54. A Time to Regain our Identity

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

54. A Time to Regain Our Identity

Mt 16:18  I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

1 Pet 2:9,10  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I wonder? I have wondered if the average church member ‘sees’ themselves in any way different from anyone else? Very early on in this series I considered a number of ways the Christian – and subsequently the Church – is different from their non-believing neighbors. So yes, being a ‘believer’ is perhaps the starting place, but is that all you see?

Why? Now you may be thinking, why is he taking us back over this ground if we have covered it so thoroughly in the past studies? Well, it is simply because when I meet with other believers, that is the sense, and only that – that we are ‘believers’ – that ever seems to get communicated, and because I believe that is so, I think it is one of the reasons that Christians are so often backward in coming forward, or so deferential when it comes to standing up and declaring how needy the world is and how wonderful the answer that we have is. Mostly I detect we are on the defense.

A Positive Faith: One of our failures of recent decades is that of not communicating the positive aspects of Christianity – which are only found in Christianity – which can help this sick and ailing world. Of course part of that has been our ongoing failure to coherently and graciously communicate why the ways of the present world of the West are failing. It seems it is only the occasional columnist of one of the big ‘broadsheet’ newspapers who shouts, “This is not working!”

The appearance – and forgive me if I am wrong – is that in the UK where there is a ‘state church’, the Church of England, it is too tied in to the establishment to be regularly prophetic and thus it fails to prepare itself and its leading bishops to be voices of hope and change in a dark world. In the USA, although there is no state church, church and politics appear entwined so often but this seems to have resulted in specific limited battles being fought – the abortion battle being the most obvious but there have been others – but without conveying, “Hey this Christian thing is the best thing going!” and so there has been a failure to collectively convey the positive nature of the Christian faith that should be life changing, and if given a chance, also community-changing and nation-changing.

My Identity: So if someone asks you who you are, do you reply, “I am a believer in Jesus Christ,” or “I am a Christian,” because as excellent as those testimonies are, they only take us a short way along the path of identifying who we are. A shorthand answer along this path is, “Well, the Bible says I am a child of Almighty God, the Creator of all things” and that opens up a whole new area of discussion. But perhaps the more important issue is not so much what I have to declare as what I feel about myself. Knowing who I am, enables me to speak or act as I do.

For example, a number of times, either in this series or other series, I have reminded us that a) Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven, ruling in the midst of his enemies (Eph 1:20) and then, b) that we are told that we are seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). Now this is quite remarkable if we believe it (understatement of the year!) because it means we are linked to Almighty God and because of that there is a sense where we should see ourselves as ‘above’ the world, having an overview of it that provides a more accurate view than anyone else, which means learning with Christ how to live with that.

Part of a Strategy: But this also reminds us of a verse we have considered many times in the past: “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.   For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”   (1 Cor 15:24,25) Now this requires us to realize and recognize how Christ is ruling in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2, Heb 1:13, 10:13, Mt 22:44) – even though the world seems to be doing its own thing – but also for us to realize that we are part of his ruling, we are with him in working to bring down these enemies (which include such things as unbelief, unrighteousness, ungodliness, anger, bitterness, hostility, wars, fighting, etc. etc. as well as the more obvious evils, such as slavery, still as prevalent today as in the past). We have a privileged position, privileged power and a privileged calling within the strategy of Christ in his calling to bring in the kingdom of God.

Inferior or Special?  So let’s be honest, how do we really feel about ourselves before the onlooking world? Have we let Satan demean us, do we feel inferior?  Now if this was a church meeting and I was one of those preachers who hype up the congregation, asking those things in an ever louder voice, we might expect the temptation might be the shout back, “No, we’re superior!” but that is not Christlike, it is not what the apostle Paul taught, or any of the other apostles. The word we are looking for is ‘special’.

I have a friend who dislikes us saying to anyone, “you are special,” because, he says, you can’t say to everyone, “You are special.”  Yes you can. First of all we can say it to us as a group of people in the world. At Mount Sinai, God said to Moses to say to the people, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” (Ex 19:5) Don’t tell me that “treasured possession” doesn’t mean special! Perhaps it was with this in mind that the apostle Peter wrote to the church (see 1 Pet 1:1,2) those words at the top of this study: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Pet 2:9,10) Here I have highlighted words that say we are special.

Uniqueness: So dare we say, “I am special to God,” or “We as a local church are special to God,” so that marks us out from the rest of the world?  We are special because we have responded to Him and we have been adopted into His family so that we can say we are children of God, even sons and daughters of God. We are special because we have open access to heaven, a voice to God and an ear to hear from God and the ability to receive all the resources of God.

If that doesn’t make us feel good, perhaps we need to pray and ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the reality of these things, rather like the apostle Paul prayed, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:18,19)  All this comes only by revelation. We need today the fresh revelation of who we are, the wonder of who we are, the wonder of what we are, the wonder of our destiny, and when we get that afresh, perhaps we will stand up in the midst of the world and cry fearlessly with the apostle Paul,  “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) and then go on and demonstrate that power – which leads us on to the next studies about going into battle. Stick with me.

39. Gender Issues

Reaching into Redemption Meditations: 39. Gender Issues

Gen 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

 Gen 2:24,25 a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Painting the background: There are a number of other issues that arise in modern life in the West (but not necessarily so across the rest of the world) but let’s go to the heart of one of the biggest issues that is rising up and challenging our thinking, that of gender issues. (Stay with me for these following studies, they are very important in the life of the Church in today’s world and really do need redeeming). Above we have God’s mandate for a perfect world, how it was in the beginning, what I referred to in a previous study as what is ‘normal’ for God, what was normal before the Fall, and what will be normal when He recreates a new heaven and a new earth. But yesterday we considered the reality of this ‘fallen world’, a world where often things are no longer ‘normal’ in the sense I used above, a world where sometimes this imperfection, this brokenness reveals itself in genetic changes.

Definitions: Let’s do some defining. I am going to briefly quote from ‘Understanding Gender Dysphoria’ by Mark A. Yarhouse, who clearly knows considerably more about this subject than most of us and may thus help us clarifying our thinking.

  • Primary Sex characteristics: Features of the body that are directly part of the reproductive system.
  • Gender: The psychological, social and cultural aspects of being male or female.
  • Gender identity: How you experience yourself (or think of yourself) as male or female, including how masculine or feminine a person feels.
  • Gender role: Adoptions of cultural expectations for maleness and femaleness.

Wikipedia notes, “Sexual orientation describes an individual’s enduring physical, romantic, emotional, or spiritual attraction to another person, while gender identity is one’s personal sense of being a man or a woman.”

The Transgender Conundrum: We may not like this subject and feel it is simply an aberration of the fallen world ‘out there’ (beyond the church), but if that means we exclude certain people from the possibility of ‘salvation’, and from church, we have surely moved far from the heart of God. Now without doubt, this has been forced onto our consciousness – and I don’t know whether it is an enemy strategy or whether it is simply a sign of how ‘fallen’ the world is getting – and so we need to understand something of this and not produce knee-jerk, hostile reactions, that alienate us from people Jesus may want to save. These may be people in our own families. How tragic if, because of our ignorance and fear, we act so hostilely towards those closest to us that they flee from us. To quote Yarhouse, “To discuss being transgender is to discuss one’s experience of gender identity, one’s sense of oneself as male or female, and how that psychological and emotional experience is not aligning with one’s birth sex.”

Excuse me on my island: Now I suspect that most of my readers will be ‘straight Christians’ and if your instinctive reaction is now to go elsewhere, may I appeal to you to stick with me, learn, understand and empathize, and see the redemptive possibilities. My experience, and that of my family has been ‘straight’ but I increasingly come across those who either fit one of the transgender definitions or have family members who do. Why the increase? I don’t know, but I do want to remind you what I said several studies back about ‘islands’. My island may be different from yours or, to put it the other way around, yours may be different from mine, but I am not here to attack your island, but understand it, and if you are not happy with your island find out why. If you don’t want to read something as solid as Yarhouse’s book, see if you can get the January 2017 special-issue back copy of National Geographic magazine titled ‘Gender Revolution’ which acts as an excellent primer to this subject. I do not intend here to lay out all the many definitions found within this subject but simply to ask some pertinent questions to help us in it.

An unclear world: A distinction was made above between attraction to another and ‘gender identity’. That suggests therefore, that a person may be sexually male but feel female but not necessarily attracted to either males or females. It also suggests that someone may identify themselves as male but nevertheless be attracted to other males. We are, in reality, talking about an area of life that is more like a kaleidoscope with lots of different colours and shapes, and which often change. Now within all this, and this occurs more within the ‘attraction’ area, we might be wise to observe two things. First, a person’s ‘spiritual orientation’ and, second, a person’s sexual control, if I may put it like that. What I am about to suggest is that as far as your acceptance of individuals is concerned, these two things may be more important to you if you will think about it, than whether they are not ‘straight’ in your eyes.

Spiritual Orientation:  Those of us who come from an ‘evangelical’ background are usually more concerned to know where a person stands with God and Jesus, have they made a profession of faith or not, say. It may surprise us that a person struggling with gender issues can have as strong a heart after God as you might profess to have, and that their struggles with their gender issues form as much a content of their prayers as maybe yours about your temper, say. They may read their Bible as avidly as you, and ‘attend church’ and worship as vigorously as you. You may struggle with your temper, unkind thoughts, feelings of guilt or inadequacy, or many other such common grace-struggles. They may not be struggling with such things.

The point I am making? We may all of us, empathize with the apostle Paul in his struggles in Romans 7, wanting to be one thing but being something else, but if we are struggling with something that has genetic origins (and we’ll look at this in another study more fully) we cannot call that ‘sin’. Wow! A difficult theological and philosophical problem, but what I wonder is the truth about that? Don’t jump to conclusions too quickly. (We will definitely look at Rom 1 soon).

Sexual Control: Now the western world has abandoned the word ‘control’ when it comes to sexual behaviour and for decades now American TV (and more latterly other Western nations’ TV) have been pumping out TV that says sex is OK with whoever you want to do it with, and whenever you want. Almost surprisingly, TV ‘soaps’ are incredibly good at showing that infidelity and unfaithfulness in terms of relationships are recipes for hurt, anguish and upset where feelings of rejection and betrayal are abundant. And this hasn’t gone anywhere near the transgender or sexual orientation areas, this has just been the rampant abandonment of tradition Judeo-Christian values in relationships, so that cohabitation is frequently more common than formal marriage. Unfortunately statistics prove that when you are cohabiting, whatever your intentions, you are far more likely to split up than if you are married.

But uninhibited, unrestricted, sexual expression is what the media have been showing us for decades so, may I suggest, any comments we may make from our ‘island’ should be equally concerned whether it is in respect of heterosexual sex or say homosexual sex. The Biblical Christian standpoint says, one partner of the opposite sex, for life, after marriage. The water in the West has now become very muddied, but if you are wishing to advise or wishing to criticize in respect of this area of non-heterosexual behaviour, surely the same criteria needs to be applied and maybe some difficult questions asked: Do you have to ‘have sex’? Do you have to have many sexual partners? Does that leave you feeling fulfilled or are you chasing newer and more exciting experiences and, like drug taking, the buzz of the next experience seems to be less than the previous one? Please, these are not seeking to be condemnatory questions but simply honest questions from my island to yours. Can you be honest about them?

Integrity and compassion: Before we stop today, we should note that it is so easy to lack integrity and compassion in discussions, debates, arguments, call them what you will, about this subject. Integrity says sin in sin so if we want to challenge one area, why that area and not the bigger pool? Let’s question all sexual behaviour outside the Biblical norms. Whatever we may think about the outlooks that different people have, on their individual islands, as followers of Jesus, can we be caring and compassionate, understanding and empathetic? In this area where, scientifically all is not black and white, can we restrain ourselves and not repeat the errors of the church in history that often condemned without knowledge and was shown to be foolish?

Integrity suggests we need to determine the truth and to find that we may need to ask difficult questions, and while so doing, can we always hold on to love, care, concern and compassion. God, we have been studying for weeks, desires to redeem. Remember, a while back we noted how we can be agents that hinder that process. In ten years’ time, the philosophical and spiritual outlook may be very different from today and hopefully much clearer and much stronger, but to reach such a time will clearly need a move of God as well as open hearts in us today. May we be agents that help redemption and not hinder it.