Archive for the ‘Angsty Self-Analysis’ Category

THE END OF THIS BLOG!

What a melodramatic title. It is true though. I’m quitting for now. ‘What a fickle, impulsive chap you are’ I hear you think aloud – ‘just last week you were obsessed with drumming up business for the thing’. Yes, I know… and that’s part of why I’m stopping. Here are my reasons:

  1. It was detracting from my work. You may have seen the times of these posts. They are generally during school hours. There is absolutely no doubt I have committed myself significantly less to the job I’m paid to do in favour of writing and checking this blog. That’s not good, honest nor godly.
  2. There is too much desire for self-affirmation. I know I’ve blogged on this before. However, I’m too competitive and I can’t help the drive for recognition, ‘hits’ and feedback. It means I’m often posting with the wrong motive and I can’t abide it. There are plenty of people serving a heck of a lot more sacrificially and effectively within CCB, but without e-mails to advertise the fact.
  3. As a general rule, this is not ‘doing’. I don’t know exactly what ‘doing’ looks like – but blogging is generally just ‘talking about doing’ instead of ‘doing’ it. There are some posts on here I am proud of and which God has used to help others as well as me. However, in the majority of cases, time spent blogging would be better spent doing something else. I’m finding this ever harder to justify.
  4. Whilst I have come some way in terms of a ‘theological education’ via sermons, books and my own study, I want to formalise my learning a little. Therefore, I plan next term to start taking the theology courses from Moore Seminary via correspondence, in order to give my endeavours greater discipline, soundness and a certificate! I do love to study…

 So, was it all a waste of time? No, I don’t think so. For the following reasons…

  1. It gave me a reason to think things through with a degree of accountability. Thanks to this project I now far better know my Bible-based mind on Calvinism, gender issues, movie-watching, evangelism and a great deal more besides. This is very helpful for apologetics and mentoring younger Christians.
  2. I know, more via e-mails that comments, that some people have occasionally been helped and challenged by a couple of things that came up. Being honest however, this was more true early on  – when the posts were more occasional but more borne of deep conviction and a troubled soul.
  3. This whole blog relocation was part of a drive from the start of 2009 to get my focus on God. Along with setting myself some rules, reading more and listening to a heap of sermons I have managed to wean myself off some bad habits that I’m sure still lurk, ready to reclaim me lest I ever grow complacent!

Right, so, the end of the game for now. The best posts of the 71 were probably these about sex, a stag weekend, blogging v atheists, Jade, my wife’s op, The Shack and how it’s all irrelevant compared to the cross. I do love writing and I pray God will use that willingness in some way I haven’t yet been shown. I do also love discussion, but it may be more honest done in person and via e-mail, so do feel free. Thank you for reading and God bless.

 PS There is also one quick post to go which is very important…

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REFLECTIONS ON GUEST ‘WEEK’

1. ON THE BIG ARGUMENT… Gender issues do get people in a pickle. More so than I realised. In hindsight… well I’m not someone whose views are utterly rigid – I’ve been wrong a million times before and I’ll change my mind on plenty of things yet. However, I will continue to look to the Bible for my authority, treating it as God’s relevant and sufficient word. That doesn’t mean I see it as a History textbook or Ikea instruction manual (thankfully, as then it really would be impenetrable), nor that I think context and literary styling should be disregarded in its reading. However I don’t believe we can skip bits, can evolve away from God’s word over time, nor that we can reach a point where we’re confident in disregarding it’s clearly, repeatedly stated principles and instructions. Everything’s there because it’s meant to be – ‘all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’ as the old Ishmael song says (OK he may have read 2 Timothy 3…). Above all, I fear the consequences of increasing flexibility on this issue. Major revival, whether courtesy of Luther, the Clapham Sect or Billy Graham, finds inspiration by returning to biblical truth – that which we tend to drift from over time. Gender issues are unlikely to be the thing that scuppers us, but wishy-washy Bible reading has led many away from penal substitution, from the uniqueness of Christ, from preaching Hell and judgement… without these the basic gospel message is lost. As in so many things, seriousness over the ‘little’ issues should keep the ‘big’ ones in line.

2. ON THE LOVE OF ARGUMENT… It is very easy, when discussion breaks out, for an ‘us v them’ mentality to break out, making the tone not entirely dissimilar to that employed in numerous ‘atheist vs theist’ debates online. It was thus good to finish with Simon’s post on unity. I do think the differences matter, but not as much as our shared brotherhood (or sisterhood!) in Christ. We need to get better, in our Christian chat as in our evangelism, at relating things to Christ and the gospel – that which we share if we are truly Christians. This is something I’ve been increasingly convicted of recently. Those of us nominally bracketed as ‘conservative evangelicals’ can talk and think as if we are uniquely blessed with all answers and the ‘best’ approach to everything. This runs the danger of making us Pharisees, looking down on those who can’t so well articulate doctrine or who fall the wrong side of our view on woman preachers, the Alpha course or the Pentecost; whilst overlooking the fact their lives more loudly speak of Jesus – the saviour they love and live for. Let us never be more excited by John Stott’s latest exegesis than we are by Jesus’ death on the cross…

3. ON THE RESPONSE TO THIS PROJECT… The format of this experiment has very much favoured the Monday posts. I must apologise to Brian and Simon whose contributions went up at the end of the week. Monday posts are launched with an e-mail reaching over 100 people. Many of them click the embedded link and quite a buzz is generated. However, without subscribing to the blog via a blog reading tool such as Google Reader (and only 7 people have done that!), few people are compulsively checking back (that is the preserve of he/she with a personal investment in what’s written there) in subsequent days. Thus, by Friday of each week, the hits have been a quarter of what they were four days previous, as reflected by the number of comments. Not sure what the answer is here – there is a limit to how many emails people want to receive rabbiting on about my ultimately inconsequential blog! Can I nevertheless assure those who posted that many more people have read your work than may seem the case (most readers will never post comments). There have been 1,000 hits on the blog (exactly 1,000, as I write this. Weird…) in June thus far – the vast majority of them attributable to this project. There was a wide general awareness of what had been written when our congregation got together at Revive in Portsmouth over the weekend. I hope you feel it was worth your while because I learned from each post and I’m not alone in having done so.

4. WHAT’S NEXT? I will revert to posting my own thoughts on living in the world as a man for God (ie the normal blog). However, things will go quiet in a week or two as my second job as an A Level exam marker kicks in, meaning I work almost every hour of the day and night. If I do post during that time then rebuke me; the few minutes I can spare should be spent catching up with my wife. If I’m writing on here I’m just procrastinating and putting off my responsibilities in an ungodly fashion! Following that, in another attempt to keep things interesting, I will approach a few interesting people in positions of responsibility for a planned series of interviews (digging out my student journalist past!) to post here – looking at the challenges they face, what drives them and the advice they can offer us along the way. Thanks for your support!

Guest ‘Week’ 5: SERVICE IS GREATNESS

Well, it’s certainly been lively… and there is but a short while left before Guest ‘Week’ ends and you’re left with only me. However, not yet! Because here’s Tom with an honest and Bible-fired challenge to us and to himself. To serve and to value service…

First up thanks must go to Andy for the invite to guest on his blog. The only reason I have gone for it is the readership I know he has. I would be keen to have feedback from people, as this blog post is more like the start of a conversation down the pub than a grand proclamation. This doesn’t mean I haven’t thought through what I am about to say!  I am not the most logical thinker and seem to have quite a staccato writing style. It will make more sense if read alongside Mark 10 v35-45. I am not going to quote the passage throughout this post as it is not intended to be a bible exposition. 

Over the last few weeks I have been dwelling on a passage from Mark 10 v35-45. I should be open; I have used Paul Barnett’s The Servant King alongside reading the bible. I am often like James and John, there is so much that revolves around me, I want to be first! (v37) In this passage Jesus recognises this is how the world operates but not in his kingdom (v43-44).

I have recently become aware that I respect those who have served me, this has been a voluntary reaction, it is not like I have been forced by some organisational chain of command.

So what am I going to doing with this? I am working on how I measure greatness. My assessments of people, life and achievement are often done by status cues, for me personally this is not necessarily the obvious. As in we are not necessarily going to agree on what we deem cool. In fact the word cool is not exactly cool anymore (try nang). An awful lot of my life is about preserving my status, this is not necessarily just about obvious materialism if anything I can tend to be slightly inverted in this respect.

Either way I so often get suckered into a view or way of living that does not see service as great or even cool.

I am learning to be intentional in service of others and make sure it happens. This is with the church and those outside the church. I want to build up the church and not just make it all about my own spiritual development. Jesus was intentional in his service and was trying to get the disciples to understand why he was going to Jerusalem, the cross and his death. 

I remember when studying this passage in Mark in Knowing God, Chapter 10 v35-45 became my favourite passage because I understood how Jesus is my ransom, this bolstered my confidence in Christ.  I gained a fresh appreciation of how Jesus Christ has served me. It is possible to forget or abandon this as christians but Jesus serves in a way no-one else can. I have a simple prayer that I need to repeat Lord Jesus please work in me to serve others and be willing to come in last.

Guest ‘Week’ Part 4: LIVING IN THE WORLD AS A WOMAN FOR GOD

Hello again – hope you enjoyed your weekend! I am proud now to introduce our first female contributor – Lynda – who has daily dealings with ‘the world’ by virtue of her trendy media job. It’s a piece expressing considerable frustration, much of which should give us blokes pause for thought. Feel free to comment – particularly any girls who might agree!

Many of you know who I am, as I stupidly volunteered to do this and am the only one of us guest bloggers who regularly wears dresses. Despite this, I’m still going to be totally honest. Buckle up… 

At this moment in time, the word that currently sums up my experience of living in the world as a woman for God is guilt.  Guilt that I still do, think and say things, that after 12 years of Christianity, I shouldn’t.  Guilt that my ambition of being a godly woman, who can serve her church and younger sisters well, doesn’t really seem to be happening. 

I’m aware that guilt is not just a female thing, plus I don’t want this blog to be horrendously self-indulgent as I’m aware it could be. However I do believe that the struggle for perfection, the desire to please and the need to be loved and accepted by all is something that affects us girls possibly more than the boys.  

So, I have these words by J. I Packer on my fridge as a daily reminder of the unconditional love and forgiveness that Jesus brings: 

“There is tremendous relief in knowing that His love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion Him about me, in the way I am often disillusioned about myself, and quench His determination to bless me.” (Knowing God, p. 37) 

Despite my best efforts though, guilt still has a hold over me in many areas. These are my top two. (cue Top of The Pops music…) 

Work: I’ve been blessed with an amazing job and when I started 5 years ago, I passionately knew I was there to proclaim Jesus and do His work. I relied on him for each new contract and praised His name every time I walked through the gates. However, now my job is safer and my career is taking off, the reliance on Him is less. Add to that the bad decisions I’ve made, the wrong things I say each day and how I’ve behaved at wrap parties, I sometimes fear my reputation is beyond redemption. How on earth could God use such a sinner as me, how dare I let Him down so badly.  

And, as you expected, relationships: I never used to doubt that God was faithful and would provide for my every need. And I still believe that, yet it’s getting harder. As a single girl in her mid-twenties, my ‘student’ years feel over and now everything should start to fall in to place. The house, the husband, the children. But, so far they haven’t and the temptation to figure it out without God has led to wrong decisions and heartbreak. Not to mention a complete lack of glory to Him. As a girl, the emotions and the heart speak much louder than the head and the intellect. We are crying out for the good shepherd to guide and comfort us.   

So, living in the world as a godly Christian woman? Currently I suggest you’d ask someone else. But, I am blessed with some brilliant Christian girlfriends who know my struggles well and as such know when to speak, what to pray and how to tell me off.  I know some fantastic Christian men who give me an entirely different perspective on each and every dilemma. And, Jesus has called me and set me apart, and the work that He has started in me will be brought to fruition. Eventually. 

GODLY DRIVING

You will no doubt be aware of Matthew 7:12. It’s concept of ‘doing unto others as you would have them do unto you’ has so permeated the culture that even atheists refer to it as the ‘golden rule’. Admittedly they do so largely to make the point that the idea exists outside of the Bible… plus which they get it wrong because the ‘golden rule’ would actually be that which Jesus gives immediately beforehand – to honour God with our heart, soul and mind – but the point nonetheless remains; it’s big, famous and hugely important, encapsulating much of God’s holy law within its simple instruction. However, it’s also ridiculously tricky to put into practise; and never more so than when behind the wheel…

You see I am a different person when driving. Negotiating London’s congested, pot-hole riddled roads I seethe with barely contained rage. My competitive nature threatens to overwhelm me as all existence becomes boiled down to a race to make it through Mitcham’s one-way system without being overtaken. Hate I would withhold from society’s worst criminal sand blasphemers I focus entirely upon those who would use right-turning outside lanes to jump the queue, or those who would gain advantage by shooting the long-since red light. In short, there’s a lot of sin going on in my daily commute. It has been eased somewhat by this year’s habit of listening to MP3 sermons en route. After all, can you actually swear at the granny straddling two lanes before you at the same time as listening to RC Sproul explaining the Book of James? Quite possibly, but it lessens the likelihood…

Anyway, to return to my theme, I have recently realised the challenge of applying Jesus’ teaching to this area of my life. I doubt I’m the only bloke among my congregation with work to do here! Because, if we are serious about honouring God we need to consider the implications of those words above. What would we have others to unto us as we drive in the rush hour? I’ll tell you – we would have them let us out of a side road into heavy traffic. We would have them play fair and honour the rules of the road. We’d have them give us space when two lanes merge. We’d have them let us out at the roundabout and through when there are parked cars on either side. We’d then have them graciously smile as we acknowledge them for doing so. So what, then, should we do? Well, I told you it was a challenge!

Now, let me add, for those fearing a threat to their love of competition, it is fine to want to beat people. After all, in sport we would have others, unto us, try their hardest, give it their all, and take the potential outcome to heart. And so then shall we. It’s just that the roads aren’t really the place for pursuing such aims. I was particularly struck by a radio piece last week in which the caller introduced a phrase; ‘the shamefulness of speeding’. That is as it should be – not just because it breaks the law (and that’s enough), but because of the harm you could do to lives and families if going too fast in a built up area (I’m not sure I’d apply it to motorways, but one thing at a time!). So, I will try to drive as Jesus would have me do… It will be tough. It will be counter-cultural. It is important. Make sure you hold me to account if I give you a lift!

LOOK BUT… ACTUALLY, DON’T EVEN LOOK!

Who am I to give advice?? Well, I’m a married 30-year old chap which, in CCB’s evening congregation, pretty much puts me among the wise old heads. What’s more – I am someone who has by necessity put a long time and a substantial amount of effort into figuring out quite how it works being a man of God in a culture redolent with female flesh. In short; I, like so many others I’m sure, for a long time felt guilty about EVERYTHING and thus gave up on myself as a hopeless case, becoming a guilty prisoner to lust in all its myriad forms. I so wish someone had given me some honest-to-goodness decent advice on the issue. As it was, I felt so alone and helpless that I felt sure there was a demonic element in my inability to remain oblivious to the feminine allure as revealed around us in a thousand daily forms. I honestly believed I was possessed… turns out I was simply male.

So – first and foremost – as a heterosexual youngish man in the West, let me make clear that of which I am convinced: you can not and, barring some special gifting I am yet to encounter, will not remain oblivious to the physical charms of the fairer species. We are not wired that way. Of all God’s beautiful creation, the part of it we are most likely to appreciate is the female form. God intended and created it thus.  

And yet… whilst that realisation should serve as something of a relief, I’m afraid that’s as far as the allowance goes. We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. What’s more, due to the particular and extreme manifestations of sexual sin in our particular culture, we have each been further damaged by a visual and anecdotal over-familiarity with that which should have been kept hidden until marriage; female nudity and sexual behaviour, down to the act itself and beyond. We are therefore not to be trusted when it comes to keeping such observations of women sexless and pure. Anything beyond that initial recognition has to be subject to the greatest self-control and, in the case of the married man and the random stranger, ruled out entirely. In fact, the initial recognition must serve as our alarm bell. To let our eyes drift downwards at that point – not cool. To store the image for later lustful access – not cool. To later click through internet sites pursuing other such fine specimens of the gender – not cool.

Perks and others refer to this as the ‘second look’ approach, meaning that, whilst we may not be able to help the first glance we stumble upon, we very much stand accountable in going back for a second lingering helping. In simple terms, she isn’t yours. She is, in all probability, somebody else’s – or will be. In implicating her in your adultery (going by Jesus’s definition of the term) you are dishonouring her and the man she goes home to. As an engaged ‘semi-Christian’ I caused my wife-to-be a great deal of hurt, and effectively held up our wedding by a year, in admitting the mess I had become on this issue. I’ll say it again – I felt guilty for everything, including my being tempted in the first place. I therefore gave up on myself and ended up no longer trying. I hate to think of it – I was a secretive furtive pervert increasingly unable to look the girl I loved in the eye. There was a way out of the black hole – through honest communication, repentance and discipline that the world deems unfashionable and unnecessary. But the trap is always only one step backwards and I truly want Christian brothers to be ruthless with themselves in ensuring they do better.

There’s plenty I don’t know. If I was a single man reading this I’d be thinking that it’s all very well for me to write this knowing I share a bed with a beautiful woman – but how exactly are the unmarried meant to get relief? Truth is I don’t really know what to advise so I won’t claim otherwise. However, I do know that we must be distinctive and we must haul ourselves out of the gutter – the church is full of ineffective men rendered so because they are in chains of guilt and secrecy over lust. The answer is not to legitimise lust, but to hold one another to account. And by looking a woman in the eyes rather than anywhere else we will make ourselves so distinctive – we’ll be saying we value them for something more than what they offer sexually. As a teacher of teenagers I can assure you that will be different and valuable. As I’ve stated before, we are raising a generation of boys who routinely have hardcore degrading sex on their mobile phones from the age of 13 and they struggle to see girls in any other light. We must, for their sakes and our own, be different.

PS I was going to write about masturbation but the Lord stayed my hand. Ho ho…

PPS Any girls reading this – sorry… but I bet you read to the end!

WRITER’S BLOCK!

It was the late 1980s. Film-makers Joel and Ethan Coen were in the midst of writing the ingenious gangster movie Millers Crossing when they got stuck. For one of the only times in their prolific career they had that most feared affliction, Writer’s Block (or Writers’ Block – there are two of them – Punctuation Ed.). Unable to figure a way to complete the flick, they hit upon an innovative solution. Putting the existing script aside for now, they instead began penning the story of a writer who indeed suffers from Writer’s Block – depicting his quandary as a kind of purgatory lived out in a festering 1940s hotel representative of his state of mind. The result of this approach? Instead of one critically acclaimed film, the Coens ended up with two. Barton Fink – the eponymous tale of the struggling scriptwriter – won the 1991 Palme D’Or at Cannes and was nominated for three Oscars, whilst the completed Millers Crossing is regarded as a genre classic still.

The point of all this? Well I have Writer’s Block and, by waffling on about the fact, I am rather hoping to shift the blockage, Coen-style. Neither is it just my blog that is suffering from a lack of inspiration. I may even be suffering from the rather over-dramatic sounding affliction of ‘burn-out’. I have given my all in coping and assisting with my wife’s recent operation and rather gruelling aftermath (although she is out of hospital as of this weekend. Yay!). However, in doing so I seem to have rather drained my appetite for everything else. When not attending to her, informing others about it or maintaining the flat and cat in her absence, I seem to have been left something of a tired and hollow shell, rather prone to aimless inaction (not that I’ve had much time to pursue this noble (in)activity). My usual default setting is to have too many things I want to do. However, over the past two weeks I have had literally no appetite for reading, writing, running, listening, working, playing (anything from online chess to PS3 football!), movie/TV-watching or thinking. I feel like some part of me is hibernating.

Regarding my Christian walk, the effect of this is interesting. I have maintained quiet times, but more out of a sense of responsibility – a head-awareness that this is when I need God most and that it’s certainly when I most need daily prayer for my wife. However, just as when I struggled to listen to the sermon last Sunday, my heart feels like it’s otherwise engaged. And yet in this I see a development of sorts. I used to be very susceptible to the ‘ups and downs’ of the Christian life – a period such as this would have left me worrisome and guilty… and would probably have seen me seeking to justify sinful indulgence. Not so much now… I know God is unchanging. I know I am saved. I know I am loved by a Father who holds all situations in His hands. I know that none of this is dependent on my present emotions. I know His care and design through the love of our church which has sustained me so. Perhaps above all, I know the hand of God in the wonderfully Spirit-filled response of my wife in these early days of a difficult recovery.

Having made this up as I go along I’m not quite sure of a conclusion… I think it’s probably this: In a time of great spiritual blessing (in the build up to the operation) I wanted to write (two posts ago) and say I know God is good and sovereign. Now, in a time of some stress, tiredness and spiritual difficulty, I want again to say I KNOW God is good and sovereign. And quite how the Coen Brothers fit into that I’m not sure! I’m not sure this post is going to win any awards, but it has led to a certain lightening of my soul…

GOOD INTENTIONS

There’s been a notable lack of self-flagellating angst on this site of late. Well, let’s make amends. Truth is, I am rubbish in school holidays and I can’t abide it. I have made God-assisted strides in introducing discipline and constancy into my term-time routine. My diligence then is relatively assured when it comes to quiet times, completion of the work I’m paid for and the avoidance of some of those bad habits I will always battle as a pathetic sinner. However, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the lack of school acts as rug pulled from under my routine. Without an alarm to signal the enforced start to my day things like quiet times and work (anything productive in fact) become things to be put off ever further into the expanse of hours unfolding before me. Faced with time on my hands, I will fall into those traps of sloth, gluttony and lust (I’m not confessing to internet-assisted sin here – that lies in my past, but my imagination is more than capable of filling in the blanks) recognised by any underemployed bloke.

It’s horrible, but the worst of it is that I don’t address it – which is where you, the reader, become my accountability partner. Those, like my wife or fellow-prayer tripleteers whom have heard me moan about this for years have every right to ask – why not set the alarm? Why not schedule activities for those hours and leave the house in doing so? And the horrible truth of the matter? Well, part of me relishes these lapses – part of me, my sinful nature, is forever counting down the weeks to falling off the wagon. Which is why we’re back at another ‘enough is enough’ moment. It is time to repent – and that means more than saying ‘sorry’. It means turning away from my sin, and walking in a different direction. Holidays are no longer outside of my drive to grow in godliness. That would be to run this race whilst neglecting to acknowledge the rules; to claim status as a soldier whilst engaging in civilian affairs (2 Timothy 2, if you hadn’t spotted it!). Come half term, I will allude to this post and will pledge to report on my progress. It is important to set a precedent prior to the vast stretch of the summer holidays – a blessing yes, but dangerous indeed if misused.

So, soul bared, this issue constitutes the first of my list of good intentions for the coming term; intentions I will now share with you. They will not make me any better a person or more deserving of salvation. However, I believe they represent a healthy attempt to fight the ongoing battle within me as described in Romans 7 – a war between my worldly nature and an indwelling Spirit of righteousness. Pray that, by God’s help, I may not fail entirely!

 

Andy’s List of Good Intentions this term:

 

  1. Sort out attitude at half term – same rules apply as at any other time!
  2. Put wife’s needs before my own without resentment, particularly in light of her imminent operation, hospitalisation and subsequent recuperation
  3. Buy food/cup of tea for the homeless I pass in town who ask for money (social justice)
  4. Read Christian books – and finish them!! (By half term – Stott’s The Cross of Christ, Carson’s How Long O Lord, Lewis’s Mere Christianity and Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus all to be finished! (3 out of the 4 currently at various stages of incompletion!))
  5. Continue blogging at least weekly
  6. Get guitar strapped and practise in order to be of better service in church worship!
  7. Spend time on internet only after required work has been done for the day
  8. Bring the gospel in some manner to each non-Christian friend, either by one-on-one chat, by invitation, by email correspondence, or by lending a book
  9. Maintain weekly Bible study with wife
  10. Cycle to work instead of driving 3 times a week this term (good financial stewardship)
  11. Save some money each month
  12. Prepare properly for each lesson I teach (diligence and witness in work)
  13. Prepare properly for school Christian Union sessions – put together series on The Sermon on the Mount
  14. Take some responsibility for development at least one younger Christian who has recently joined church

I’ll let you know…

LET US PLAY THE MAN

The phrase ‘let us play the man’ comes from 2 Samuel 10 and gives the title to a blog I frequent by Pastor Brian Barber. It’s a great concept and, as we learned from Perks last weekend during the Men’s Breakfast in Balham, the word used also translates as ‘be strong’ in the good old-fashioned sense of the word. Basically, our session was about men being men. It would have made Germaine Greer explode, but I found it somewhat satisfying. After all, in this world of men as overgrown adolescents, with societal expectations of us lower than ever, it is hugely appealing and important for Christian men to stand as real men unafraid to lead… to provide, to protect, to take responsibility and to be a role model to the next generation. It certainly appeals to women, of that I’m sure.

 

But to get personal about it… Can I play the man? I’m average height – for a girl. I’m never going to win many arm wrestles. I am unsuited to manual labour. I earn less than my wife, and, relatively speaking, am considerably less important in my workplace. I wear my heart on my sleeve so will never be the strong silent type… But maybe that’s not what it’s about. If I am willing to put my wife sacrificially before myself… If I am willing to take responsibility for the decisions we make… If I am prepared to lead in ensuring her spiritual development and her physical and emotional wellbeing… If I am righteous, consistent and marked by integrity… Perhaps I can yet be a man as God intended (although he could have helped out by granting a tad more muscle mass and verticality).

 

The challenges I take on board in all seriousness from thinking this through are as follows: More financial wisdom is required in order that I can lead and ease my wife’s stress. Less passivity in decision-making as a principle would be advisable (particularly when my wife wants me to make decisions – problem is I’m genuinely often not bothered either way!). I must be a rock during her imminent tough times in hospital and beyond – yes, I’m allowed moments of vulnerability, but they can’t be the main event day to day. As for physical strength… it sounds silly but I’m half way to thinking there is genuine merit in hitting the gym. It is good to know as husbands that we are capable of protecting our wife and of course carrying those cupboards and boxes that need carrying! It’s a way of making the most of what God has granted. Watch this space…  

WHAT DO I LOOK LIKE?

I WORE NO HAIR GEL TO SCHOOL YESTERDAY!! ‘So what’ I hear you ask. Well read on dear reader, and realise the scale of my achievement! I wrote this a few weeks back and was, frankly, embarrassed to publish it. Which is normally the best reason for publishing…

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So, there I am. That’s a blurry depiction of what I look like – as recorded by my mobile phone. I’ve had times when I would have given a great deal to have looked different. Now, I’ve got to a point, having just passed my 30th birthday, where I will at least admit it could be worse, as well as plenty better! But how should we, as Christians, regard our appearance? Moreover, how are we coping within an ever more image obsessed culture, where we’ll often be judged more by our looks than our character? As my wife faces the particular risks associated with considering removing a tumour attached to her facial nerve, I consider this issue of our relationship with our ‘looks’ particularly worth discussing.

 

I generally challenge myself on here to maintain honesty, even if it makes me look foolish. Well, there’s no subject more likely to fulfil that aim than me analysing the relationship I have with my own appearance. It’s just not the done thing! In churches we are happy for our women to have self-image issues but, for blokes… with my mates I may talk about my thought life, my prayer life, my sex life even, but the statement ‘I don’t feel very attractive’?! Well it would surely provoke the most awkward of silences. What are they supposed to say, after all? Even so, this is the fact I want to face. I have grown up within a supremely image-fixated society, and I sometimes believe the issues I’ve had with what I see in my mirror have done more than I’d ever like to credit to shape the person I’ve become. Now, following my 30th I can no longer pretend to be a young man… it’s all downhill from here physically-speaking! I think, therefore, it’s probably time to make peace with my appearance, and to consider how to do such a thing from a Christian perspective.

 

I was always short, skinny and ‘kinda funny-looking’ (still am!), to quote the movie Fargo. Ah, let’s get more honest than that… I was a big head on a puny body – my nose, ears, big eyes… I sometimes felt like every single feature God gave me lent itself to playground taunts. I wasn’t unpopular and I was able to treat most banter as intended, developing a nice line in self-depreciation. However, following a lifetime of nicknames based on fictional non-human characters, I did genuinely believe myself to look somehow less than human. I did absolutely presume that any laughter I heard in public was at the expense of my appearance. And, whilst I’m aware I have ‘normalised’ slightly as adolescence has become but a (now distant!) memory, my self-image has been complicated further by the fact I have an improbably attractive wife – years of assuming everyone’s first reaction to be wondering quite how I managed to bat so far ‘above my average’ and what’s in it for her.

 

What effect has it had on me? Well, ironically, I’m guilty of vanity. I’m far more vain than I should be as a Christian man with a keen sense of this world’s futility. I’m subconsciously desperate to make the best of what I see as a bad lot; being honest, I’d rather miss church than attend it without wearing hair gel! Don’t worry, I’m well aware of how ridiculous that is… It has also led to me over-compensating in terms of my personality. If the first impression is made with the eyes then you’d better bet the second impression, the one I can control, will try and make up for it. In addition, I may not have angry short-man syndrome, but I definitely am more competitive than is good for me. I have a burning desire to outdo those whose default setting may be to look down their nose at me.

 

And how does my desire to be godly impact upon all this? Well, I am a loved, valued, planned part of God’s creation. I am made in His image and chosen by Him for salvation. It is not for me to deem His efforts unsatisfactory! ‘God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple’ Paul says in 1 Corinthans 3. Regarding vanity, 2 Timothy 3 places ‘lovers of self’ among the ranks of ‘detestable’ sinners. Our eyes should be focused on Christ, not on ourselves – in Matthew 16:24 he said that ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’. So yes I need to get over it. Especially as I am not particularly accursed – sure, the modelling contract is unlikely to be in the post, but neither am I deformed… indeed my beautiful wife considers me attractive, for reasons I will never grasp but remain grateful for nonetheless. The sin I’m actually most guilty of is covetousness. Envying another man’s height, physique or looks is no different in effect to envying his house or car. It is to place my hopes in false idols; it is me expressing a lack of faith and dissatisfaction for the blessings God has bestowed upon me. And he knows best. It would clearly do me no favours were I required to suppose every woman I encountered was tempted to throw herself my way!

 

So, as I have said on a number of occasions through this forum, enough already! Time to grow up. Time to take the events of this strange week as a decisive reminder that the standards and values of this world are not all important or even close to it. It is better that I am more righteous than that I am more attractive. It is better that I am saved than… well anything! If you see me at church with fluffy bowl-head hair, then I really have come of age!