Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Holding the Flaming Hand

There's more going on in Lu's life than the merging of churches. Her situation, as often happens, parallels mine. Only God's hand brings life, but at the same time it's a demanding hand. He leads into places I would rather avoid.

Who defines life? Me, in my minefield dance of narrow paths and dire missteps? It's familiar, comfortable, joyless (but who needs joy) and fairly easy to get through the day, so long as I don't dream of doing anything better. Or is it God who defines life, him of the heart burning to restore his people? He, who dares me to try something new, asks me to trust that he will hold onto me? He, whose love is so strong that he gave up his Son?

Trust is easy when we're walking among the daisies on a cool morning. I can imagine the wide land ahead of me, imagine living there with none of my usual constraints. God gave the Israelites a dry path across the Jordan, brought them to the land and said "It's yours. A wide land, flowing with milk and honey." There was a slight problem of prior ownership, but God would be with them in that too. The land was promised to Jacob and his descendants, and God honors his promises.

So, they had to fight. I'm not much of a fighter. Well, maybe I am, when I know I have a good chance of winning. As God works his way more deeply into my life, though, we face enemies that can eat my lunch so quickly, and have done it so often, that I don't even think about attacking or even staying put. I run. I've never won, so what crazy idea would make me think I could win this time?

God tells me I can win. I have to stay in the fight. I have to put some effort into moving a foot forward. He promises to help.

Where are we headed, with those little tiny steps? A land of his choosing, a place that he promises will be good. To my fallen eyes and feelings, he's being optimistic. I see trouble, I see pain, I see involvement in situations that have always made me uncomfortable. He calls me to love, he calls me to serve, and I've seen what happens to people who throw their lives into such things: they get ground up and thanklessly spit out as little fragments.

Note that God calls me to love. He doesn't define it. He just says follow me. I fill in the unpleasant, predicted details based on my own fallen view of things, and therefore balk. I have learned that God's definition of my life is much broader than what churches have said; churches have a few niches for people, and they're trimmed to fit. God seems to have a niche for each individual person, and he wants them to expand into their niches as Israel expanded into their new land.

Well, it's all a nice story. I wish I could give you the happy ending. I move on into the land and live happily ever after. The truth is darker: I resist going where God goes. His touch burns with life, and I quail. What started as a sort of gutterball approach to following Jesus turns out to have been right down the center of the alley that leads to God's heart, and no surprise. That's where the Holy Spirit leads if given a chance, and desperation gave me the impetus to let him lead. Now, though, I'm not so desperate. I'm a bit stronger, and I know more about what God is doing.

Nothing, really, has changed. God is still himself and his goals haven't changed. What has changed is my view. Life is more assured, less desperate, and that's good enough for me. It's not good enough for the Holy Spirit. He wants perfection, and he keeps giving me an itch for going on. I do still have a desire to find out what's beyond the next ridge.

It's a motivation I've had all my life. "There must be a better way." Siren song of the problem solver cum explorer. What is possible, if you throw away the rule book and go back to first principles? The first thing I learned is that this is a lonely way. No one understood when I was a kid, and I dreamed of having someone understand.

Well, be careful what you wish for. God understands, yes, and goes beyond understanding to saying "Let's go find out. Come and see." And I, the intrepid explorer, turn down the invitation. Because I'm just plain scared.

The touch that heals, the touch that burns. Only God knows how to do it, only his touch brings life. That his life looks to me like death is my fault. I'm astounded that he's willing to spend the time it takes to teach me. Somebody says "No" to me once, I'm gone. God... sees things differently. A "No" from fear is different from a "No" originating in defiance.

Community should be a process of people growing together into their new lands, helping each other along the way, one's strength filling in for another's momentary weakness, and then trading roles. Usually, though, some planner gets ahold of things and drags everyone down to some mechanistic level. "If we put this in, we'll get this out." That doesn't work.

We just have to encourage each person to take God's hand, in fear and trembling or in great delight and courage, and keep making that decision every day. The strong and brave types have an easier time of it. Some of us see the wind and the waves it raises, and become very scared.

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