honour that gift or we will become diminished as a result.  We each have blind spots and the other is God’s gift to to show us what they are.

Here’s a silly example that illustrates this.  I always used to berate my wife that she never checked the oil or the tyre pressures.  This was something that I felt I “had” to do because she never did.  But the reality is that God has made me different – so that I see this but she doesn’t.  Therefore my gift to our marriage is to check the oil and the tyre pressures.  She blesses me if she honours that difference “Thank you for checking them – it means a lot to me” (or whatever love language works for you).  I don’t need to resent that she never does this – because her gift to me is something different.  An example is that she always remembers to get birthday cards for friends and family.  This is something I never did before I was married.  So I honour this difference by thanking her and signing the card and encouraging her to send gifts too.

We also celebrate the fact that the children enjoy doing different things with each parent.  They are special mummy things (like going to a coffee shop) or daddy things (like going tree climbing).  We stop them when they say “I prefer mummy because…” and we tell them that God gave them both of us as only then will they see all of God. It’s interesting to see that our children are becoming a beautiful unity of the different characteristics.  For example our eldest daughter is incredibly creative like her mother and is taking art at A level.  She is also very analytical like her father and is also taking maths at A level.  The school is bewildered but we see it as the glory of God.

But remember marriage is a shadow of the heavenly reality – our marriage to Christ (Eph 5:31-32).  Realising that we need the other opens our eyes to the greater truth that we need Jesus: without Him we can do nothing (Jn 15:5).  Without Him we are incomplete.  Without Him we will never glorify God.

Father, forgive me that I have resented my spouse’s differences.  Forgive me that I have tried to make them like me or got upset when they didn’t see what I saw.  Help me to honour their differences as their gift to me and let me offer my complementarity as a gift to them.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Further Reading

Culture of Honour by Danny Silk

*A note to single people. Don’t let anyone bash you over the head and say “You need to get married to experience the fullness of God”.  The church community is the body of Christ and is made up of male and female and so you will experience this fullness when living and serving in the church community.

†This is the same in a church.  One person does not make a church.  And Christ deliberately gives different gifts to the members of His Body so that all members are needed to build each other up.  We only mature in community.  Despite our worldly mentality that says there is one person in charge who does it all – this is simply not the case.

Unity not uniformity

8db3d-unity2bnot2buniformity

There’s some fantastic laws in Leviticus (no really!) that contain immense truth:

Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals.  Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.  Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material. (Lev 19:19)

And in Deuteronomy:

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this… Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled…Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.  (Dt 22:5, 9, 11)

Why on earth are these important?

God is Three

Well remember that creation was made to glorify God.  It does this by making known God’s divine nature (Rom 1:20) and since our God is three the different genders, species and materials reflect the plurality of the Godhead.

So anything that seeks to remove these differences actually seeks to destroy how creation glorifies God.  That is why crossbreeding, cross-dressing and the intermixing of seeds and material were prohibited.  Each of these actions ultimately causes the loss of the distinctive characteristics and qualities of the different species, genders or materials.

These differences are especially important in marriage as only male and female together make up the full image of God:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. (Gen 1:27; 5:2 KJV)

And in the church, the Body of Christ:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor 12:12)

The members of the church are different and have been given different gifts and all are needed to express the full image of Christ and all are needed to build up each other (see also Eph 4).

God is love

Intuitively we know that honouring the differences shows love and this reflects our God who is three and whose nature is love.  For example I wouldn’t be loving all my children if I gave them all the same gift of a stunt bike for their birthdays.  My eldest son would be delighted but my three other children would be upset and feel unloved.

We see this in how God deals with the different individuals in the Bible in different ways.  He even heals the same condition (such as blindness) in different ways.  So too the Spirit of love gives different gifts to the members of Christ’s Body, and God created male and female different to each other.  These differences glorify the full nature of the Godhead.

God is one

However our God is also one (eg Jn 10:30).  There is unity in the Godhead hence we use “Trinity” which comes from tri-unity.  And so God is glorified when there in unity amongst the differences.  Jesus prayed that the church would be one like he and the Father are one (Jn 17).  Hence we speak of communion which comes from common-union.  And one flesh (Gen 2:24) comes from the unity of male and female.

Unity is a beautiful and godly thing (Ps 133:1) but the counterfeit to unity is uniformity.  This has been seen throughout history, such as in the Hellenisation of different cultures.  It is more prevalent than ever in our common age under the guise of technological advances or equality.  The world speaks of diversity but to think different is to be classified as sexist or a bigot.  To say anything different is now classified as “hate speech”.  Love has been confused with agreement.

This lie has permeated the church:

  • There must be one “right” way of ministering healing – all methods must be wrong.
  • There must be one “right” way of worshipping – other methods are clearly inferior/not spirit led or unscriptural.
  • There is one “right” way of doing church – all other denominations are wrong/unbiblical.

And so we end up not with unity but competing ministries/churches where each contain cookie-cutter Christians who look the same, think the same and act the same.

It’s easy to understand why.  Because uniformity requires no grace/love for those who are different.  It requires no sacrifice/change in one’s own life.  It’s convenient Christianity.  It’s not taking up your cross and denying self (Mk 8:34).

How can we have unity of differences?

If we return back to those laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy there was actually times when the forbidden mixture of wool and linen was allowed – in the prayer tassels and the clothes worn by priests.  Only priests were allowed to mix the aromatic spices to make the anointing oil (Ex 30:33) and for the mixing of seeds in Dt 22:9 the Hebrew word (bizarrely translated as “defiled”) is qadash (H6942) which means consecrated/holy.

You see the holy unity of differences can only occur through our great High Priest Jesus (Heb 4:14).

Jesus is glorified if there is unity amongst believers (Jn 17:20-23) but it’s impossible to have unity between a zealot and a tax-collector without Christ’s spirit of love.  And so this could only be realised after the Spirit came at Pentecost:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.
(Acts 4:32 see also Acts 2:42-47).

It is this unity between differences that glorifies/speaks of God.  That’s why Jesus said “everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn 13:35).  A sign of a church that reflects Christ’s love is one that crosses social, racial, political and denominational barriers – people who are different – that’s what the world will see as astonishing.

That’s why when Paul speaks of the differing gifts of the spirit in 1 Cor 12 and 14 he speaks of God’s Spirit of love in 1 Cor 13.  And again when Paul talks of the different gifts and ministries in Eph 4 he speaks of unity in love through the Spirit.

Jesus is glorified when there is unity between the man and women in marriage.  And this is only possible through the Spirit of love.  Hence God breathed his breath, his spirit into them (Gen 2:7) and the man, woman and Spirit makes a cord of three strands that is not easily broken (Ecc 4:12).

Only in Christ is there unity in churches and marriages.  But greater than all of these is the truth that only in Christ can there be unity between God and man.  Things so different that could never be together on their own.

Making it reality

So when you become frustrated with someone who is so different to you, whether that be in church or in your marriage, and you find yourself crying out “I just can’t love ” then look to Jesus who cried “it is finished” and through his death broke down the dividing walls (Eph 2:14), ripped the curtain of the temple (Mt 27:51) and brought unity between God and sinful man, Jew and Gentile, slave and free and male and female (Gal 3:28).

Father, forgive me that I want to take the easy route of uniformity.  I want everyone to be like me so I can have a convenient life.  Father, I can’t love them on my own, I need your Spirit.  Help me to honour their differences and to sacrificially love them like your Son sacrificed himself for us when we were your enemies so that we can be one.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

In case you’re wondering about the picture.  It’s all the components of a camera.  Only if all those individual parts are become one do we get the whole camera.  Only together do they give the full picture (pun intended).  So too may it be in our marriages and churches.

Further Reading

  • I am indebted to this Jewish article that first opened my eyes to the significance of Leviticus and its application to sexuality.
  • To read more about oneness in sexuality you can read my earlier post here.
  • I also highly recommend “The Culture of Honour” by Danny Silk that gives some great tips of loving and honouring the differences in the church.
  • And finally I thought this article from relevant magazine on sub-cultures of uniformity in the church rather than unity in love was worth reading.