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Fully Alive: The Call of Men

Men are called by God to be providers and protectors.

Probably one of the top five Ruch family favorite films would be a really beautiful film made several years ago called The Nativity. As a matter of fact, it is part of our Christmas traditions which begin on the eve of the eve of Christmas Eve. What’s happened is we have so many we have to back them up to get ready to get everything done in time for Christmas Day. So on the eve of the eve of Christmas Eve, we almost always watch The Nativity together. It is, as you might imagine, a story about the birth of Jesus. But in that story of the birth of Jesus, it really tells not only the story of God, but it tells beautifully the stories of Mary and Joseph, the story of male and female. The movie in a significant part chronicles the journey that Joseph and Mary take from Nazareth, their hometown, to Bethlehem.

There is a scene on that journey where Joseph and Mary come upon a party that has been stopped and is in crisis. It appears that the donkey, who has been carrying the mother in the family and carrying the supplies needed, has come to a place of starvation, dehydration, and can no longer function. The donkey has its head back, and it’s braying and it’s kicking up, and you can see that this is a journey in crisis. Joseph, who looks at his donkey and sees these circumstances, has a look of incredible concern on his face as in, That could happen to us. The next scene is of Joseph and Mary at a campfire. They’re having dinner, and you see Joseph very quietly, very carefully take all his food and just put it behind him while he and Mary are there together. Mary doesn’t notice. She goes off to bed, and then while Mary is sleeping Joseph takes his entire meal—and he does this now night after night —and feeds the donkey so that the donkey has the strength to carry Mary who is carrying the Lord Jesus. Such a captivating picture of manhood. Such a captivating picture of the call upon men to sacrificially provide and sacrificially protect.

This morning I want to look at this call upon men to provide and to protect sacrificially in such a way that women, that children, that other men are actually able through their sacrifice to profoundly flourish, to be in Jesus fully alive. I recently had a 20-something male good friend say to me, “I just want to give my life, to sacrifice my life for something greater. I just want to hear the whistle blow, and I want to go out—kind of an image from World War I—go out over that trench and into a battle where it means something, where I’m doing something bigger than myself for the purpose of others.” And that cry, that kind of call of the heart stayed with me after he said that.

Scripture: Lives to Imitate

Referring back to last week’s sermon, Katherine, in her introduction, talked about an insomnia plague, a kind of amnesia that comes upon all of us where, frankly, we forget God and we forget, as we forget God, the image of God made male and female. How do we awaken from that? How do we remember? Which is to say re-member. Re-embody. Understand in an embodied way in a profound remembrance who God is and who God has made humanity to be. There’s two kinds of humanity: Male and female. First, we remember by Scripture. Scripture is given to us as a medicine of remembrance. In Scripture, we read of how things are supposed to be and how things will be, and we read by the power of Jesus, by the power of the Cross, how things can be now. It’s called the kingdom of God. And in Scripture we remember these things. We are ministered to by the Spirit, a picture of things.

Now, in Scripture when we think about manhood and womanhood, here is what appears to be a challenge. I think it’s actually a gift, but it appears to be a challenge, and it’s this: While the apostle Paul made many, many lists—he’d list out fruits of the Spirit, he lists out gifts of the Spirit—he chose, and I find it very challenging when I come to a sermon like this, not to give us any list on “Here is what men are; here is what women are. Here is what men do; here is what women do.” Now, there is some talk about that, but it’s never listed out like he listed anywhere else. He’s hardly prescriptive. Somewhat in the case of the church, but certainly not in this massive universal way, does he list out these things.

Indeed, what we have in the Scriptures is less of that and far more lives to imitate. Not so much lists, but lives. And even in that reality of how we know who we are as men and women, we learn it has something to do with being embodied. It has something to do, rather than just laying it out there in an analytical way, we need lives to imitate. Note that throughout the New Testament—different leaders, New Testament—who were writing, “Imitate this; imitate me.” It’s actually a way of learning. And to learn manhood, to learn womanhood, is an imitative exercise. It’s an imitative remembrance. So what do we do if as women we haven’t had women to imitate? Or for us as men we haven’t had men to imitate? Well, certainly we do in Scripture, and we’re given that gift. What I want to put in front of you today are two men. One that comes from the beginning, Adam, and one that comes from the second beginning or the new beginning, Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus. We see one at the dawn of creation, and we see the second in the dawn of re-creation as Jesus came to re-create male and female by the power of the Cross, by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the power of the Resurrection.

Sacraments: Bonded Together

So we are awakened by Scripture. Second, we are awakened sacramentally, and by that I mean in an embodied way, in a way that matters. We are awakened in the church as we live our lives in the church, in relationship in the church, in partnership in the church. We are awakened as Scripture has revealed to us the call of men and the call of women. We are awakened to actually live that call out. We are awakened, men with men, women with women, women with men, men with women. It’s extremely important that this happens in the life of the church because men will never understand who they are apart from women, and women will not understand who they are apart from men. Brothers and sisters, we are from the very beginning bonded together. We are a unity with distinction, which means if we seek to push back from the other gender in a kind of absolute way—I understand there may be seasons where we are working through things in our lives, but in an absolute way—we will only create greater confusion about our identities in Christ as male and female. We understand our maleness in relationship to female. Same stands for femaleness in relationship to male. We are not, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, independent of one another. So we remember by the Scriptures, we remember by a life together in the church. Which is also to say that for our women, this sermon is as important for you as it is for our men. And next week, for our brothers, Kathy’s teaching on womanhood is as important for our women as it is for you. Because we are bonded profoundly. We need to grow biblically to understand what it is to call upon women, brothers, so that we can provide and protect and release that call. Sisters, we need you to understand the call upon us. Kathy will say more about that next week.

It struck me that this 20-something male friend of mine said not only “I desired to be called into something greater to sacrifice.” The second thing he said is “And I would love to know that women would be okay with that. I would love to know that wouldn’t be seen as a threat or a desire to somehow not bless one, but that I could go for it and yet also be a blessing.” And I think that’s important for both men and women. We both need to know we can bless one another in the callings God has given us.

Provide Presence

So, as men, we are called to live by providing. We are called to live by protecting. That’s not exhaustive, and I am aware of that. But there are emphases that are part of a calling that we see throughout Scripture. By the way, to be clear, I fully hold that Adam was a historical figure. I think Adam existed. I think he was created as Adam. I think he actually existed. I think Eve actually existed. I think they were historical and as historical as Joseph and as Mary. I think that really matters. They were embodied beings created by God. So let’s look at this.

In Genesis 2:21–22, we read, “The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed” the place up. And from that, he made “woman and brought her to the man.” This seems rather unusual. Think about something as glorious, as phenomenal, as critical to all things in the image of God, being made from man’s rib. Just seems unusual. So it’s important to understand what’s behind that term. It’s the word used, “rib.” But the context and understanding of that is when it says that she was made from man’s rib, what it’s saying is Eve was made from man’s side. From man’s self. That God brought Eve from him in a profound way, and that he gave something of himself for the creation of Eve. So from the very beginning, we have something of profound unity and union, as Eve is made from the side of Adam. He gives his presence and his self. It’s important to understand that when it comes to the call to provide, it is not first and foremost a financial provision. On one hand, in an incredibly energized monetary-based culture like America, we think provision; we think money. That’s not what’s being said here. Adam is not talking about a paycheck. It’s something far harder to give than a paycheck. It’s presence. At the heart of our manhood is giving presence, of being present, of living by an openness that all of us are called to an identity in Christ. That said, certainly one application in our culture that is based on a monetary system in profound ways is that there is a place for men to provide financially, to be responsible financially. I’m not discounting that but I don’t think it’s the thrust of this.

We see that Joseph is also called to provide presence. In Matthew 1:19–21, read that Joseph, who is called Joseph the Just in church history, “And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife.’” No, this child is not your biological child, but “do not fear to take Mary as your wife.” What is God saying? Provide for Mary your husbanding; provide for Mary your name. Give her and provide for her your presence, something of yourself.

So both Adam and Joseph are called to provide, and primarily to provide their presence, their person, the gift of their lives. So to apply that very tangibly is very important for us, brothers, to plan our presence. If our presence is one of the great gifts of self we have to give, if being present in conversation, being present in crisis, being present in the mundane everyday, being present in relationship, being present in the life of the church. If being present is the heart of our calling as men, then we must be intentional and have a kind of presence planned whereby we have thought through carefully our days and our weeks and our months, and how it is that we will in a cycle of life regularly plan to be present. Indeed, our temptation as men is toward such a great passivity and an escaping from presence that unless we actually create some structures in our life as the Lord is giving us in so many ways, we will then default not to presence but to a passivity, to a kind of disappearance. So plan your presence.

I’m so thankful I had several really great male mentors when I started out in ministry, and they taught me how to plan my ministry week, which included how I planned my time with my family, and they modeled that. So very, very early on, not because of my credit, because of what these older men taught me for me to imitate as I said, “Okay, Fridays, first of all, I give to the ministry five days a week. I’m not doing six like a lot. I’m doing five.” And Fridays I’m with my kids. Fridays we go out. We almost always walk in the woods. We walk in the wilderness. We get out. Now, this is not always a glorious time. Please don’t see us skipping through the fields. Please don’t see Stewart in profound moments with light surrounding me. See lukewarm tea that I made too late, stale snacks, but see me on a path with Jillian, my 14-year-old daughter. And all of a sudden she starts to talk about stuff she hasn’t talked about all week. See me with my boys, going hard wrestling in the snow, and see my 17-year-old bruising one of my ribs and causing me pain for an entire month. I had to plan it so I’d be present because fatigue, anxiety, shame will also quickly overwhelm my presence.

So some questions for us as men. And by the way, I think this is important to be clear, this is all of us as men. Joseph in his fatherhood was not a biological father yet. He was coming in actually at this point as a celibate, engaged to be married but not married yet. So for our married men who do not yet have children or for whatever reason the marriage has not brought forth children, or for our celibate guys, this is absolutely applicable, and Joseph is a model of that. Let me ask you these questions. How do you relate to your phone? How much presence do you give to your phone? Because you have presence, you have to decide how you’re going to give it. How much presence do you give to the observing of sport? How much presence do you give to what may be interesting and actually engaging, edifying hobbies, how much do you give to that? How much presence do you give to contending in video games as opposed to another kind of contending I want to talk about later. Again, this is not to say that we don’t need recreation, not to say that these things intrinsically are wrong. I don’t think they are. The question is for us as men who are called to give presence, where is there Sabbath and where is there escapism? And only you and sisters in your life and brothers in your life can help you to get clear on where that might be, but you need to be clear. How much of your presence do you give to inappropriate images on screens? Well, you actually engage in a false presence of a woman or of a man, you engage in a false presence, and you’re giving your real presence to that false presence. And you take from that false presence something as well. How much of your energy, your strength, your hours are given back and forth? We want to, by the way, pray into that reality, and I’m not using the specific language for it because we have some younger ones who actually will go and use that word and type it in. I hope you’re tracking with me. We want to pray into that more by raising—and I don’t mean to leave it. In our healing service, we will both for our men and for our women. It is increasingly an issue for our women as well.

Finally, and this came specific as I was praying, how much of your presence do you give to alcohol, to beer, the whole culture of beer, the whole culture of bourbon, the whole culture of scotch, the whole culture of mixed drinks, the whole culture of wine. I’m not saying that a glass of beer between a couple of brothers is a wrong thing; I don’t believe that it is, scripturally. My question has to do with your presence, and even the group presence sometimes, of men, how much are you giving away there? How much are you using that for a place to escape from the called to be presence? I’m speaking of one too many. I’m speaking of drunkenness.

Provide Naming

As we provide our presence, in that then we are providing naming. This is a unique thing in the Scriptures, and it is given prominence in the Book of Genesis. After Adam is created, he is placed in the garden to protect the garden, to cultivate the garden. We will get to that under protection in just a moment. Then he is given this amazing and unique job: He’s supposed to name the animals. Again, please don’t make that cute. It’s way too important to be cute. It’s consequential. It really matters. Because it actually sets off what we will see as a naming dynamic throughout the Scriptures, and we will see it in Joseph as well. And at the heart of Adam and his call to provide and provide himself, it actually is to look at other selves, look at other realities, to come out of himself to look at other realities, and a kind of robust external agency which helps to define kind of how men work. Robust external agency. And to see outside of themselves and say, “There’s something in there. There’s something in that animal that’s a giraffe. Perfect.” And actually in Hebrew, behind the idea of names is to draw close. So I’m actually drawing this reality close. I’m engaged in this reality, I’m present to this reality, and I’m naming and blessing this reality.

Jewish scholars say that the creation follows a kind of moving up to a very top apex, which is the creation of woman. And there Adam is given the incredible and profound honor of naming woman. He does it in a song. You’ll see it there in Genesis. It’s actually almost like a psalm. It’s like maybe the first psalm, where it’s kind of set apart in brackets, “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman.” And there is a naming of woman, a seeing of woman. So often women have been profoundly misnamed by men. They’ve been utterly ignored by men except for a few purposes, and yet here we see a man naming woman: This is who you are. Later he will specify it even more, Genesis 4, and call her Eve, mother of all the living. Please hear that in this naming there is not a control. There is a closeness and ascending. There is a release. There is creativity. There is perceptiveness. Oh, for men, the whole name, younger men in the Lord. Oh, to be named by a disciple, a boss, in a way in which you have been seen and known.

I will never forget four or five words spoken to me my sophomore year of high school. It was early in the cross-country season. I had worked really hard all season to prepare for the season. I had a really good practice. My coach didn’t even take me aside. He literally just said in front of everybody, very, very quickly, “Ruch, you’re strong.” There was no filter. It was right inside. And I have proof-texted that for years to come, to get it completely out of context. It had to do with running in 1983, but I’ve applied it to my life forever. Remember what Coach Hisky said: “Ruch, you’re strong.” And, of course, how wicked it is when we as men take our call to name and we pervert, we abuse, we wrongly name. We use that power given to us by God to not bring blessing but to bring curse. This can be lifted in the power of the Cross. And for us as men, it must be lifted if we’ve been misnamed, and for us as women, it must be lifted what we’ve been misnamed. Naming is so important.

We then see Joseph, who in chapter 1 verse 21 of Matthew is given a charge. By the way, everything that these men do, they are told to do by Jesus or by God. I know it seems overwhelming, but it’s not that bad because you’re never, ever alone. The Scriptures and the supernatural hearing from God, we can know what to do. So Joseph is told “This is my son. You’re to name him Jesus.” Isn’t it amazing that in providing presence and providing names, the name he gives him is God with us, Emmanuel? He’ll be called Emmanuel, God with us, God present with us. His name is Jesus. I think it’s really important to note in the dynamic of male and female how Mary and Joseph, male and female, interact with the Lord Jesus, and how they have relationship with the Lord Jesus. Both called to have their identity in Jesus, both called to live in union with Jesus. But isn’t it fascinating that Mary, the female gender, was given the privilege and the honor of carrying the Lord Jesus in her body under her heartbeat, how the Lord heard Mary’s heartbeat, boom-boom, boom-boom, boom-boom. Every one of us, like the Lord, was raised under our mother’s heartbeats. What a privilege, what an honor for women. A robust internal agency, and what an honor for us as men that we got to name the Lord. We got to name him. That’s part of our calling, part of our life. A robust external agency. This is Jesus. And Joseph names him.

Provide Through the Provider

Okay, at this point, if you’re thinking, “Wow, provide presence, there I felt guilty; provide naming, now I feel perplexed. I’m guilty and perplexed, I’m [feeling] shame.” If you have any man qualities at all, you’re already in shame. One of the things we seem to do best in our sinful nature is just feel ashamed. “I’ve already fallen so far short. How do I even keep up with what Stewart’s saying, even if it is true?”

That’s very, very important that in the pattern, when we are called to provide and same as when we are called to protect, we provide through our provider. The first and foremost you have to understand, you cannot gain your masculinity, you can’t win your masculinity, [and] you can’t perform your masculinity. That is exactly the opposite of what’s happening here. When Adam gives his rib to Eve, what’s he doing? Sleeping. He isn’t like, “I’ve got to give my rib to Eve. … Here’s my rib.” A great moment of masculinity! He’s asleep. What is that saying? It’s important. When God places him in the garden, the word put or placed in the Hebrew has to do with Sabbath rest. He’s saying, “Here’s your rest. Here’s what I made you to do—provide and protect in the garden.” What the gospel says to us, the good news of God in Christ, is “Become who you already are. I’ve made you a provider; I’ve made you a protector. Yes, you may be marked by shame; yes, you may be marked by a sense of physical weakness; yes, you may be marked by an incredible anger; yes, you may be marked by a kind of sloth; yes, you may be marked by a profound same-sex attraction.” The Lord would say, “I am your Provider, indeed.” Core to walking in Christ, living in Christ, is receiving the gender he gave you. It was a sovereign decision. He wanted you man; he wanted you woman. He sovereignly decided. So we receive this; it’s a gift, and then it’s re-gifted in the re-creation on the Cross of Jesus Christ. God breathes into Adam, makes him a living being, our Lord Jesus breathes upon his followers, his breath in John 20. One connection after another.

Not only has he given us the gift of our gender and the gift of his Spirit and his power, he has given us the other gender as a gift. The church is the one place where the sword between the sexes can be removed, and a kind of partnership in the Lord, imaging God, can be redeemed and actually lived. So not only has he given us Jesus, he has given us the other gender. The one place in the creation where it is not good is that Adam is without Eve. That’s the one place. Verse 18, chapter 2, where it is not good.

By the way, after somebody had named me and given me a challenge as a leader, I went to Katherine and said, “Wow, I got this great challenge.” It was so funny because I had this guy name it, but I actually needed Katherine’s companionship. I needed her affirmation. I needed to know if she thought I could do it. So I went to her and I said, “Katherine, I’ve been called to do this. It’s really going to be hard. I’m kind of remembering Coach Hisky, ‘Ruch, you’re strong,’ but that’s not enough right now, so do you think I can do it? It was really important,” I said. “Do you think I can do it?” She’s like, “No.” It was a big one, by the way. It was a really, really big challenge. “No. But Jesus can.”

Protect Through Cultivating

We live by this providing, then we live by protecting. When Adam is put in the garden for his Sabbath rest, he is called in that place to keep the garden, verse 15, chapter 2. Keep there in the original language has to do with protection. He is to protect by cultivating. Part of the call of men and spiritual fatherhood, biological fatherhood, and discipling in our work is to cultivate or create a context, or cultivate or create a culture, by which others can absolutely flourish. To rejoice when the women that we’re called to serve and the children that we’re called to serve and other men can actually flourish and grow. And we see Adam put in this place. Then when we actually do that, even though it may be hard at first and seem contrary to our desires at first, it’s actually what we were made to be and to do. Joseph is called to do this. Not in our text this morning, but in Matthew 2, where Herod is murdering all the boys under age two, trying to find the Messiah, trying to find Jesus, and an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Take Mary, take Jesus, go to Egypt.” And when he does that, he protects by cultivating a kind of small, microcosmic culture of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and they flee to Egypt. Indeed, to be a protector, to be a cultivator, we require contending. There is an element of spiritual battle where weeds come in to the garden to choke out the truth of who God is, the truth of who male and female is. Where when we name, we may name at great cost. There is a kind of proper spiritual call to arms to contend, to rightly spiritually battle in the Lord for the sake of the flourishing of others. It will cost us. You were made for it to cost you. Even prior to the Fall, it cost Adam his side. Even prior to the Fall, it cost Adam his strength. Joseph, the adopted father of Jesus, gives up his reputation, gives up his future, gives up everything he has to properly—not in a controlling way or a demeaning way—but to properly protect Mary and the Lord Jesus.

I had a friend who processed a situation with me where his college-aged daughter wanted to transfer to another school, and she wanted to transfer primarily because there was a relationship with a guy that she wanted to pursue that my friend and my friend’s wife were convinced was not healthy. He talked to me, he prayed with his wife, and rather than getting too complicated, here is what he did with his daughter, who he spent a lot of time with. He had been a very present dad. He had built a lot of trust. He went to her and said, “No. No, you can’t go out there.” She was disappointed, as you can imagine, and he had the courage to bear her disappointment. He didn’t shame her for being disappointed. He showed connection and love, but he just said “No, I can’t let you do that as your dad. That would be a very unhealthy relationship.” She did thank him two years later.

We are called to protect. We protect from God who has protected us. We are called to provide. We provide out of what God has provided for us. And we protect from how God has protected us. In the garden, right after Adam is called to keep the garden, to cultivate and protect the garden, he is then told, “I give you a commandment: You may eat of any tree in this garden but not of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God says it to him clearly. God speaks to him a commandment. He tells him how to protect. And when the devil approaches Eve to draw her in and Adam is present there, we see nothing from Adam whereby he says, “We can’t eat of that tree. I was told by the commandment of God, we can’t eat of that tree.” We see there the crisis of protection that every one of us as men knows could be our own crisis as well. He holds back, he pulls back, but he was given a commandment. He knew what was happening. It wasn’t a confusion in a fog, like, “I don’t know, which tree is it? I can’t remember which tree it is.” He knew exactly which tree it was. God had already spoken a commandment to him. When Joseph is called to protect Mary and the baby Jesus, he is told in a dream how to do so. He is told exactly what to do. The pressure of knowing what to do is not on us; the call to obey is absolutely given to us. We see how important protection is when we actually are under leaders, especially public leaders, especially male leaders, who don’t protect. The incredible pain it can be when a leader, for example, speaks in a denigrating way about a woman and who a woman is. That kind of comment can spread and multiply throughout an entire community. As men, we are called instead to protecting by cultivating, to protecting by the commandment of God. Your Christian manhood is gained by the Scriptures and by the Spirit of God, by him who breathed life into you in the beginning and by Jesus who breathed life into you even now, creating and re-creating us, male and female, in his image.


Pastor Matt Woodley has a framed picture of Rembrandt’s “Flight to Egypt,” and in that beautiful image, you have Mary with Jesus. There is dark all around them as they’re fleeing. But Mary is looking at Jesus and kind of looking down, pondering these things in her heart as the Bible says. Joseph is out in front. He’s got the reigns, the donkey. His feet are actually enlarged as if to say, “I’m here. I’m right here.” And he’s looking around, out and forward.

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