JANIS IAN, VEGGIETALES & EPHESIANS

I have a teenaged daughter who is becoming an amazing young woman. It seems like she’s constantly changing. She reminds me of what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:11: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (Except she’s not becoming a man. Just so we’re clear on that! This isn’t “that blog.” 🙂 )

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AT SEVENTEEN – JANIS IAN

Some of the struggles Maggie has are so much like those I had at her age – you know, the Janis Ian kind; other struggles are unique to her generation. For example, I didn’t have to worry about how people from all over the world might judge my words or my looks or my choices on social media. I had enough trouble with the people in my school, in my neighborhood.  Then, again, I had to wait for America’s Top 40 so I could press Play and Record at just the right time in order to tape my favorite song. I had to buy an entire album to get my favorite song, and she has iTunes! (The struggle was real then, too.)

Growing up, Maggie’s favorite video was VeggieTales’ Jonah. She loved the idea that the God she was getting to know for herself was the God of second chances. And she understood that those second chances were not only for her, but for everyone else, too. This taught her mercy for others, as well as grace for herself.

 

It also taught her that second chances were unlimited with God. All He asks is that we repent. Ideally, repentance would be a one-time thing. I say I’m sorry and promise to change my ways – forever. But it seldom works that way, does it? We ask forgiveness again because we originally didn’t do it with the right heart.

Or maybe we didn’t really understand what it was that we needed forgiveness for – for getting caught, for making someone mad, or because we have a deeper matter that keeps pushing the wrong behavior to the surface. Or maybe there are some deeply founded beliefs that keep us returning to the same behavior; thoughts that need to be addressed before change can occur. Or maybe we didn’t really fathom how important the matter was to God. In any event, it seems we could easily exhaust God’s grace. And yet we don’t.

I think that’s the nature of repentance – co9ec67cd3ebeb832c3e7dfdef617888ffnstantly starting over and moving forward but with a new mindset. Again. And again. And yet again.

Now, it would be nice to sit back and enjoy God’s grace for ourselves while we remembered – again and again and yet again – all the grievances we suffered at the hands of others, right? Not so fast!

As Paul wrote: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6

This is more than Rodney King’s plea that we “all just get along.” (Google it.) As Christians, we are a part of one body and one Spirit. It’s imperative that we get along, or nothing will get done! And because we’re a part of one body and one Spirit, this isn’t just about us and we’re not in this alone. Essentially, we’re children of God – princes and princesses. We need to straighten our crowns, adjust our attitudes and act like it. (Doesn’t leave a lot of room for being offended, does it?)

Will it be easy? Considering that the third word in the first verse is “prisoner”, I wouldn’t count on it – at  least not until we fully fathom that we are a prisoner to Him who loves and is love, again and again and again.

But wait! There’s more. Paul goes on to say that the ultimate goal of our life in Christ, as one body and one Spirit comes down to this: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (14-16)

We will not always be that awkward, insecure, shy 17-year-old. We will become wise and strong and loving! Can we be honest with others when they hurt us? Yes. But with love instead of bitterness. Because of Christ, we are better than we are without Him.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (29-32)

Now, there wasn’t an asterisk by this verse, so apparently social media wasn’t a concern then. All I can say is that whatever method they used for communication gave them much more opportunity to carefully consider their words than keyboarding does today. Even those stupid “footballs” that my classmates fashioned their notes into mandated more time for reconsideration than we have now. And we often wrote “Do not show to anyone” on the outside of it.

Paul later tells us that we will be armed with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17), allowing us to divide the righteous from the unrighteous. But a sword isn’t something you let a child play with. It’s a piece of the armor of God that should be wielded with training and responsibility. And I think there will be plenty of times that we’ll be called to put the sword at our side and extend an empty hand in greeting to show there is no threat to another. No threat, because we have forgiven as we’ve been forgiven and shown compassion as we’ve been shown compassion by our Father through the sacrificial death of His Son.

Things have changed a lot since I was Maggie’s age, but we can be assured that God never changes. His word is steadfast. His expectations of us are solid. His love for us is never-ending. We are part of the mighty body of Christ, designed to do amazing things for the kingdom of God. And I am excited to see what our children grow up to do for Him!

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ARE YOU CHISELED OR CHUBBY?

I have a friend who is incredibly self-motivated in a way that I’m not sure I could ever be. He’s more persistent, more passionate and more resilient than most of the people I know. He’s an inspiration to a lot of people, and recently, as he was gearing up for a new level of physical fitness, he posted this on his Facebook page:

NINE MONTHS

And I knew that in nine months, there would be a new Chris emerging. Because Chris wants to succeed. He wants his life and his body to be different, better.

Me? Yeah, I want those things, too – just not enough to really work very hard at them. And I accept the consequences of that mentality.

Three years ago, Chris faced a unique challenge. He was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – flesh-eating bacteria. He was fortunate to have it diagnosed and treated as quickly as it was, but it was still a steep hill for him to climb and it took its toll on him. But he was beautifully resilient!

So I’ve been thinking about the vast difference between his determination to work hard and my determination to keep a low heart-rate and not perspire if I can help it. I began to consider the characters in the Bible who were so desperate for the healing touch of Jesus – the woman with the issue of blood, the man whose friends lowered him from the roof into the room where Jesus was teaching, the blind man at the pool of Siloam, the lepers who begged for pity, the daughter of Jairus, the multitudes He and the disciples fed on the hillsides.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about Him spread all over Syria, and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and He healed them” (Matthew 4:23-24). 

But I’ve always been curious about the man at the pool of Bethesda in John Chapter 5. This man had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and realized that he had spent a long time in this condition, He asked him, “Do you want to get well?” Now, I’ve admitted before that I am not a Biblical scholar, so I may very well be wrong, but I’ve long believed that this is the only time that Jesus didn’t just “hand out” a healing. I believe this is the only recorded incident where Jesus asks directly if the person wanted to get well. And the recipient didn’t ask to be healed.

That seems like a silly question, right? Who doesn’t want to be well? Who really wants to be sick or infirmed or physically challenged when they can be whole, healthy and capable? But the man doesn’t say he wants to be healed. He gives Jesus an excuse for why he can’t be healed. Maybe he just didn’t know that the man before him could heal him.

Or maybe – just maybe – he wasn’t really committed to a life free of poor health.

Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am on my way, someone else goes in before me.”

That didn’t answer Jesus’ question, did it? Jesus simply let it slide, apparently, and told the man to get up and walk. And the man did just that; he walked. On legs that had atrophied over decades, he miraculously walked.

That meant he was no longer a prisoner to pity or a servant to shame or a miserable recipient of mercy. He was no longer dependent on the kindness of others. He could take care of himself now. He could now get a job, have a home, be worthy of marriage, have a family, be a contributing member of the community. In short, Jesus had just redefined who this man was – to himself and to everyone in his town.

That can be a little scary, can’t it? No doubt, this man had dreamt of what a life would be like if he were healthy and able bodied. But now he had to actually walk. Where would he walk to? What would he do once he got there? Along with health, this man was given purpose, responsibility, independence. And I think that’s what Jesus was asking him: “Do you want to be responsible for yourself?”

So often, we say things like, “I’d give anything to be able to afford what I want.” Really? Are you willing to do without an immediate gratification? “I’d give anything to look like that!” Are you willing to get up an hour earlier every day to exercise? “I want to be a more Godly person?” Are you willing to be loving instead of right?

I’m not judging! Trust me, I am not self-disciplined. I’m with the kids in the Stanford marshmallow experiment who went ahead and ate the marshmallow before the tester returned. I don’t do well with delayed gratification. At all. It’s not fun and, honestly, it’s hard.

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That’s why this summer – in nine months – my friend, Chris, will be an incredibly healthy, fit father of three energetic kids and I will be wondering if I really have to shave my legs if I don’t plan to wear a pair of shorts – because, let’s face it, chubby thighs are only cute on babies!

What about you? In nine months, will you be a new person? Do you want to be healed?

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