Beautiful Design 4 - Man’s Hurdles
We are in the middle of our series called Beautiful Design, looking at God’s dream for man and woman. We started this series in Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That one sentence established that God is the Creator of man and woman and that, as such, He gets the final word in how He intended them to operate so that humans would flourish. We then looked at the very real distinction of man and woman from everything else in creation—that we are made in God’s image. That fact sets man and woman apart in value and dignity, and it makes both man and woman equal in value and dignity. Then last week, we delved into the specific purpose God had intended for man, and that was summed up in the word “headship.” But it’s not headship like we tend to think of, but the person responsible for serving, loving, sacrificing, providing, protecting. Headship is the one God holds responsible for how a family, a church, a society at large functions.
As we move into this week’s message, a lot of women might well be asking, “Ok, if that is what God made man to be and do, where are all those men? Because I’m not seeing many of those kind of men around these days.” That is a great question and comment. And it’s why this message has two essential parts: Part 1 - Where are all the men God described?; and Part 2 - What in the world are they doing now?
So, let’s take a look.
Part 1 - Where are all the men who are supposed to be performing the headship roles that God described?
To see where these men went, we need to return to the beginning, or close to it—Genesis, chapter 3. It’s there we find the account that explains what has gone wrong with manhood, and, frankly, womanhood. To remind ourselves of that beginning, we’ll pick up the action in chapter 2.
Genesis 2:16-18 - And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."
Right after this, God parades all the animal kingdom by Adam, and he names them all. We find out at the end of that parade that the purpose was to have Adam find a partner. Of course, he did not uncover anything in that parade that he wanted to snuggle up with. God then opts to make something brand new for Adam.
Genesis 2:21-25 - So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
This is grand stuff here. Perfect harmony, perfect peace, perfect paradise. Naked and not ashamed. No fear. It’s all perfect. But, wait, cue the ominous music, because in the next verses we see this:
Genesis 3:1-6 - Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'" But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
This is the first sin, the first act of rebellion against God, the first time man and woman trust in something other than God. Right here, the harmony, peace, paradise, and perfection are shattered. Right here explains what went wrong, why so many men aren’t who God designed them to be. It’s sin. And we discover that sin doesn’t just affect that first couple. No, every person who came after them is infected with the sin disease. Mankind went from being “very good” to “very bad” in an instant. It shatters their relationship with God, with each other, even with nature.
Genesis 3:7-16 - Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" And he said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
Operating with sin as their nature, women will now seek to control, to manipulate men, and men will seek to rule over, or dominate women. Instead of a partnership, they are now competitors. Men are supposed to lead out, but with sin as the default, they will do it poorly.
Genesis 3:17-19 - And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
This passage explains and accounts for every bit of misery the world has ever experienced. Every pain or sadness in your life, every bit of violence, every loss, every abuse, every struggle, every catastrophe, and every devastation the world has ever known originates right here. That’s what happened to all the men. Sin brought alienation from God, alienation between man and woman, alienation between all of mankind, even alienation from nature itself. Nature will resist the dominion mankind was to exercise. Not just with weeds, but with hunger, sickness, aging, and even death.
Part 2 - What are all the men doing now?
Well, that is where all men start out, and they stay there unless Jesus Christ interrupts the cycle through the salvation He offers to each one. Alone, without Christ, men are not naturally capable of representing God’s image as they lead out. They are, under the influence of sin, driven by selfishness, not service and love and sacrifice. The text actually hints at the two extremes of control or "ruling over" men gravitate to when sin is in charge. And it shows up in surprising ways. I’ll just label those passivity and aggression. Let’s start with passivity.
In truth, a totally passive man doesn’t exist. That’s because every man is actively pursuing something. Even the guy who sits on his couch watching a game while his house burns to the ground is not totally passive. He is simply giving himself over to something he has determined is more important at the moment. A passive man, then, is one who actively seeks not to pursue what God has designed for him to be and do. We saw this numerous times in our passages in Genesis. What was Adam doing while Eve was being tempted? Yeah, standing right there, watching. Where he was to be the knight in shining armor, he was absent. When God shows up, what’s Adam doing? Yeah, hiding. Hardly an act of responsibility and headship.
Does he own his mistake? No way. He blames the woman, and he also blames God. After all, God’s the one who gave him the woman. In Adam’s view, God and the woman should have a confab and decide how to split up the blame, because Adam’s not owning any of it. And God drops him with a left hook—"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife". In other words, “ Adam, whether you own your part or not, it doesn’t matter. I’m holding you accountable, and the results are going to be devastating."
How does this passivity play out in our time? I’ve known a lot of women who married a guy they thought was so accommodating while they were dating. He was happy to take her to whatever restaurant she wanted to go to; happy to do whatever she wanted to do; happy to have the wedding she wanted to have; happy to go where she wanted to go on the honeymoon (after all, someone else was footing the bill for that wedding and honeymoon.). But what seemed so chivalrous or polite or deferring to her wishes might not have been that at all. It might have been, “I don’t really want to have to invest my time and energy on such stuff. I don’t want to have to lead out, to make decisions. I’m happy to let you do it all." And the woman doesn’t see it then. But fast forward to five years of marriage, with him not leading and dumping every decision on her. She’s now at the end of her rope. She’s got a little boy, not a man, and she’s stuck alone at the top, running the household, deciding what to buy, what to eat, what to fix, how to manage the budget, how to raise the kids, how to pay for stuff. And it’s maddening. And if she can’t manipulate him into leading, she’ll more than likely end up throwing that guy to the curb. And he’ll be totally baffled at how what once worked so well could have gone so terribly wrong. He never figures it out, so he just takes it into the next relationship, and the cycle repeats.
Even in a Christian home, passivity can exist, where the man leaves all the spiritual leadership to the wife. That women is either going to lead out, and be bitter about it, or give up, and be bitter about that. In the end, it will be very hard for her to be all that God wanted for her when He designed her.
Another problem I have seen involves Christian women who marry guys who are not Christians. They hope, they believe, they expect those husbands at some point will come to Christ. But it usually doesn’t happen. Do you know why that is? Because non-Christians are uncannily aware of what Christians ought to be and do. They will get drunk, but they know Christians shouldn’t. They will have one-night stands, but they know Christians shouldn’t. They will watch shows with all manner of profanity and nudity, but they just know Christians shouldn’t. They know that if your Christian faith means anything, a Christian shouldn’t marry them, And when a Christian marries them anyway, it shouts to them that what that Christian says they believe really means nothing to them at all--so why should it ever mean anything to them. And that Christian is fighting an uphill battle to win them over to Christ.
Now, not every man opts for the passive attempt to control women by forcing them to operate in headship. Some become tyrants, oppressors, and harsh rulers. Surely you know that in many parts of the world, the role of the woman in a marriage is reduced to virtual slavery. Even in America, one-fourth of women live in a house where they suffer physical abuse. Add in psychological and emotional abuse, and it’s one third. Guys,
- Unending criticism is control through aggression.
- Withholding affection is control through aggression.
- Mocking and belittling is control through aggression.
- Sarcasm is control through aggression.
- Anger or rage is control through aggression.
You can sinfully use fear of you exercising your superior might and strength against her to control her. This kind of domineering control can even make its way into the church. Ezekiel chapter 34 talks about how there were these people overseeing the church who did so with force and harshness. It’s wrong in a family, wrong in a church, wrong in a culture. But it’s the way men move without Christ transforming a heart and mind.
And that’s where all the men are. They are struggling with the sin nature that leads to selfish attempts to control, either through passivity or through aggression. And most men are failing to win that struggle and become what God designed for them. There are some men who are winning the struggle, not that any of them do it perfectly all the time. But the only hope, the only source of rescue for them is Jesus Christ.
The Role of Men – in this conversation we simply have to acknowledge how our culture talks about men and gender, because we’re surrounded by it. The challenge is to set a stage where we can put down opinion for a few minutes and be open to God’s ideas on a topic. So as we think about God’s purpose for men, let’s set aside popular thinking, and look at what scripture has to say – then… let’s step back and ask if that rings true.
Here are our assumptions.
So let’s look at man’s role, it’s actually pretty simple. Going back to the beginning…
Genesis 2: 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
Men are created to work. This was before the fall – before we drove things off the rails. Part of our God given purpose is to work. To cultivate and give our energy to significant activity. We’re not designed to be lazy… and even if we become financially independent and don’t need to work for income, we should find things to do – that have meaning. That will be a blessing. Men are created to work.
Men are created to keep. This is the sense of maintain and protect. And we know this instinctively.
In 2012 in Aurora Colorado, a lone gunmen dressed in ballistic armor entered a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises… he popped two tear gas canisters and started shooting into the crowd. 3 men died protecting their girlfriends from the shooter, by literally covering their girlfriend’s bodies with their own.
The men died, all the girls lived, with injuries sustained from the bullets passing through the bodies of the boyfriends. They were universally recognized as heroes.
The Costa Concordia was a cruise ship that had mechanical issues and eventually started to sink. Eye witness accounts describe the panic that occurred when people were trying to get to the life boats… men were pushing past women and children, even pregnant women in an attempt to save their own lives. They were universally condemned for their actions and cowardice.
Men should never use violence and aggression to get what they want. Not through domestic abuse and not through being overly aggressive in a more normal argument. Men are created to keep and protect, not to steamroll people to get what we want…
Men are created for headship.
Ephesians 5:22-33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Headship is selfless, sacrificing and direction setting - Where men fill the purpose and design of men as the Bible has outlined it, humanity flourishes, and where men refuse to step into the space that men are called to fill, the world burns.
Matt Chandler says that, "Headship is the unique leadership of the man in the work of establishing and keeping order for human flourishing." He's right, that's a good definition.
Headship in the Home: As husbands we are called to love our wives – in a sacrificial way. Putting their needs above our own. Men are called to bring strength and perspective and spiritual direction in a way that honors and encourages the wife to be everything God made her to be.
As fathers, we are called to love and protect our kids. We’re called to teach them about life and to speak blessings over them daily. To speak the word of God into their lives in the morning and in the evening… to talk to them about things that matter when we go out and when we come in.
And like Jesus, if you don’t have a wife or children, you still have an amazing role of headship to play. By investing in relationships with the next generation. For Christ, this was the 12 disciples and they were the foundation of the early church. Be a coach, be a mentor… let your integrity and godly character be an incredible blessing to a younger person who needs you. As teenagers and young men, you have no idea how much kids a few years younger than you look up to you. Be generous, talk to them and encourage them… use the influence you have for good!
Headship in the Church: We do believe that elders should be men, because scripture is clear on that point – but I’ve heard people say that women should not be part of ministry. Ok, to sideline 50% of the church, with their gifts and calling and intelligence and perspective and incredible talents and wisdom – that is a terrible idea. We’re not doing that at the Surge. The elders here want every one of you to step fully into the calling and purpose God has for you. The eldership should never be harsh, even in the most difficult of circumstances… and our heart and act of service as elders is to do everything we can to give you encouragement and permission to be everything God created you to be.
Headship in Society: Imagine a world where instead of investing in plays for power, in selfish pursuit, in sexual conquest, in the mere accumulation of wealth… that men would be men as God intended. That instead of aggression and violence men would focus on creating new businesses and ideas and innovative ways to be a blessing in this generation. That the sideways energy of ISIS could be redirected to where God wants it to go. To take their passion and commitment and focus it on blessing instead of murder. If we could step into the role that the gospel intends for men… to remove passivity and spineless safety completely – how different would the world be?
If we as men, would step into the center of what God wants us to be –the impact we could have for good in this generation would be all but impossible to measure.
Men are created to model grace – when we mess up, like Adam we’re tempted to hide and to blame someone else… but there’s a better way. We can model grace.
If we mess up, have the heart to admit it, if you are overly harsh with family, stop it and confess to wrongdoing. Ask God for forgiveness and ask your spouse and children for forgiveness as well. Listen, we do the best we can, but we’re people and occasionally we’ll snap. What we do next matters. We can press into God’s love and forgiveness in those moments – and when we do – it will be a blessing to those we love.
Men are created to model Christ – we can look to Jesus as our example of how men should be. Consider a few examples of how Jesus related with women in the New Testament accounts.
Mary, the mother of Jesus - When Judas betrayed Christ, Jesus has 11 other men as a backstop to continue the leadership and birth of the early church. With Mary, the delivery system was a teenage girl – and there was no plan B. It says something about how God thinks about women doesn’t it? They can handle the important assignment.
Jesus with the woman and perfume – When people criticized her, Jesus told them to stop… and He honored her. He said that her story would be told wherever the gospel is preached. The gospel will be preached in every nation… and in all of those places, her wonderful story will be told.
Jesus with the woman caught in adultery – She was being bullied and humiliated in the worst, most public way possible, and Jesus puts Himself between her and her accusers. Nobody messes with the sister! What courage and greatness of heart! What a manly thing to do in the face of injustice.
Jesus with the woman at the well – Christ deals with her with innate dignity and respect… and before she cleans up or gets it right, He sends her out to be the first evangelist to the Samaritan people. The result? She brings her entire city to Him.
Mary Magdalene at the Resurrection – Mary’s story was one of deep suffering and demon possession. Her resume would go to the bottom of our pile. But she was trusted by God with the most important message ever delivered. HE IS NOT DEAD ANYMORE. She got the news first. And she was the one to bring this to Peter and John and the others.
In every case, Jesus works to show the love of God… and brings an incredible stance towards the women in His life. He puts women in their place… and that is a place of honor and incredible purpose and often as the lynch pin for the gospel being delivered to the rest of us. As men, from the perspective of gender, we need to take a lesson from the best.
So what does it mean to be man according to God’s purpose? We are called to work, to keep, to step into headship and God’s calling in our homes, in our work, in our churches… we’re to model grace – and to be a picture of Christ Himself in our attitude, in our words and in action. Jesus is our clearest and best example of manliness and if we can march toward this, the earth will be a much better place.
Beautiful Design 2 - In His Image
In our first week of this series, we talked about Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. If that’s a true statement, then all of life’s questions around origin—Who am I?—and purpose—Why am I?—and design—How am I to function?—are rooted there. We covered all that in week one. Today, we’re digging a little deeper into the man/woman issue, adding another layer to the foundation we must grasp to make sense of all the confusion around us.
Let’s start here: Say you are the typical family—hubby, wife, a couple of kids, and a dog. Out of nowhere, however, economic calamity befalls you. You can’t feed every mouth in the house, and someone has to go. Who gets voted off the island? (Pause for deep pondering. . . ) Ok, seriously, nobody goes, “Oh, the wife. Pitch her,” or “Dump the kid who eats the most.” We all start with the dog. Here’s the question for us: Why? When we dig into that, we find that the answer isn’t simple math, or simple finances, or who is easier to care for, or even who is the most obedient or makes my life easier. We all just know, intuitively, that humans, males and females, are more valuable, have more dignity, than critters.
What we then did in this message is detail why, whether you believe in Jesus or God or religion at all, you subscribe to God’s truth on the matter. And then we chatted about how this truth should play out in real life. First part first—why the dog and not the wife or kids?
Genesis. 1:24-31 - And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds––livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.'” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
It’s in this passage, where God creates man—male and female—in His image. Humanity is the only thing in all creation that carries God’s own image, and that makes mankind unique. How so? Well, you and I have the ability to know God and understand Him, to have a relationship with Him. Your pet, as noble as he or she is, has never been up all night pleading with God for the souls of its offspring.
God then directs mankind to fill the earth and subdue it, to have authority and dominion over it. Mankind sits at the pinnacle of the created order. Despite Hollywood, there will never be a planet of the apes. Monkeys have not been given that capacity.
And, because of the special relationship we humans have with our Creator, the relationships we have with each other as humans is different than what exists in the animal world. Lions can kill each other and no one bats an eyelid, no one mounts an investigation. It’s like a Geico commercial: If you’re a lion, it’s what you do—kill stuff. But you and I can’t kill each other. Genesis 9:6 highlights just how valuable a human life is--Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. In God’s eyes, all life matters, it seems. All humanity is endowed with the image of God, and that makes all life important beyond any value society might place on that life in terms of benefit to mankind.
So, how ought this to play out in the affairs of man and woman? One of the folks in our congregation brought their grandson to The Surge a few weeks back. He’s got some challenges and will probably need care for the rest of his life. But he was at the State Theatre when the band was rehearsing, and he was dancing and singing and praising God. And that praise washed over the band, and God showed up at that little concert for one. I love going to a Chick-fil-A near me because they hire folks with Down Syndrome. I gotta tell you that the joy in that Chick-fil-A is palpable the second you open the doors to the place. It’s almost magical. These folks will need some care and attention for the rest of their lives, but their value before the Creator is immeasurable, and it’s just awesome when we get a glimpse of that value as they touch our lives.
Here’s what happens when we lose sight of the image of God dwelling in every life. We devalue, we demean, we abuse, we use, we cheapen, and we destroy life.
We abort life in the womb, even though science will tell you that the unique DNA strand that sets that baby in the womb apart from every other human being as a distinct life is present at conception. Is your argument that that baby is dependent on its mother? Dumb logic, really. How totally independent are you? You grow the food you eat on your own farm? Even if you do, where do you get the seed, the fertilizer, the farm machinery and gas to run it? You hew the logs for your own house, produce your own electricity, heat, air conditioning? You produce the raw materials for your clothes? You cure your own illnesses with the medicine you have made? Inoculated your own family from dread diseases? C’mon, get real. At the core of it, we are all dependent, every bit as much as that baby in mom’s tummy.
And please don’t go where I have not. I am not singling those who have had abortions as being especially evil or anything. They are not. Before God on high, they are not worse off than me—a sinner in critical need of forgiveness and grace and mercy. Christians aren’t better or immune to sin. But our hope is this—regardless of the junk we have done, Jesus is bigger, and He is able to forgive and heal and transform and restore. Without Christ, we’re all toast.
When the “image of God” in us is forgotten, we humans drift towards pornography, totally ignorant of the horrendous backgrounds and desperation that leads performers to that career path. I’ve chatted with thousands of kids over the years, and not one little girl has ever told me that her dream when she grows up is to be a porn star. Yeah, something happened after age 5 to strip that child of the reality of the image of God in her. We see sex trafficking, slavery. We see people treated as less because of the color of their skin, we see rape, we see sexual abuse, we see prostitution, we see strip clubs.
We see laws that corrupt the value of life. You know, 5 countries in on this globe right now will happily euthanize your mom if her health fails, even though God tells us that it’s good and right and godly to love and serve mom and dad as they grow old, even if they are not valuable in any the world would measure. Why? Simple—the image of God residing in them. There are two countries in civilized Europe that will euthanize your child if he or she is blind, deaf, or mentally challenged. It’s what happens when we ignore the image of God stamped on us.
God’s thinking, right thinking, about the image of God on all human life leads us to value equally males and females. Because I am a human, I have far more in common with a slave girl in India than I do with any male animal. It’s not our maleness or our femaleness that determines connectedness; it’s that we’re people made in God’s image that binds us together.
Guys, we have to have God’s view of who we are, made in God’s image, intended to model and represent our Creator as we walk the planet. We must treat women with the dignity our Creator gave them. They are equally able to image God as we males are. They have not been put here for our entertainment or to be our servants or our sex objects. They are our sisters, and co-heirs with Christ. They cannot be dismissed intellectually or robbed of their right to exercise all the gifts God has given them for what He designed for them.
And gals, you need to remember you, too, are made in God’s image. You’ve got to think right thoughts about yourself, who you are and how highly God thinks of you. Don’t be swayed by little boys who think they are men because they can shave and who treat you as something less. Have high expectations of men and demand they approach you correctly as image bearers of God. Understand your value before God, and let no one treat you cheaply.
Well, what if the world actually operated with the reality that all men and all women are made in God’s image? Prostitution - gone. Sex trafficking - gone. Porn - gone. Racism - gone. Rape - gone. Abuse - gone. Slavery - gone. Flourishing would occur. I know we aren’t going to solve all the world’s problems, but how about this? How about we live as God’s people, as image bearers who understand our origin, our purpose, and our design? How about we have great friendships, great relationships, great marriages, great families, and a great, loving church? How about we deal lovingly with those this world will spit out—those it has wounded, and mangled, and scarred, and scorned, and confused? May we be a place they will flock to in droves!!
Beautiful Design 1 - In The Beginning
We began a new series this week, looking at God’s design for man and woman. And what we found is that figuring that out is a lot harder these days than we ever imagined. For most of human history, it’s been “male” and “female.” Having those two things work together was hard enough. But in our day and age, it’s far more complicated. Everything’s in flux. Just listen to Lady Gaga’s song, Born This Way, and you’ll see that it’s not just “male” and “female” anymore.
Want a couple of examples of the confusion? An article in The New Yorker magazine entitled “What Does Manhood Mean in 2013?”—citing research by the J. Walter Thompson marketing and advertising firm—said that not only is there no consensus about what defines a man, but total confusion abounds on how to even go about arriving at a consensus. The impact: Millennial men today are more frustrated than any previous generation with not knowing what it means to be a man or even whether it’s ok to be a man.
Take a gander at the new admission standards for Mount Holyoke College—an exclusively all-female university up in Massachusetts—introduced for the 2014-15 academic year. I simply quote their document:
"Mount Holyoke College welcomes applications for our undergraduate program from any qualified student who is female or identifies as a woman. As a pioneer in higher education, Mount Holyoke remains committed to its historic mission of providing access to excellence for academically talented women regardless of socioeconomic background. The College values each student's development, both academically and personally, and recognizes that self-identity may change over time.”
The school goes on to answer the question, “Who can apply, based on these new standards?” Again, I quote from their document:
"The following academically qualified students can apply for admission consideration:
Biologically born female; identifies as a woman
Biologically born female; identifies as a man
Biologically born female; identifies as other/they/ze
Biologically born female; does not identify as either woman or man
Biologically born male; identifies as a woman
Biologically born male; identifies as other/they/ze and when 'other/they' identity includes woman.
Biologically born with both male and female anatomy (Intersex); identifies as a woman.”
Ultimately, the only person who should not apply for admittance is someone who is born a biological male and identifies as a man. However, the school states that, if someone is admitted—say, someone biologically male who identifies as woman--and later changes their identity to “man”--he is not excluded from continuing to attend. Confusing? You bet.
And this is just one example of what is playing out all over the world, including in our own Fairfax County. You are aware, are you not, of the debate about the use of restrooms in the County, aren’t you?
So, how are we Christians, who believe in the word of God, to respond to this confusion, to those who struggle with gender confusion? The answer is simple, actually. We should respond the same way that God responds to us with the things with which we struggle—with truth, compassion, and love. And we have to because this is heartbreaking stuff. I brought in testimony from Dr. Paul McHugh, the University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, whose extensive research has concluded that gender identity confusion is a psychiatric issue and not something people should be left to decide on their own. This, from the University whose hospital was in the forefront of sex reassignment surgeries dating back to the 1970s.
Dr. McHugh sat down with the individuals who had those surgeries to ascertain whether it fulfilled them, satisfied them, and fixed what was broken. What he discovered was devastating. Virtually all the males who had had the surgery later identified themselves as lesbians because they subsequently found out that they were more attracted to women, after all. By the way, the University’s hospital no longer performs these surgeries, based on the latest research. Those who have had these reassignment surgeries are 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. He also found that 80% of children expressing gender confusion will simply outgrow it. He claims that overzealous parents who push for gender reassignment treatment end up causing lifelong fear, anxiety, and heartbreak for their kids that is exponentially worse for them than the confusion they experienced as kids.
Why do I bring Dr. McHugh into this discussion? Well, primarily because he’s not a Christian or an elder at some church. And because he is brilliant. Johns Hopkins does not hire morons to lead their departments.
Given all this, how do we enter this confusion and think clearly about it? Well, we need to start where God starts, so we’ll make this easy. First book of the bible, first chapter of the first book of the bible, and the first verse of the first chapter of the first book of the bible. Genesis 1:1. We start there because we’ve got to build a base, a foundation, for even beginning to wade through the mess our culture has made of this issue. We’ve got to get back to basics.
Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
What can we discern from this one verse?
1. There was a beginning, and there was something that was before the beginning. Something that caused the beginning to begin. Before there was time, something, something made time start ticking.
2. That something, that someone, that caused time to begin was God. He’s the only one who existed before the beginning.
3. This God created. That is, He made whatever He made out of nothing, which is what the Hebrew word for “created” means. And to create is an exclusively God action in scripture. Now, to create something out of nothing makes Him incredibly wealthy, doesn’t it? I mean, if you could take the nothing in your hand right now and make anything you wanted, and as much of that anything as you wanted, you’d be wealthy, right?
4. What did God create? The heavens. OK, in addition to time, God manufactures space, the expanse of the heavens. So, this God is incredibly powerful. We know from verses like Job 26:14 that everything you and I see in the universe is only revealing the very tip of God’s power and might and majesty. He’s so much more than everything He has made.
5. We’re told that God made the earth. We’re told that on this little planet in this universe will play out the greatest drama in the universe and that it involves man and woman, creatures made in God’s image.
So, from this one verse, what can we conclude? Well, we know something about origin—we know we are created. We didn’t used to be something else and now we’re this. We were made people—male and female. That makes God the center of the universe, not man and women, despite the fact that God does appear to have a special role in the created universe for man and woman.
We also know that, if we’re created by a Creator, a purpose exists for us. We’re not just floating through the cosmos aimlessly. And we know there is a design, that we were made to be something, to do something, to accomplish something. And the revelation of those things are to be found in what the Creator, this God of ours, says it is.
We also know that if God is God that what He made was thoroughly thought through, that He didn’t make a mistake, that nothing that has ensued since He created was a surprise. A God who creates time would certainly know from the beginning of time to the end of time what was going to come to pass inside of that time window He created.
This one verse also lets us know that God knew from the start everything there was to know, and because of that, that never was there a need for a course correction, never a need to change His mind. He was right about everything before the beginning, right about everything at the beginning, and He’s right about everything right now. So, our job is to figure out what God says we are, both male and female, to glean from God’s word what God says we are to be and how He designed us to function. In this series, we are going to buy into Psalm 16:11, which tells us that God is the one who makes known to us the path of life, that in His presence there is fullness of joy, that at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. We’re going to trust Him, as our Creator, and be prepared to marvel at His beautiful design for men and women.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.