Sunday, July 30, 2006

Navel Gazing

The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."

"But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian."

The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"

"But Lord , " Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family."

The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together."

Judges 6:11-16
Last week I went to Detroit for my family reunion and reconnected with a lot of cousins that I haven't seen in many years. It was an excellent time of affirmation as I had an opportunity to hang out with people who are a lot like me - goofy, opinionated, and exceedingly disdainful of Barbara Bush's firstborn. One thing that I noticed, however - rediscovered, actually - is that within my family my immediate family - my clan, if you will - serves as the facilitators, the organizers and workers who make things happen on behalf of others. My father is the youngest of six boys and my mother is the middle child of nine, but when things need to get done they are the ones to step up to the fore in order to get 'r done, along with my mother's two youngest sisters. This get 'r done mentality has been passed on to me and my sister such that whenever something needs to be done I am there. Whenever someone needs something I am there. Whenever anyone that I know has a problem I am there - I'm Johnny-on-the-spot or Sir-Fix-Alot, but the question that I have never really asked is, "What do I want?"

For as long as I can remember I have been about the business of assisting other people's aspirations, facilitating other people's dreams, serving other people's needs, but beyond my childhood dream of becoming an astronaut I cannot recall ever asking the simple question, "What do I want?" I've done the NASA thing and I'm no longer interested in spending a lifetime preparing for one week in space as a mechanic, but what do I want? I am called to ministry and I enjoy helping others but at the end of the day, what do I want? The totality of my self esteem is tied into my ability. I am confident to the point of arrogance when it comes to my abilities - I know that God has blessed me with the ability to learn and do just about anything, such that if I put my mind to it I can learn and understand anything that I need to know and do whatever needs to be done. However, we are human beings - not human doings - and in my being I have little confidence and even less esteem. I see it manifest in many ways - in the difference between how I treat other people's stuff and my own stuff, in how I prioritize other people over myself, in my penchant for pushing up on sisters like Captain Save A Hostess Ho Ho. I'm partial to the thinking of Jung over Freud so there's no throwing mama under the bus here - my personality is The Duty Fulfiller, I know this already - but I still need to ask what it is that I want.

I've got issues.

Gideon had many of the same issues - he esteemed himself lightly, his family wasn't the most powerful in the region or nation, and his country was in deep caca. Despite this, the angel of the LORD was dispatched to inform Gideon that his nation would be delivered from its trouble and that the deliverance would be enacted through Gideon's hand. The angel said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." I am certain that Gideon looked around to see who the angel was speaking to since Gideon hadn't had any parts of fighting a war - Gideon was one of those who hid in caves and shelters when war came his way. Picture Gideon, clad in Birkenstocks, his dreadlocks flowing over his tie-died shirt as he's tending to his hash stash, and the angel of the LORD pops up addressing him as a mighty warrior.

Holy hallucinations, Batman!

Gideon's immediate response was to present the angel of the LORD with the evidential problem of evil, saying, "But sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian." One of the most annoying things in life - at least for me - is when you are going through drama or tough times some well-intentioned idiot coming up to you saying, "The Lord is with you" or "The Lord will make a way somehow" or some such similar churcheese nonsense. It may well be true - I know it to be true - but that's not exactly what I'm trying to hear at that particular point in time. That's one big problem with extroverts - too busy talking to stop and think about what is actually proceeding from their lips, but I digress. Gideon said, if I may contemporize and urbanize his words, "How you gonna tell me that the LORD is with us when Midian has its foot square up our behind? If He was with us then we wouldn't be having all these problems that we got! He may have used to did stuff for us but what has He done for us lately? Not a freakin' thing!"

Gideon was a little upset.

Gideon's problem, however, was that he misunderstood the angel's words numerically, existentially, and temporally. First, Gideon misunderstood the number in the proclamation. The angel of the LORD said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior" - He did not say, "The LORD is with all y'alls, mighty warriors." There's a cliche in the church that says, "What God has for me is for me!" and while I am loathe to encourage selfishness and I hate to propagate cliches it is indeed a true statement - what God intends for you is for you and you only. Where we get it twisted - much like the Israelites of the Old Testament - is that we believe that what God has for us is purely for our benefit. Let me make this plain - when God blesses me with this or that it in no ways means that He will bless you in the same way with the same thing. God blesses me in order for me to be a blessing to others as only I can in that particular place and time, much like God chose Israel to be His special possession for the specific purpose of blessing others, not merely for them to sit back puffed up, proclaiming themselves to be the only ones worthy of God's grace (no one is worthy - that's what makes it "grace"). When God blesses you He blesses you for the purpose of you being a blessing to others, in a way that you and only you can bless them at that place and point in time, so when the angel of the LORD said to Gideon, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior" that is exactly what He meant - the LORD was with Gideon.

Second, Gideon misunderstood the existential nature of his nation's predicament. God had not forsaken Israel, God was allowing Israel to reap the rewards of its decision to forsake the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the idol gods of the Amorites. Decisions have consequences, and all too often we make stupid decisions and then get mad at God for allowing us to reap the harvest of the seeds that we have sown. We sow sin and wonder why we're reaping stress. We plant pride and wonder why we're reaping problems. We place immorality in the earth and wonder why the earth provides us with issues. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap." This applies to families, communities, and nations as well. Israel was reaping what it had sown - broken fellowship with the Creator of the Universe - but God took the initiative to restore the fellowship and to deliver Israel from yet another set of problems that Israel had brought upon itself. God had not forsaken Israel, Israel had forsaken God.

Third, Gideon misunderstood the temporal nature of the angel's statement. The angel did not say that the LORD had always been with Gideon and the angel did not say that the LORD would always be with Gideon. The angel said that the LORD is with Gideon. Rev. Charles Walker preached the sermon, "What You Gonna Do With Your Day" in which he made the poignant point that this is the day that the LORD has made - yesterday is a cancelled check and tomorrow is a promissory note, but today is cash in hand - what are you going to do with your day? The angel told Gideon that at that very moment God was with him and would deliver Israel through Gideon's hands, but Gideon initially couldn't receive that message - it made no sense to him.

Gideon missed the message of God because he was focused on himself and his own problems - his own solitude in the winepress by himself, his own status as the least in his family, his own stature as the least in the tribe of Manasseh - instead of focusing on the God who can change things in the twinkling of an eye. He had heard about how God had delivered his forefathers out of Egypt, how God struck down the enemies of Israel, how God facilitated their entry into a land flowing with milk and honey with livestock they did not raise and crops they did not plant. He'd heard all of those stories, but he'd had no experience himself to buttress that fledgling faith. He hadn't seen God move or operate in his life so from Gideon's perspective there was no God, or if there was one then he didn't care much about Israel. Gideon needed a personal encounter with God, and God made himself known to Gideon in a spectacular way - a personal encounter with the angel of the LORD. God did this not for Gideon's benefit alone, but that others through Gideon might be blessed, namely the children of Israel.

I can relate.

You may recall that last year I was really going through it (q.v. 30 Pieces of Silver, Death Becomes Us, The Divine Conjunction, To Be Or Not To Be), but shortly after that I got a contract position that paid me almost the same thing that I had been making full-time. Today I can report that I have been hired in full-time and that I am now making $25,000 more than I was at the previous job. Considering the fact that the previous job limits you to no more than a 5% annual raise it would have taken a decade or two for me to get to the income level where I currently find myself. What's more is that I am doing exactly the same thing that I was doing at the previous job, only we are starting from scratch the very department that I was part of creating at the old job so I have a good idea of how it should run and what its shelf life is. And I'm being fast-tracked.

The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

Things are starting to come together for me, I am beginning to see my direction much more clearly. I know that I want a fruit-bearing P31 wife, right now. I know that I want a son to be named after my father and another son to be named after my Uncle Wille. I know that I want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God. And I know that I want the Steelers to win another Lombardi Trophy. I know that once Gideon received that which God had revealed to him Gideon was able to rout thousands of Midianite soldiers with 300 men. I know that God can use the weak to rout the strong. I know that with God all things are possible so I need to spend some time in prayer and meditation to connect my wants, my needs, my desires and my aspirations with the will of God. I just need to spend the next few weeks distilling exactly what those wants, needs and desires are. God has certainly provided the means to achieve those ends, and for that I give Him all the praise, all the glory, and all the honor.

May the LORD bless you and keep you;
May the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
And may the LORD,
Who wants you to be a blessing to others,
May He turn His face toward you and give you peace.

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