This is the time of year when we celebrate how God sent his Son into the world, to become just like us in order to save us. This, of course, implies that God is a parent of some kind–and we see, from Scripture, that, while he is supersexual (that is, beyond sexuality), he reveals himself as Father and Husband–consistently male. (There are also instances where God reveals himself as motherly, but the male descriptors are far more common.)

Does this mean that being male is inherently better? Of course not, for God created both men and women in his image. Neither is qualitatively better than the other. Because God is supersexual, all gender is found in him, and yet he cannot be sexualized. Had God revealed himself as female, as a Goddess, there is little doubt that he would have become sexualized and objectified like the goddesses of other ancient cultures.

But I also believe that God revealed himself primarily as Father because there is one very important thing that only a father can do, and that is to call the child into true personhood. It is from the father’s voice that we hear our name, our identity. There are myriad things that only the mother can do, but as a child moves into adolescence and young adulthood, they are waiting to hear the masculine voice saying, “You are a man”, or, “You are a woman”.

I’m convinced that the greatest threat to our culture is missing fathers, and fatherlessness has reached epidemic proportions. We have tried to make do without dads, but we simply cannot. Humans aren’t built that way. The government has been subsidizing fatherlessness among the poor classes for decades, but crime and destitution have only increased. Money is no substitute for the masculine voice.

But God wants to do something about this. He wants to father this generation of fatherless souls. As always, he wants to enact his plan through people. God wants to father this lost generation, and he wants to do it by raising up men to be the husbands and fathers he has called them to be. We have a generation of children–many of them fully grown and into their 30s and 40s–who have been unable to move beyond adolescence because they had no father to tell them who they are. God wants to tell these people who they are; he wants to initiate them into full personhood, and he wants to do it in partnership with the men of the church.

Don’t be upset that I’m not issuing a call to women, here. It’s not the women who have fallen asleep; it’s not the women who have disappeared. The women have not been negligent, but the men have. Men, this world needs you, desperately. You need to wake up. You need to engage. Don’t be distracted anymore; don’t let the world lull you to sleep. God has a task for you, and it’s going to take everything you’ve got and then some. The world is falling apart, and God is asking you to help him put it back together. In the words of Homer Simpson, “Heroism is calling. Will you accept the charges?”

I was reading Jeremiah 2 this morning, and like you find in so much of what the prophets wrote, we see God’s heart, wounded and broken by Israel.

What fault did your fathers find in me,
that they strayed so far from me?

You can hear the hurt in his voice. He had loved Israel; he had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, through the trials of the desert, and finally into a land of their own. And they deserted him. They abandoned him. “It’s no use!” Israel declared, “I love foreign gods, and I must go after them.” Again and again, Israel broke God’s heart.

If I were God, there would only be so much of this that I could take before I completely shut myself off from humanity. But God didn’t do that. Instead, he opened his heart up all the way, to everyone! In Christ, God has opened the doors of the kingdom to everyone, and by doing that he opened his heart to be hurt and betrayed at a rate far beyond what Israel had ever done.

How many billions and billions of times has God been betrayed since then? If everyone who has ever believed has betrayed God as much as I have, that is an unfathomable amount of heartache. Yet he has not become cynical. His heart has not become hard. Before Jesus came it was just Israel, just one people group; now it’s the whole world to whom God has opened his heart. We have wounded him time and time again, yet still the doors of his heart are open wide. Still he loves each new generation.

This is remarkable. So much hurt. So much betrayal. So little love returned. So little obedience. And yet he continues to love as he has from the beginning. What an amazing God we have!

Yesterday I posted some thoughts about men and changing the world that garnered some acceptance and some, shall we say, disagreement. Today I’d like to elaborate a bit by sharing some thoughts from a wonderful little book called Crisis in Masculinity by Leanne Payne. I strongly urge you to pick up this book; it is excellent.

Ms. Payne identifies the crisis in masculinity today by first looking to the past:

Men, affirmed as men by their fathers and the men of the community, were by and large free to mature as husbands, fathers, and leaders. In secure possession of their gender identity, the great majority of men moved from the chest, as it were, out of hearts freed from the legalisms of childhood, the narcissisms of adolescence, or the perfectionisms of an adulthood spent futilely seeking self-accecptance (or even the affirmation of parents). Now, however, what was once the exceptional psychogenic factor has become, unhappily, a ruling feature of the culture at large. …Generally speaking, we now have a generation of sons whose fathers, for several generations back, have been unaffirmed as men. The father who is unaffirmed in his own masculinity cannot adequately affirm the son in his.

So what are the consequences for a man of being unaffirmed in his masculinity?

He will be unable to accept himself. Men who are unable to fully accept themselves lose to one degree or another the power to act as father, husband, and leader. In short, in at least some part of their personalities they remain immature and become increasingly passive and unable creatively to initiate the changes needed to lift themselves and their families out of the inevitable quagmires of life. The power is within them to do so. The masculine qualities and gifts are there, but they have not been “affirmed” into life.

The trouble with our culture today is that the vast majority of men are walking around with a slumbering masculinity. It has not been awakened. It has not come to life. Why? Because the sins of the fathers are passed down to their children to the third and fourth generations. Men with slumbering, unaffirmed masculinity cannot awaken or affirm the masculinity in their sons; unfortunately, neither can their mothers.

It is the father (or father substitute) who affirms sons and daughters in their sexual identity and therefore–because gender identity is a vital part of personhood itself–as persons. …The masculine within is called forth and blessed by the masculine without. It is thereby commissioned to be, to grow, and to mature.
…At puberty and adolescence we are listening for the masculine voice. It is the strong, masculine love and affirmation coming through that voice that convinces us that we are truly and finally separate from our mothers. We were born not knowing ourselves as separate from her. If we came to a sense of well-being or of being at all, it was through her love–or that of a good mother substitute. Her eyes, as we nestled in her arms, became the umbilical cord, the life-giving conduit of love through which our sense of being was affirmed, and we began to understand that we were separate and worthy entities in our own right. In other words, we slowly began the arduous task of separating our identity from hers.
The crisis in masculinity consists in the fact that this separation and affirmation of identity is not happening today. We do not come out of puberty and adolescence affirmed as persons. …The step of self-acceptance ideally comes just after puberty. The key to taking this step, on the ordinary human level, lies in the love and affirmation of a whole father.

Mothers nurture their children to adolescence; fathers guide them through adolescence into adulthood. Our society has mothers aplenty, and thank God for them, but the fathers are few. Without fathers, boys and girls cannot become men and women.

We cannot pass on to the next generation what we do not ourselves possess. Unaffirmed men are unable adequately to affirm their own sons and daughters as male and female and therefore as persons. Until men are once again functioning in this vital capacity, women will continue to attempt to fill the gap in vain, and will continue to verbalize their pain and confusion.
There is, in short, an overwhelming amount of gender confusion in great numbers of men today. When men are healed, the pathway for the wholeness of women will be opened. If, however, men do not begin to find themselves as men, the same gender confusion, and on the same scale, will soon cloud the deep mind of women as well.

If you want to change the world, change the men. It’s already happened, friends.

…Change the men. If you want to change the world, change the men who run it, work it, till it, and move it.

If you want to create a consumeristic society, delight men’s eyes with pornography and children’s games, forcing them to remain in a perpetual state of arrested development of juvenile maturity and interests. These grown boys will have no idea how to produce goods or create anything of quality; they will only know how to buy, use, and throw away.

If you want to create a ruthless society, abuse the men when they are boys and teach them that only the strong, heartless, cruel ones survive and get to the top of the food chain.

If you want to create a tolerant society, emasculate the men and shame them into neglecting their strength by telling stories of abuse and bullying. Use education to turn little boys into little girls and create a generation of feminized males that is more in touch with their emotions and more interested in the flighty fair of fashion culture than with strength, honor, and accountability.

If you want to change the world, change the men. That’s the truth, and it’s time for the church to stop ignoring it. It’s time for the church to stop coddling men and idolizing women. God desperately wants to be the Father this generation so desperately needs, but he needs the church to step up and start producing men–real men–who build families where wives and children flourish, businesses where employees excel, governments where justice prevails. God will Father this fatherless generation through godly fathers raised up by the church.

If you want to change the world, change the men. Men, if you want to change the world, be changed.

Beginning last Thursday night, a member of my family got sick with the stomach flu each night. Cyrus was first, then Zeke, Breena, Eisley, and finally me. But now the sickies are gone, and there is much rejoicing in the Holt household.

As a way of celebrating my recovery, I bought myself a book: Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson. The book title is taken from a passage in Jeremiah that absolutely rocked my world earlier this year. If you haven’t read Peterson, I highly recommend him to you. His book, Under the Unpredictable Plant, was given to me at a major crossroads in my life, and his words greatly helped me to take the best road. I hope that, in this season of life, his words will be of equal encouragement to me.

Peterson’s words at the end of the first chapter absolutely sliced me in half. Read this:

It is easier to define oneself minimally (“a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality.

I know, right?! It’s so much easier (and safer) to set expectations for myself so low that, regardless of what happens, I will always meet those expectations. It’s easier to see myself as a featherless biped, a mere cosmic accident, then to define myself as “little less than God”, created by him in his image, and being remade by him into the image of his son, Jesus Christ. The former definition offers safety, but the latter definition offers adventure. The former will be worn out walking with men, but the latter will outrun the horses, or die trying.

How are you defining yourself? Do you define yourself minimally, as though you were nothing more than a featherless biped? Or do you dare to define yourself maximally, as the Bible defines you, being “little less than God”, created in his image and being remade into his likeness? Your self-perception has no relevance on reality, because the truth about you is that you are made to live adventurously in the reality that you have been created in God’s image.