Monday, August 4, 2014

He Will Be With Us (A Confrontation of my Fears With the Stone-Flinging God)

As a kid, I was never scared of monsters (that I remember). They were too cool to be scary. I was never afraid of them hiding under my bed or lurking in my closets. Frankly, the notion might have actually excited me (I was that kid). There was nothing to be afraid of in the dark.
Then I grew up (relatively speaking). And let’s be honest: It would be nice, sometimes, for someone to just tuck you in, then check the closets, and issue those reassuring words from the doorway: “There are no such things as monsters. There’s nothing and nobody outside that wants to eat you, or crush you into the ground, or bury you alive, or tear you into pieces.”
But that’s not quite true, any more. Life itself wants to eat you. The world wants to crush you. Time wants to bury you alive. And there are plenty of people and things that seem perfectly eager to get at having a piece of me. They all want some, and frankly, it is terrifying. I am staring down the throat of the future like some enormous game of Russian Roulette. The cylinder spins, and you twist your fingers for all your worth. What will you wind up with? What kind of fate will click back its hammers and pump two cartridges of responsibility and anguish into your face?

An Unpleasant Newsflash(1): Life doesn’t pull punches. It hits hard, and it hits as often as it can. It beats you down, and then kicks you. 

An image for contemplation: Twelve spies. A Deuteronomic people, on the verge of victory or destruction. Ten spies agree, shaking in their boots:
“Moses, dude, we can’t go over there.”
“Yeah, man. Those cities are huge. And the people are giants. There’s no way that we would survive out there." 
(It’s dangerous outside. Unbelievably dangerous. Grab a power-drill and some screws and make sure that door stays closed. Board up those windows, pull the curtains. Put spikes in the bottom of your chimneys. Never shower during a lightning storm.)
But then there were two voices that were different than the others. Joshua and Caleb stood by, tight-fisted and square-jawed. “Hey,” they shouted. “What are you talking about? God said that the land is ours. What do you have left to be afraid of?”

An Unpleasant Newsflash (2): They never once said: “Oh come on, the giants aren’t that big. We can take them.” Because they knew that they couldn’t. Not alone. 

And we know how that story ends. Joshua conquered those giants. Not by himself; and not thanks to any strength of his own. He survived because of a promise. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Judges 1:9) Joshua was brave because he had a sure promise of victory. 

A Pleasant Newsflash(1): We have the same promise. 
Another image for contemplation: A man hiding in a winepress. A God who told him to come out. Gideon was afraid; there were too many enemies (more than could be counted). What chance did one man have? He whimpered. “But I’m not that guy. My clan is small, and my tribe is small, and who am I to lead them?” There are too many. (The giants are too big.)

God disagreed. He did not see Gideon as he was (refer to hiding in a winepress). He called him “mighty man of valor.” 
Mighty men of valor do not hide in winepresses. They do not hide (period). Gideon was not that; not yet. But God did not see him as he was, then; he saw the finished product. He saw a man pursuing His glory. He saw Israel’s victory, and Gideon’s role in it. 
He saw the ending, not the middle. He saw the victory, not the overwhelming odds. He saw Gideon as he should have been, and as he would be. Not as he was.  
He calls men not because they are right for the job. But because he is. He calls weak men. Because he is a strong God. 

God: “33,000 men are too many for me to work with.” 
Gideon: “How about 10,000?” 
God: “Too many.”
Gideon: “Well how many do you want?” 
God: “Try 300.”
Gideon: “300?!?” 
(Note: He didn’t say “Oh come on, Gideon. There aren’t that many.) 
God: “I am with you. What do you have to be afraid of?” 

Well, not Midianites. Not giants. 
Numbers don’t mean anything to God; not millions, not dozens. Size is meaningless to the One who balances the universe on a fingertip. Not hugeness; not smallness. He doesn’t use boulders; sometimes he uses pebbles. 
Sometimes he flicks pebbles at giant’s heads from a little boy’s strap of leather and shatters them. Sometimes he calls 300 men to destroy a countless army with nothing but jars and torches and trumpets.

Another image: A storm is trying to swallow a boat, like a cork in a whirlpool. Fishermen are panicking, spitting water and trembling in terror. The boat is filling. In the front of the ship, a sleeping Godman sits up, eyes them, and speaks. (Note: He doesn’t say “Guys, come on. The waves are nowhere near big enough to hurt you.” Not even close.) “I am with you. What do you have to be afraid of?” 
He speaks. Storms die. He breaks their spirits, and the water goes calm. The storms fear him. 

Some Things God has Said:
Never: The giants aren’t very big.
Always: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. I am with you. 
Never: There aren’t that many Midianites out there. 
Always: Come out, mighty man of valor. Peace be to you. You shall not die. 
Never: The waves aren’t that big. There’s no way you’ll get wet. 
Always: Have faith. I am in the boat beside you. And the storms belong to me. 

A Happy Newsflash(2): God does not call the qualified. He calls the terrified. 

He is not in the practice of calling the qualified. He does not (has not) waste(d) his time looking for someone just right for the role. He does not glorify himself through the qualified. He glorifies himself through Gideons without enough men. Through Joshuas who aren’t afraid. Through Davids who did what armies could not. Through Fireproof Shadrachs and Lionproof Daniels. Through Peters who had the faith to put his feet on a different side of the water. Farmers and Fishermen. 
The armies really were endless. The giants really were gigantic. The fire was hot, and the lions had teeth. But God did not call a lion-tamer; he called Daniel. And he closed their mouths himself. 

Because I am afraid. I am afraid of many things, lots of the time. I am afraid of the bigness of the world, of the hugeness of the future. The endlessness of infinity, the depths of eternity. I am afraid of loneliness and boredness and lifelessness. I am afraid of wasting my years. I am terrified of what is going to happen to me, on this boat. Outside this winepress. On the other side of Canaan’s borders. 

There are (fill in the figurative blank)s out there. Giants. Armies. Enemies. Waves. Futures. Dangers. Dragons. Lions. 

It’s all true. (So don't let anyone lie to you.)
But God is the God who calls men out of winepresses (and into his glory). God is the God who is not afraid of giants (neither should you be). He is the Chain-Breaker and the Star-Breather. The Stone-Flinger, the Storm-Tamer. 
He is the Decapitator of Giants. The Devourer of Jerichos. 
The Captain (and Conscriptor) of Shepherd Armies. 

A final piece of good news: There are giants out there. Cities of them. And waves, higher than ships, oceans hungrier than black holes. There is a world that wants, more than anything, to eat your very soul. 
There are giants out there. But God has promised. (So don't let anyone lie to you.) We are not made to fear them. We are not made to fear anything. Not because it isn’t frightening. 
But because he is not frightenable. 
He is unchanging and unchangeable. And he is the God who is near. 
The God who is near shall always be near. 

What, then, do you have to be afraid of?