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Men in general have become reluctant warriors in a social revolution. Men everywhere are wanting to find their places in the world. Most of us grew up in a world that was very different from the world we now inhabit. Our fathers brought home the paycheck and carried out the garbage. Our mothers raised us kids and kept the house clean.
At church, our fathers went to the men’s Bible class and debated the Last Days, while our mothers went downstairs and helped the children try to make it through their first days. In church business meetings, our fathers argued over whether to reroof the parsonage, and our mothers sat at their sides in dutiful — presumably biblical — silence.
Not all of that has changed, but the evidence is clear that it is all changing. Middle-class lifestyles require two paychecks, not one. And working mother — who in more and more cases is bringing home half the bacon — is beginning to expect working father to change half the diapers and run the vacuum half the time.
The church is also changing — much more slowly but just as surely. Women are no longer silent. Men no longer make all the decisions. And down in the nursery, men are expected to take a turn just like women always have.
But men do it reluctantly. Most men know they ought to do more to raise their children, but that doesn’t mean they really want to. Most men will move over and admit women’s voices to the important decision-making processes of the church, but that doesn’t mean they really want to. Most of the men — well, one more than 50 percent, anyway — in the all-male hierarchy of the Episcopal Church voted to admit a woman as a fellow bishop a number of years ago, but that didn’t mean they really wanted to.
And the reason for the reluctance is that so many women sitting in places traditionally reserved for men, and so many men having to sit in places traditionally the domain of women, frankly makes us men uncomfortable. It is threatening. It is challenging. It can be humiliating. And it makes us wonder, just what is “a man’s place in the world” nowadays? What is the domain of man in the world? Does he have an exclusive role anymore? If so, what is it?
I. A Man’s Place is to be a Volunteer for the Betterment of Life
In Judges 7:15-21, every man was a volunteer. It’s a pioneer trait: a barn needs building and all able-bodied men turn out to get it done. The Indians are coming, and every man leaves his plow and shoulders a musket. Well, it was not the Indians who were threatening Gideon and the children of God but the Midianites. The people of Israel had done what was evil in the sight of God, and God had placed them under the thumb of Midian. Now Midian was bearing down upon them to vanquish them; and she was camped in the Valley of Jezreel, preparing for the final onslaught. When God called upon Gideon to sound the alarm, 32,000 men showed up at Mt. Gilead to answer the threat.
Now there’s what it means to be a man! Sadly, however, not all of them proved to be real men. Almost two-thirds showed no firm conviction, and were permitted to go home. Gideon knew what it meant not to have strong convictions, for he himself had to be drafted into this service by God! Yet he knew his army needed to be all-volunteer. A volunteer army, you see, has greater motivation and commitment than an army of draftees. Volunteers believe in their cause and step forward without being coerced.
God wants men to be volunteers, not draftees. Of all of the whining that may be heard in the land today, probably the loudest and longest and most grating is that which comes from us men who complain about women taking our places. Can you believe it? They’re only doing the same work that we’re doing, and they have the gall to expect the same pay! And just because we expect them to know about retail sales and computers and 40-hour work weeks, they think we should learn about baby formulas and The Berenstein Bears and even how to load the dishwasher! What ever happened to the days when a man’s home was his castle, and his throne was the recliner in front of the television? Is nothing sacred anymore?
Hear me now: if any woman has occupied any place that God had really intended for any man to have, it has been because that man refused to step forward and volunteer his services. In the first place, he thought it should be reserved for him because it was a man’s job. And he would do it when he got around to it. And in the second place, when he got around to it, he still wanted to be begged to do it. And if he was successfully drafted, he wanted to remain free to do the job as well or as poorly as he liked. After all, he was a man. That was an exclusive club, and membership has its privileges.
God’s purposes will not be defeated because men expect to be begged and conscripted, or because men want special places to be reserved for them. In the home, or in the church, or in the world, if a man won’t do it, then a woman will!
If we men want to find our places in the world, we must surrender all notions of our great necessity and our profound privilege. We must aggressively and generously volunteer to do those things that we believe we can do better than anybody else in the world. Along the way, we must admit that God in His redemptive way has used the failure of us men to gain for women a bigger piece of the action. This is God’s justice and God’s business. We are not going to turn it around and head it in the other direction. And for that reason, we should spend our energy on something that will help.
For now we are facing a new day. It will involve men in child-care and dish-washing. It will involve women in breadwinning and decision-making. God is using this new day to get man back into the home, and to get woman to be productive in a world marketplace which needs her special touch.
Men need to re-enlist in their true places in God’s world. Because woman is finding her place in the world, too, it is not likely that we will ever return to the days of yore, in terms of male-female roles. But we can take places of productive service to the world and to the family and to the church and to our Lord!
II. A Man’s Place is to Remain on Spiritual Alert
Gideon’s army was alert, equipped and ready to go. God insisted that the army be vigilant. He had the corollary purpose of trimming its ranks far below the 12,000 figure, in order to display His own strength. The test He chose to have Gideon administer was a test designed to determine who among the 12,000 was alert. After all, the Midianites lay encamped only a few miles to the north. A man must remain watchful.
When most lay aside their weapons and put their faces down to the water to drink, Gideon knew they were not God’s men for this task. Only the 300 men who kept their heads up and drank from their cupped hands while they kept the watch were acceptable.
Gideon equipped the 300 men strangely. As 11,700 men headed for home, he appropriated their earthenware jars, their torches and their trumpets. He placed a torch inside each jar, and issued a jar and a trumpet to each man. These would be the weapons that the force of 300 would use against their mighty enemy. This ordnance seemed unusual and ineffective* in the face of such an adversary but it was the ordnance of God’s choice.
God wants us to be alert to His voice and prepared for action. The failure of men today is not that we do not have our eyes upon our enemies but that we do not have our eyes upon God. Prayer and meditation are the means by which a man will see God; but these are activities that men, by and large, have surrendered to women. Is it any accident that the prayer chain in our church is “The Women’s Prayer Chain”? Or that most of the people who sing in any choir beyond an early age are female? Or that the groups that gather to pray for missions are women’s prayer groups? Or that if I attempted to honor our long-standing tradition of having mostly men to pray publicly in the midweek prayer service, I would frequently run out of men before I run out of prayers? Prayer is no longer a man’s fixation. We men have our eyes upon something besides prayer because we have our eyes upon something besides God.
Gideon’s men must have looked with intense suspicion upon those jars with torches inside them, and upon those trumpets. Wouldn’t these be puny, anemic weapons against a formidable foe like Midian? Christian men today look with intense suspicion upon prayer, upon music and praise, upon missions study and upon the power of the preaching and the teaching of God’s Word.
Not that we never practice any of it or don’t believe that it should be done — just that all of it appears to be inadequate ammunition for facing the worldly foes that we daily encounter. Better to rely upon our own manly intelligence, our own powers of persuasion, our own willingness to work 60 and 70 hours, our own dogged determination and high blood pressure to get the job done!
In demonstration of the fact that they were real men, and that Gideon and the Lord had not made a mistake in their selection, the little army of big men dutifully shouldered their trumpets and their clay jars, and began the march down the mountain, and into the valley.
III. A Man’s Place is to Set His World a Standard of Obedience to God
Every man in Gideon’s army found his place. “They stood every man in his place” (Judges 7:21). At the outskirts of the Midian encampment, there was to be no charge, no fuss and fury; there were not even any swords for the overcoming of the adversary! On cue from Gideon and the men in Company A, all 300 soldiers blew their trumpets, broke their jars and held aloft lighted torches. Together they sounded the battle cry, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” This sound-and-light show so shocked, startled and confused the foe that her members began running, drew their swords upon each other and hacked each other to pieces!
The important thing to observe is that each man in Gideon’s army did exactly as he was instructed. Obedience is the most essential part of faith. To trust is to obey. In the final analysis, a man’s place is the same as anybody’s place: obedience to God’s call and claim upon his life.
“I don’t know my place anymore,” we men say. “I don’t know what’s expected of me. I don’t know where I fit in.”
God’s Word teaches us men our place. God’s Word calls a man to spiritual headship in his home. That doesn’t mean he makes all of the decision, any more than it frees him from giving baths to babies and reading bedtime stories. It does mean that he sets his family a standard of obedience to God! If anybody in the family is faithful to God, he is. If anybody wants prayers to be said and scriptures to be be read, he does. If anybody insists the family rise up and attend the church that Jesus loves, he insists. If anybody tithes the family income, he tithes.
Once at church, God calls a man to responsible manhood under the headship of Jesus Christ. Children and youth, whether they have a faithful father back home or not, need for Christian men to set the standard of obedience to God. If the young ever learn what it means to relate to God as a father, they will learn it be relating to one of God’s faithful men.