Archive for February, 2012

Remembering Mike

It has been 10 years since my best friend of most of the first half of my life died. It has been over 6 years since I married the person he married and began to help raise his children. I miss Mike in many ways. He was a lot of fun, and if was still around I’m sure that we would still be having a lot of fun. In some ways it is kind of a difficult thing to think about as I have no idea how my life would have turned out if things didn’t happen the way they did.

I was at bible school when Mike died. I received a call from an old friend informing me that Mike had died suddenly. After about 10 minutes of processing the shock I jumped in the car and headed home…next door to where Mike lived. My mind rushed with thoughts of promises made long ago. The situation was subdued when I arrived. Carol and the kids were gone. I sat and chatted with my roommates. It takes a while before the reality of such major events sets in.

That night I walked across the 12 or so feet that separated my door from his and entered their lonely house. We had a key for emergencies and such. I remember sitting on the steps of the stairway experiencing a peace about the whole situation. Little did I know at the time that was the exact spot where Mike took his last few breaths. I remember fondly the times I shared with many of our mutual friends as we cherished our memories of Mike together at the viewing and the funeral. There was lot of great stuff to cherish and remember about Mike. We mourned, we grieved, and we laughed. I have to remember to have a few words with him about how heavy his casket was…just about pulled my shoulder out carrying him on a frosty winter’s day.

I had no idea how much this event would change my life. Carol and I had a on again, off again relationship. We both had baggage to work through and I’m glad we did. Eventually I got through some of my issues and asked her to marry me. As I walked through our relationship things seemed chaotic and irrational, but in retrospect the timing couldn’t have been better.

The challenge of leading this family together is hard enough all on its own. I’m glad we worked through what we had to. Life raising Mike’s kids hasn’t been easy. I’ve often joked that I’ve been reaping what I’ve sown. I used to tease Mike a lot, and it was probably poetic justice that I got to raise his oldest son. There has been incredible blessing even in that. I’m not just spouting of Christianese…for all the grief I’ve endured I am a much better man than I was 5 years ago. Fortunately it is getting easier and our worst fears for David have subsided. Matthew embodies a lot of what was so great about Mike and has many wonderful unique qualities as well. It is stunning sometimes to see both of them reflect different aspects of their father. David mutters under his breath in the exact same way Mike would, kind of like Fred Flintstone would. The boys always enjoy my stories, and I have many, about their father.

I’ve often said that when I reach eternity Mike will be the one to take me on my first tour. I’m pretty sure he would be able to muscle himself up to the front of the line. I won’t be able to avoid a big bear hug either.

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Justin nails it.  Although I wish I knew what he said in French.  I don’t believe any of the crap that Justin is a conditional Canadian. 

This latest internet spying bill is really invasive.  Lumping opponents to the bill in with child pornographers is even more disgusting.  We can’t afford to pay seniors but we can afford to build unnecessary jails to hold people and turn them in to better criminals when the crime in Canada continues to decline.

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Did God design the church with a masculine flavour?

Jamie has reshared a shout out to the men who might respond to John Piper’s recent message on the “masculine flavour” of God.  You can read the full text here.  Mr. Piper contends that God has given Christianity a masculine flavour and defines masculinity this way:

Theology and church and mission are marked by overarching godly male leadership in the spirit of Christ, with an ethos of tender-hearted strength, and contrite courage, and risk-taking decisiveness, and readiness to sacrifice for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community—all of which is possible only through the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s the feel of a great, majestic God, who by his redeeming work in Jesus Christ, inclines men to take humble, Christ-exalting initiative, and inclines women to come alongside the men with joyful support, intelligent helpfulness, and fruitful partnership in the work.

As a husband, father, church leader and author I appreciate how God’s desire for me to become fully what I’ve been created to be.  I find common ground with those who find most expressions of church emasculating.  I have to ask the question  where does my definition of masculinity come from?  Is it a sociological category, societal norm, biological expression,  a product of consumer culture or theologically defined.   I just pulled up my bible program, I can’t find the word masculine anywhere.  Trying to define what manhood might be from scripture might be a bit scary if we are ever brave enough to venture in to the Old Testament. 

We know that David told Solomon to be a man (1Ki 2:1-2).   Immediately after this he told Solomon to follow the Torah and to make sure a certain someone met an untimely demise.   In the book of Judges we see someone taunted Gideon to “be a man” and kill them, so he did (Jdg 8:21).  Some aspects of manhood being displayed here have been superseded by Jesus’ instruction and example.

We know the definition of masculinity has changed with our culture.  Over a hundred years ago many baby boys were dressed in pink, because some believed that red was a masculine colour, and masculine lite would have been pink.  Defining Christianity as masculine would force us to define what version of masculinity from what culture. 

Piper’s definition of masculine breaks down this way

  • tender hearted strength
  • contrite courage
  • risk-taking decisiveness
  • readiness to sacrifice
  • for the sake of leading, protecting, and providing for the community

I could include “spirit of Christ” but that isn’t defined so I’m leaving it out.   You know who Piper’s list reminds me of? Optimus Prime or perhaps Aragorn. When I look at this list I don’t immediately think of Christ or Paul.  The same Christ who willingly walked in to his own slaughter and send his disciples out as lambs among wolves.  The Christ would extoled meekness as a virtue and told men to let others exploit them.  The same Paul who appeared to the Corinthians with weakness, and fear and much trembling (1Cor 2). 

While Jesus was tender hearted, he rarely exhibited strength.  He cleared the temple and he had spoke boldly against the religious establishment, but the lion’s share of his ministry was an expression of gentleness, mercy and grace.  Paul was pushed around a lot.  While certainly ready to sacrifice and was willing to take risks his interactions with the churches had a decidedly gentle tone.

Consider Paul’s words to the Thessalonians:

But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed–God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. 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.
(1Th 2:2-8 ESV)

Does Paul sound  masculine or feminine here? 

While it  is true that Jesus was a man and he appointed men as the 12 disciples one could easily argue that such a strategy would have been advantageous given the cultural context. 

Let’s consider Piper’s implied definition of feminine ministry in the church:

  • joyful support
  • intelligent helpfulness
  • fruitful partnership

It sounds a lot like Paul’s approach to ministry.

For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
(1Co 3:9 ESV)

But that does not mean we want to dominate you by telling you how to put your faith into practice. We want to work together with you so you will be full of joy, for it is by your own faith that you stand firm.
(2Co 1:24 NLT)

Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.
(Php 1:4-5 NLT)

My read of Paul in particular gives me the impression that many aspects of Christian ministry would be more typically understood as feminine. 

We are all created to experience the fullness of our own humanity.  Men should be what they are designed to be, as should women.  Some of us fit in to nice neat categories but many do not .  True grace and compassion wouldn’t reject people just because they don’t fit in to our nice neat categories.  When we do we miss out on what God has for us.  Thankfully the people of Israel followed Deborah in to battle.  Thankfully the church embraced the Gentiles.  Coming up with inflexible theologies that might even catch some aspects God’s intention for us but codify it in to a rule use to judge and impair the choices of others is not consistent with the gospel of grace.

Some aspects of masculinity are at odds with new covenant ministry.  We normally associate masculinity with strength and strength, whether it be personal, physical, political, or institutional can hinder our ministry.  God’s power is perfected in weakness not strength.  The kingdom is like a seed that grows on its own and we don’t understand why.  As Christians we must acknowledge we are completely dependent on the power of God and our own power gets in the way of that.  The more typically male inclination to use coercive force through rules, judgments, or raw brute strength, especially against perceived competitors is at odds with the gospel.  It leads to moralism and shame. 

That is my big concern with all this masculine chest thumping.  There are many men who aren’t very good men as defined by folks like Piper, Driscoll, and Eldridge.  Insecure men often over compensate through other means like the pursuit of career or ministry success.  Inwardly they are flooded with shame because they know they don’t measure up.  Often that shame is then projected and dispensed to people all around them.  Some churches are just a web of shame.  People trying to live by their own strength living up to an ideal that isn’t realistic for who they are and where they came from.  This striving in their own masculine strength impedes them from coming to know the powerful transformation available to them through God’s strength.