Growing Up Again

YES-S-S!!! It’s SPRING! Finally. OK, if you live in Florida or California or Arizona, you’re yawning and saying, “Big deal.” But if you have endured a winter like we have here in Indiana where the ground has been white for weeks, the advent of warmer temperatures, green grass, flowers, and leaves is incredibly refreshing. New life, or, at least, rejuvenated life, is bursting forth all around us, and it is invigorating and energizing.

I played both basketball and baseball for four years at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and, although I cannot tell you how much I love “life on a 94 x 50 rectangle,” basketball is a winter sport. When we came out of the gym at 6 pm after practice, it was already dark, and cold. It was almost Spring when the season ended, and I was right back in the locker room the next day, but putting on a baseball uniform, and it was always such a pleasant change to get out on that field, smell the grass, see the blue sky, and feel the sunshine on my face.

For me now, winter is pretty useless. I love to ski, but mountains are hard to come by here in Indiana, and I don’t want to manipulate God, a la the skewed interpretation of Mark 11:23, and move one here from Colorado. Actually, I’d like to, but I don’t think it is available—Jesus’ statement in that verse is not a crash course in landscaping. And I figure that throwing snowballs at cars should no longer be part of my behavioral repertoire, so what good is snow, or the cold that must accompany it? You slide around in it while driving and you have to shovel it. BUT—there is one good thing about winter—we know it absolutely will be followed by SPRING!

I think that the way God set up the seasons, weatherwise, is in part to help us understand the “seasons” of our spiritual lives, and how we are to grow. For each of us in our walk with the Lord, there will be times when we go through periods when we feel dormant, as if nothing significant is happening spiritually, kind of like the “winter blahs.” When this happens in winter, it’s even worse.

I can certainly identify with that at this particular point in my life. After 13 years of spending about half my time out on the road seeing wonderful believers around the world, teaching the Word night after night, ministering healing, activating people in tongues, interpretation, and prophecy, sharing hearts, etc, here I am doing the daily finances and other administrational duties in an office and then coming home to make hours of phone calls to America’s yutes (“Did you say ‘yutes’”?) to enroll them in the SAT prep course I am still teaching.

I am aware that “all of the above” is just what I need to be doing now for the sake of the ministry (that is, the people who benefit from our efforts), and that motivates me to be diligent at it. I also know that this season will not last forever, and that God knows both my heart’s desires and His heart’s desires for me. And the good news is that the Lord Jesus, who is infinitely diversified in administering his personal curriculum for me, does happen to be with me—even when I am lost in Peachtree accounting software!

We live in a postmodern age where the prevailing idea is to help people feel good, especially about themselves. Whoa! Only God or Jesus can do that, and the only way they can is to first get the person to feel badly about himself. (For proof, see Beatitudes). As Henry Cloud and John Townsend say in their excellent book, How People Grow, “Poverty drives hunger…Ultimately, the pain of growth is more bearable than the pain of our poverty…Spiritual poverty and brokenheartedness drive us to emotional connection, both to God and to safe people.”

Too many well meaning people give encouragement to someone who needs discouragement, that is, they encourage a person to “be positive” and deny his sin, or to try harder to overcome his sin, rather than discouraging him from believing that he can do it on his own. It is not law, that is, “you should” (which actually brings out the worst in people), but God’s grace that carries people through the pain of seeing themselves as they really are and brings about His transformation in their lives.

There are other seasons of life when God is pruning us, that is, training us as a good father does his child, so as to bring out the most fruit in our lives. As His laser-like pruning shears cut away our deadness or sickness, it hurts! But if we will recognize what is happening and allow Him to do His work in our hearts, we will see growth and fruit like never before. Gosh, I hate to write this next sentence, but… Usually it is other people in the Body of Christ who function as the shears in pruning us. Arr-r-g-g-h. And just so we can’t miss that truth, God put plenty of verses in the Bible about the value of embracing correction and discipline (see Ps. 141:5; Prov. 15:10, et al. Yes, Al could be one of those people).

But not even Al can help me if I will not allow him to do so. Just like the physical body, the Church, the Body of Christ, is indescribably interdependent. An aching toe could be due to a pinched nerve way up in the back. When one part is injured, the head immediately directs other parts to go to his aid. In our April 2003 audio teaching titled The Ministry of Reconciliation: Making a Difference, I elaborate on the indispensable value of members of the Body “confronting” one another (which actually means “looking at something together”), and show the many benefits of this way of showing true love. I hope you’ll hear it if you have not already.

Someone once asked me: “Have you lived here all your life,” and I answered, “Not yet.” Sometimes I catch myself saying something like, “When I was growing up…” or “I grew up in Indiana,” and then it dawns on me that what I really mean is that I got taller in Indiana. I’m still growing up, and will be a “work in progress” until the Lord Jesus shows up and consummates my growth process. As human beings, each of us comes from a dysfunctional family. Our original parents, Adam and Eve, fouled up life for all of us, and every family since has had its non-functioning-as-God-intended elements. Very few people have come from families so whole that their adolescent environment allowed them to grow into their godly potential.

So then where can we find a family in which to really grow up? (Insert drum roll…) After our New Birth, the Christian life is all about growing up (again) in a new family, and that family is THE CHURCH! If at first you don’t succeed, get born again, and then grow up again. How a healthy family functions is exactly how the Church is to be, with each member unconditionally loving one another and putting the interests of the others before his own, building up one another, seeking to understand one another, forgiving one another, etc. Such an atmosphere is most conducive to each member of the family being open, honest, authentic, and vulnerable with the others, rather than putting on a happy face, covering up, hiding, posturing, etc.

I think that’s what James 5:16 is all about, and it is set in the context of the church family working together to heal one another: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” How can we know what to pray for if someone never shares his or her heart with us? And how can we really get to know the person?

It should come as no surprise to you that a chief hallmark of the sin nature is pride, and one element of pride is inordinate self-sufficiency, e.g., “I can do it by myself,” often accompanied by the unspoken “I don’t need your help.” Such an attitude of self-imposed isolation leads to a life devoid of intimacy, which is a prerequisite for physical, mental, and emotional wholeness. Most people who have a hard time receiving from others are also afraid to let anyone see them as they really are—needy sinners who really don’t have it all together. Only by learning to be a receiver can I grow up in Christ (see 1 Cor. 4:7).

Think about this—something I only recently realized. Like, “Duh.” When 1 John 4:18 (NKJV) says that “…perfect love casts out fear…,” it is not speaking only about my love dispelling my fear. I think it is also about my being loved unconditionally motivating me to break through my fear of others seeing my badness. Most human problems stem from our being separated from love and thus erecting defense mechanisms to keep people out. Being loved is the antidote to our being willing to “take off the fig leaves” so that we can be known for who we are and ministered to by those who love us. I do not want to be “a good person” who touches no one deeply and who allows no one in.

Springtime means “Easter,” when many people celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Even as Spring signals the end of Winter and the coming of more light and life, so the glorious resurrection of our Lord signals the transformation from death unto life available to every person who chooses to make him Lord. You’ll notice that most folks are going the other way—life unto death.

How sad that most Christians believe a Greek fable about an “immortal soul.” What that lie does is negate the gruesome reality of death, and thereby greatly dilutes the glory of resurrection. Think about it. If some incorporeal but conscious part of me (usually called the “soul” or the “spirit”) survives the cessation of my bodily functions, then “death” is not really what every dictionary says it is: “the absence of life.” A person does not really cease to exist. It logically follows that resurrection, then, is not that big a deal.

Ever thought about the contrast between the attitudes of Socrates and Jesus Christ just prior to their respective deaths? Socrates, the Greek philosopher, believed in the fable of an immortal soul. Before he ceremoniously drank the poison hemlock (do not try this at home), he had a big party with all his friends and lived it up. And I guess he then cavalierly said, “Bottoms up!” And that’s just what happened to him.

In stark contrast, Jesus was alone in Gethsemane, and, by his own admission, he was “…overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death….” The Greek means “crushed with anguish.” Some party, huh? Was the difference in their attitudes due to the fact that Socrates had a better understanding than Jesus about life? No, it was because Jesus had a better understanding than Socrates about death. He knew that it was the enemy of all enemies, and that when he took his last breath, he would never live again if God did not keep His promise and raise him from the dead.

At the Cross, he who is now the Head of the Church modeled for us the pattern of death unto life. Only by going through the excruciating death he did could he get to the resurrection life on the other side of it. Ditto for you and me who now choose to follow him. As he said in Luke 9:23 and 24: “…If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

Well, there you go. There’s the blueprint for Christianity. I for one do not want any part of such a challenge unless I have proof that there really is life on the other side of the death of my self. Thank God that He did keep His Word and raise Jesus from the dead. And thank the Lord that he poured out the gift of holy spirit into my heart when I believed in him as Lord. I DO have the proof that the life-giving power of God will bring me through the seasons of death in my life and produce the fruit of true life for me. That’s why I will do my best to live on the edge—of faith.

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