Brave a New Beginning

Dear Lord,

   Writing a book is a very disturbing experience. I am now realizing how little I know and how much I have been talking about it. Trying to put down on paper the words of my reflections makes me feel a stark sense of inadequacy.

   There is so much of You I would like to tell people, particularly those tender-skinned newly born ones, who are just stepping out in the time of Your life. There is so much confusion handed out as spiritual instruction — I don't want to be just another midway barker touting a sideshow event. I want to offer positives and principles and, Oh Lord, how I want my book to be a new book.

   I am so greedy! I don't want to say an old thing a new way, I want to say a new thing! Where this is an appetite glorifying to You, please open up ways for it to be satisfied. Where it is just another aspect of my own ego trying to look holy, please dismiss it. Please cram my barefooted thoughts into the shoes of Your discipline, that I might run effectively.

   I pray in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

    Most Christians testify to their early Christian experiences with terms only slightly less rhapsodic than

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those describing true millennial joy. There is a lilting account of exuberant security, welcoming fellowship, unbounded love, and instant maturity. If this has been your experience in the Lord, I honestly praise His name for His dealings with you and ask your patient indulgence for my account of a different experience.

   My newly committed life was one of disturbing, even though sanctified, confusion. I knew more fears, more self-doubt, and more irritation than I had ever known. I made more serious errors in my first few weeks as a proclaiming Christian than I had in my whole history of unabashed carnality.

   One of the surest proofs of the invincibility of Christianity is that it survived my first five years of active involvement! Instead of leaping daintily in gazellelike surefootedness, I stumbled two steps backward for every three steps forward.

   I felt no sense of direction and no clearly defined purpose. My feelings of joy were as changeable as my testimony, which knew daily adjustments to the circumstances under which I was to give it.

   As for love, that highly touted affection that was supposed to drench my new being, I found no honest indication of it, either from me or to me. My new Christian friends welcomed me into the family with terms and tones I didn't understand, which reminded me of a particularly confusing phase of my actual childhood.

   I was the only child of parents who came from large families. We were the only branch of either lineage which did not live in its native environs of Alabama or Oklahoma. As a result, I grew up thinking Christmas

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meant Alabama and Thanksgiving meant Oklahoma, because that was when and where the clans gathered.

   I felt that family meant a house full of strangers bearing not only gifts, but kisses and hugs and double names all beginning with aunt, uncle, or cousin. The most impressive names were those that bore variations sounding like physical phenomena: "This is your second cousin once removed," or "This is your fourth cousin on your mother's side." I visualized cousins hanging like appendages to my parents' history and wondered why I was supposed to love these vaguely familiar creatures.

   Family-type people talked a lot about incidents that were strange to me. Family-type people were often excited about special events that occurred in that mysterious time before I was born. I became convinced that I had entered the scene after the best part was over, but felt I had gotten myself born at the earliest possible opportunity and resented any feeling of guilt on account of my tardiness. None of this put me at ease.

False Start

   My response to my Christian family was much the same. I was slow in picking up their phrases and embarrassed that the accent of my old way of life colored my speech. There is a hymn that includes the phrase, "Jesus calls us o'er the tumult." Well, I had difficulty in hearing the voice of Jesus over the tumult of the Christian community!

   God's plan and direction are usually quite simple, but we Christians are wonderfully imaginative. If we

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can find a way to complicate God's plan, we are not only willing to do it, we are also eager to teach others those complications. I feel great sympathy for the spiritual fledgling trying to piece together God's guidance from the feverish counsel of those of us advising him.

   Years ago, as my ears were bombarded by phrases, my newly committed heart was not warmed. I longed for love to happen to me, even while I tried to deal with my very active resentment. Why was no one interested in the things that interested me? And, if God really loved me, why had He told everyone else exactly what I should do and not revealed a whiff of direction to me personally?

   I was urged to get into a church, join in a fellowship and spend a significant part of my busy mornings in quiet time. I tried an early morning quiet time, only to find it considerably quieter than expected. Napping with my nose pressed into an open Bible was not honestly productive!

   Following my usual pattern of rejecting what I did not understand, I fought each suggested principle, and lived to regret each battle.    

    I substituted self-gratifying daydreaming for prayer. I found the Bible dull and confusing in the few haphazard attempts I made at study, so I eliminated that practice. I considered myself above the need for church involvement because my relationship with Christ was unique.

   Having dispensed with the organized church, I moved on to check off the whole Christian community. I didn't need any of them. I was secure in the

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Lord. He would lead me, and the straitlaced Christians could eat my dust as I zoomed past them.

   I did not zoom ahead, however I skidded across the track and almost out of the race. I didn't know what hurt me. I was lonely without spiritual fellowship and totally unequipped for the battle I found myself fighting.

   Yes, a real battle! There is a mighty conflict still going on. Satan, who fought so hard keep the Christian from becoming a Christian, will fight even harder to render the Christian ineffective. I learned the truth of Galatians 5:17 before I ever read the verse. The flesh is at war with the Spirit. I needed help. I was taking myself right out of the race, almost before it began!

   Realizing I was floundering into defeat by trying to live the Christian life all by myself, I went back to the dynamics of honest prayer, back to the vulnerability of real fellowship. I learned that I could hear the deep, God-based love in my Christian family when I stopped stiff-arming everyone with criticism. I was about to set my foot upon the hallowed ground of true beginnings.

Tentative Steps

   When we relish the authenticity of our own personhood under God, we allow the authenticity of others. That's the beginning place — the authenticity of the person whom Christ has created.

   If any man be in Christ he is a newly created being....

See 2 Corinthians 5:17          

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   That's the challenge: risking all on the validity of God's bequest of personal identity. It is a risk. There would be no victory without the possibility of defeat. The action of life must begin in a world where loss is possible.

   There are a lot of frustrated Christians who are left stranded in the delivery room because the great generative power of God has not been applied to the first timid steps of beginnings.

   When I was in high school, one of the few group activities approved by teenager and parent alike was ice skating. Winter in Texas amounted to only a slight chill in our December sunbathing, but the ice-skating rink offered us a glimpse of winter, synthetic as it was. I loved it!

   It was all very colorful and romantic. The blaring recorded music drenched us with melody as the lights on the rink changed to various moods.

   True to my role of class clown, I hobbled down the steps to the ice, arms flailing the air in exaggerated precariousness, my weak ankles teetering back and forth over the slender blades.

   Once upon the ice, I abandoned myself to the heights of my skating ambition not to fall down. In order to satisfy this challenge, I spent my time skimming the edge of the rink, crossing hand over hand along the rail.

   Following this procedure for all my skating dates and parties, I realized my one ambition — I never fell down. My friends flitted across the ice. The boys etched deep, icy patterns with their skates, while girls twirled and posed. They called out to me to join them.

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   I never left my course. They might be having more fun, but they had to fall down every once in a while. My record was perfect! No skating, no falling!

   Sooner or later, the Christian realizes his heavenly Father did not fit him just to learn the route along the rail. Sooner or later we are affected by the external goal expressed in the joy of other Christians, and by the internal goal of the Holy Spirit.

   We don't want to give up going to the rink, so we ask, "Where do I go from here?" God has an honest answer. It requires that we brave a new beginning.

Chapter 4  ||  Table of Contents