Monday, June 20, 2005
The Language of Obedience, part 2
Erwin used Pharaoh as an example in his message yesterday. Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go." Eventually this turns into a real grudge match. Then we run into a shocker: Pharaoh will think, 'The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.' And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD." So the Israelites did this.
I'd always wondered what the verse meant; why would God harden Pharaoh's heart? When I first read it, in about January of 2004, I was worried. Could I end up in that place, where God would harden my heart? I held the verse in my mind, as is my wont with confusing things, and waited for more data.
Jesus says this too, talking of people whose hearts God hardened. They are, uniformly, hard cases to begin with, so I formed the theory that if you're paying any attention at all to God, he won't have to harden your heart. It seemed to match my experience and that of others I could see. Hard cases get harder, soft ones get.... ground up and spit out.
Well, that was my idea anyway. That's why I'd tried to harden myself over the years: to keep from being demolished by a world hostile to just about everything I believe in. I still had to leave some windows open to avoid becoming like those around me, which made for a delicate balancing act and some curious accommodations. The best technique for preserving myself was to keep to myself as much as possible.
That's self-limiting. Life isn't much good if one is isolated, so there was always this tension, going forward and backward in relationships with others. As years went by I just abandoned more and more of this territory. Its rules were too confusing and inconsistent for me to figure out.
God, at the last minute, found the one remaining open window and shone some light in. Naturally I jumped for it. Automatic reaction: if you're drowning and someone tosses a rope to you, you grab on without thinking.
My life was toast. It was easy for me to say "Whatever you want to do, do it." I also knew my tendency to wander, so I also asked God to do whatever it took to keep me with him. At the time I expected this to be a forceful demolition of my defenses, taking the Larry fortress by storm, as I'd heard described so many times in churches and elsewhere. "God has to break us down to pieces and then rebuild."
That sounds a lot like the Army way, and many people do believe in the Army model. I wasn't so sure, and one thing I had learned to do was make my own decisions based on the idea that I'd rather make my own mistakes than someone else's.
It turns out that I, and probably everyone else although I can't guarantee that, am already broken. Broken, deserted, limping, the garden mostly dead and just hanging on. I was still worried about staying with God, and expected some sort of dramatic action from him.
Time went on. I tend to simplify things. Figuring out what to do was too complicated, so I just decided to keep my eyes on Jesus and follow him. I figured this was cheating, but what else could I do? Everyone else was charging ahead, but I was just too tired. Tired of life, tired of work, tired of having to act as if I cared. God sent me a gentle and constant rain of love, and the walls began to dissolve and the garden, somehow, started to grow again.
I ended up at Mosaic Culver City yesterday because Nate called. I'd been up way too late two nights running, and done a sculpture on Friday, so I was really out to lunch. He asked if I wanted to go. On a whim I said yes.
On our way into the room--we always arrive late--one man I knew asked me to come and see him after the celebration. When Erwin started his talk with the verse about God hardening Pharaoh's heart, I became very interested, and when what he said corroborated what I'd learned in my own ways I was taken again by just how much God loves me. He'd taught me the same things.
Pharaoh just didn't want to listen. He knew what was what, and no God was going to get him to change his mind. So, he died. God used him as an example. If, at any time during the plagues and all the rest, Pharaoh had changed his mind, or even hinted that he might be thinking of changing it, God would have found another example. As it was, Pharaoh, and Judas, and all the other proud-of-themselves traitors, give God a chance to teach the rest of us a lesson.
How do you follow God? By hearing the Shepherd's voice. How do you hear his voice amid all the clangor of modern life? Learn what sets His voice apart from all the rest. What has God been doing with me for the last year and a half? Doing the opposite of what everyone else told me to do: he has been making me more sensitive by removing the walls and bulwarks I put up. What keeps me from being blown into a million little tiny pieces and carried away by the first stiff breeze? The Holy Spirit.
On the way out I found the man who wanted to talk to me. He proceeded to harangue me about obedience. It was a gentle harangue, and in line with some of what Erwin said about needing others around us to remind us where we're making mistakes. But how does one earn the right to, as Erwin said, "speak into our lives?" Certainly not by one chance encounter after several months. You gain admittance to people's lives by being there. By knowing them, knowing parts of their God-given names, and then working to understand the conditions in which they live.
God really doesn't believe in the one-size-fits all plan that most people use. God is just astoundingly, amazingly delicate and accurate in how he deals with people... unless their hearts are hard. If you're a hard case, then God will play rough. The important part is to get my attention and keep it.
So, I've obeyed God in my odd little way. Asking him to do whatever it took. My heart was hard, but shattered. He first had to reassemble it, then soften it, and that turns out to be the key for me to follow him: it hurts my new heart not to follow him.
And what does obedience look like? If you listen to people, it can look a lot like a job. If you listen to God, however, there are opportunities for beautiful obedience everywhere, things to speak or write that only I can do.
I didn't go to Mosaic's Highlander event this year, despite being invited by a number of people. I just wasn't ready, and the thought of being among all those people was, while more conceivable than last year, still out of reach. God's reaction to my plans was interesting. "If you don't go, who will present this viewpoint? If not you, who?" There are all kinds of people at that event, and one of them might have been able to use my point of view. God let me know that He wanted me to go, but knew why I wasn't, and that was OK. There would be other opportunities.
There have been, in a very surprising place. An on-line community called "Until Uru." That, however, is another story.