Monday, October 25, 2010

Nehemiah And What It Means To "Man Up"

I've been thinking about the concept of "manning up" a lot recently and in several different contexts. Tom and I need to train Colin to "man up" and learn the skills and character qualities he'll need to serve God as a man some day. I hear Natalie and her girl friends lamenting the lack of real, grown up, Christian young men who will "man up" to pursue their life goals and then to pursue young women with the intention of marrying them someday. Tom occasionally tells me about men he meets in the course of his work who need to "man up" and take responsibility for their actions. We know of churches where bad doctrine and practice are allowed to flourish because the leadership of the church won't "man up" and root them out. There are plenty of examples out there in all sectors of life in our world.

At the church we've been attending for a few weeks now the pastor has been preaching through Nehemiah. Yesterday's sermon was from Nehemiah chapter 4. Nehemiah and the people of Israel are facing opposition as they rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. The attacks are coming from all sides. Nehemiah prays and asks the Lord to make the insults the attackers are flinging at the Israelites fall back onto them instead. This is what he says and does next:

••So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes."••

God frustrates the plans of their enemies and they go back to work, all of them armed and ready for battle at the same time. The work requires them to be separated from each other, they cannot stand around in formation with shields locked together. Nehemiah tells them:

••And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us."••

Nehemiah doesn't call them simply to man up and fight. He calls them to "Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome" and later says "Our God will fight for us." He's not asking them to fight in their own strength, he's not requiring them to have some super exciting vision for the future, he's not sending them out there specifically to slay these enemies, he's not giving them a political or patriotic motivation for the fight. He's saying to them "Remember the Lord. Carry your weapons. Do your work. When you hear the warning trumpet, come help us. When we have to fight, fight on behalf of the families and homes the Lord has blessed you with. Our God will fight for us." The Israelite men were called to do the action of fighting, to "man up". But the one really fighting was the great and awesome Lord they served.

That puts the whole issue of "manning up" in a different context, doesn't it? It's not a matter of summoning enough testosterone and adrenaline. It's not a matter of getting all your ducks in a row and all your plans mapped out so that you can't fail. It's not a matter of being particularly strong either physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, or in any other way that we humans define strength. It's simply, and not so simply, a matter of a godly man taking up his tools and his weapons and stepping out to do the work God has for him and fight the battles God has for him. The beauty of the matter is that the godly man is not working and fighting on his own. God will fight for him.

Recently I've had the privilege to observe some godly men stepping up to fight in this way. A few weeks ago I posted our reasons for leaving Pilgrim Bible Church. I told you the reasons I could tell without making accusations against anyone. Those reasons still stand. But since the time of that post many other families have also left. They have all left for specific stated reasons, and those reasons are all different.

I'm picturing PBC right now as a tree that is rotting from within. There may be a few cracks in the bark, but it looks fairly intact on the outside. Until one branch falls off. Then another loses its leaves and the homeowner prunes it off. An ice storm hits the state and several branches on one side of the tree crash off under the weight of the ice. All of these branches depart from the tree for different proximate causes, but the heart of the reason for their leaving is the rotten core.

Exploring the whole issue of the rotten core of PBC is beyond the scope of this post. God establishes churches, cities, governments, and kings all according to His sovereign will and in His timing. He also brings them down according to His sovereign will and in His timing. That is evidently what is happening now to Pilgrim Bible Church, and the Lord will be glorified even if we do not understand why this is working out this way.

But the families who have left are all headed by godly men, by men who made the hard decision to "man up", to do what was right, to confront, to lead. They stepped out and did what they needed to do, not in their own strength, but because our great and awesome Lord was fighting for them. I am very thankful that my husband was one of those godly men, one who had the courage to "man up" and fight for the truth. One who knew the Lord was fighting for us, and who stepped out in that knowledge to protect his family from evil.

I want to mention one other side to this issue of "manning up", particularly as it applies to the situation with PBC...but also as it applies to Christian families in general. I know the men who have led their families to leave, and I know this to be true of all of them: these men were not afraid to take counsel from their wives and to seek their input on the various issues and events that came up.

There are some movements in Christianity right now that emphasize the leadership of husbands and fathers in the home to the point that it makes me wonder sometimes why they think God bothered to give them wives. Oh, obviously they can't birth the children on their own, and it's also handy to have a woman around to cook, clean, and educate said children. But it's as though when God declared in the beginning that Adam needed a helper, He meant a physical helper who kept her thoughts to herself and followed Adam around like a beaten dog.

How well does a world leader, a military leader, a business manager, or a pastor get on with his tasks when he ignores the knowledge and counsel of those God has placed in position to be his assistants, his vice-presidents, his elders and deacons? Not very well, or if well at first, not for very long. In the same way, men who ignore their wives, who marginalize their knowledge and their input, who place themselves in a position to take no input from them, put themselves in a place to fail and to fail miserably.

God didn't give wives to husbands to be duplicates, to be clones, to be always smiling like automatons and saying "Yes, dear!" God gave us to our husbands to be helpers, and helpers help. Sometimes that help is smiling and saying "Yes, what a great plan!", sometimes it is saying "Have you thought of this issue?", sometimes it is saying "I know something about that situation that you probably haven't heard, let me tell you before you make a decision". Sometimes it is simply being there in the back of his mind as the one he is "manning up" to fight for, and sometimes it is helping him figure out battle strategy.

Well, Nehemiah doesn't mention wives except in the context of fighting for them, so perhaps those last few paragraphs don't fit well with my title. But I believe that those issues are part of the bigger picture of godly manly men. I do believe that being married to a truly godly manly man who is willing to "man up" is a lot better than being married to either a wimpy man or one who expresses a false manliness by marginalizing his wife.

It seems like, at this point, I should have a fabulous summary to pull all these thoughts together. I never was very good at writing concluding paragraphs...lucky for me I'm not still in school, eh? Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts about godly manliness in light of the book of Nehemiah. Any thoughts? Arguments? Additional insights? Comments are always welcome!