Do You Want to be Made Well – or What?

I love today’s gospel of John (5:-5-6), “Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’”

do you want to be healed

REALLY!? Come on. Why would he ask that? Jesus could end thirty-eight years of misery for this guy! Is there any possibility that he would say, “no”? Well, yes there is. I know that for a fact, because I have said “no” to God longer than that! I turned my back on Him and suffered a life of emptiness for years. Truth be told, I still suffer the consequences every time I close my heart to God and choose to go my own way.

Most of my life I was angry and self-indulgent (I often still am). My faith was shallow and lifeless (it, maybe not so often, still is). I continually picked at the scabs of the wounds inflicted by others, refusing to forgive, and at the same time denying my own sinfulness (yeah, you guessed it – still doing that).

As I began to really listen to God’s word, and began to meet and know some faithful Christians, I became aware of an unexplainable longing in my heart. That was God, though I didn’t know it at the time. I found myself getting bolder at reaching out to God and to others, and proclaiming my faith. Though I still considered myself unworthy of anyone’s love, especially God’s love, and I could not allow anyone to minister to me.

I was also learning, belatedly, to become a better parent. God had a plan that parenting skills would be passed down from generation to generation, but some of us have to look elsewhere for guidance. As much as I resented my mother for abusing me, and as determined as I was not to be like her…I was. Her way was the only way I knew. But then God showed up, initially in the ministry of Dr. James Dobson (author of several excellent parenting books), and I’m forever grateful for that.

As I poured more and more of myself into my children, however, a new reality was setting in. My husband and I were headed for disaster. I begged him to look honestly at our relationship, all the while refusing to do it myself. I prayed that we could work harder to mend our hurts and strengthen our marriage. But my pleading fell on deaf ears and my fears were becoming a reality.

One by one, our children were leaving home and my husband and I became lost in the deafening silence of our empty nest. So, after much thought, counseling, and prayer, I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave. Each of our children reacted differently to the news of our separation, but all of them were devastated. It was probably the most difficult decision of my life! And, even though I truly felt God was okay with my leaving, I had no idea what the outcome would be as a result of it. I will say this in hindsight though: I know I did not sense that God was approving of my decision or that He was telling me to leave. But, I am certain that He intended to use my decision “for His good”. (Genesis 50:20)

So, off I went. I decided to go to Kentucky to volunteer for an organization that worked with the poor in Appalachia. Before I left home, I prayed a prayer that I had never prayed before: that God would change me, not every other person in my life, ME! God was just giddy with excitement! And, oh, the lessons I was about to learn!

How can I describe to you the soul-cleansing that I endured during that time; what those eight months were like for me? Every single day seemed to bring to light another of Linda’s issues to deal with. I didn’t enjoy confronting my pride, anger, and resentfulness. As a matter of fact, it was, in essence, like being in hard labor – for eight months. Non-stop. With no anesthetic!

“Come on, breathe for me,” says the doctor. “Breathe for me? Breathe for me? I’ll give you breathe for me! How about if you try to breathe for me while my hands are around your neck, choking you? How about that?” (Oh, sorry, I must have been having a flashback.)

Anyway, for the first time in my life, my longings, my brokenness, and my hope that maybe I was worthy of love, were laid bare. God was beginning to change my heart, though I hardly knew all the implications of that at the time. It was a beautiful example of how He can work in our lives when we “allow” Him to do what only He can. All of my past attempts to change had failed because I tried to do things my own faulty way; by my own strength. I refused to yield my will to His, and I had failed time and again.

The fulfillment we seek can seem elusive. It can be confused with something as insignificant as a new outfit or something as unattainable as somebody else’s life. When I’m removed from my groundings, and feeling overpowered by my struggles, God reminds me that I’m right where He wants me – in the fray is where I’ll learn to be most like Him. That’s where I’ll learn that my joy cannot be stolen unless I allow people or circumstances, rather than God, to define me. Coming to grips with that truth will open me to the fullness of life.

John 10:10 says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Sheer desperation began leading me to accept whatever God deemed necessary to change my life. No strings attached that would allow me to yank control back if things became too hard, or too painful. I would resist the impulse to switch to an easier route, though that was my normal reaction when I was afraid. And what did I receive in return? Oh, not much…just a new relationship with God; with my family; with my husband of forty-three years; a purpose that fulfills me; and the joyful hope that endures, even during the most difficult of times. In short – an abundant life I could never have imagined on that fateful day I left home.

Henri Nouwen, in his most beautiful book, The Return of the Prodical Son, enfleshes all that I have experienced; all that I have been so afraid to admit or even look at honestly. His vulnerability and openness about his own struggles gives others the courage to trust that when Jesus comes to us and asks, “Do you want to be made well”? Our “yes” can be the beginning of more than we could ever imagine or hope for. (Ephesians 3:20)

Nouwen talks about his own “coming home”; about being in his Father’s embrace where:

I so much want to be, but am so fearful of being….It is the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to….It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place of surrender and complete trust.

And, I believe Henri Nouwen would agree that it is the place where Jesus’ call and our self-emptying “yes” meet in the fullness of God’s grace.

All these years later, I’m still being challenged daily, and I don’t always respond as I should. My sinfulness is constantly a force to be reckoned with. After all, I’m still a messy human being. But I know that God longs for us to claim the gift of His extravagant love in the very midst of all our messiness. If we’ll only look within ourselves, we can see what is already there. We can become who we already are. God offers that joy to all of us. All we have to do is claim it. When Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well”? – and your answer is finally “yes”…strap yourself in for the ride of your life!

roller coaster2

Glorious Imperfection

Jesus called twelve misfits to join him in his ministry. They dropped everything to follow him. All along the way their imperfections were screaming, “Loser”!

Jesus knew they were all a piece of work. He could have complained to God like Moses did, “Oh, Father, far be it for me to question your judgment, but isn’t there someone, anyone, else you could come up with for this monumental task? If I’m going to be babysitting these whiners and complainers for the next three years, how am I possibly going to get anything accomplished?” But, he acquiesces, “Not my will but yours, Lord.”

I don’t know, but I’ll take a stab at his reasoning. Jesus likely called them in particular so they couldn’t boast about how awesome they were, because they weren’t. Of course, it doesn’t seem as though they were aware of that until after Jesus died. Then you see a lot of their teachings in Scripture about not boasting. Like 1 Corinthians 1:31, James 4:16, and Ephesians 2:9, just to name a few.

What we don’t know is why the disciples so readily followed Jesus. I’ll take a stab at this one too. Off Jesus goes into the great unknown with twelve guys likely hoping for a shot at greatness. Surely by now they heard of the crowds he was drawing. He was charismatic and charming, and, WOW, those miracles…impressive huh? That’s why I think they went. After all, this Jesus seemed different than most of the powerful leaders of their day. He could sure draw the crowds! He seemed like a winner they could get behind. Perhaps they hoped for a management position. Of course, what do I know? I wasn’t there. But, it seems possible.

Thinking in terms of the culture today, Jesus might have hordes of people in line around four city blocks hoping to be chosen, as if it was a shot at some reality TV show, or like they were waiting to buy the newest iPhone! Okay, maybe not.

Anyway, we know the disciples faith and trust in Jesus waxed and waned throughout his ministry. Except for Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide, it wasn’t until after the resurrection that their passion caught fire; a passion that would take them to their deaths.

Think of the difference between the guys who scattered when their fear got the best of them and the guys who became faithful and fearless in spite of their limping along an uncertain path. That should give us all hope. Why? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we too, are misfits, doubters, seekers of power and acclaim, liars, and cowards.

Alrighty then, well, that makes me eager for Judgment Day. How about you? As for my sorry imperfect self, I want to run and hide! My imperfect body makes me cranky. My imperfect faith makes me scared to die. My imperfect emotions sometimes look like fireworks on the 4Th of July. My imperfect mind likes to stay awake at night reminding me of what an idiot I am – or what a moron someone else is.

Brene’ Brown, in her awesome book, The Gift’s of Imperfection, tells us it’s okay. How is that possible? She says:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness….I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

Brown tells us that the gifts of imperfection are courage, compassion, and connection.

When we have the courage to own our own worthiness, then, and only then, can we reach out to others and use our God-given gifts to make a difference in this broken world we live in. The darkness needs your light. The doubts and fears of your neighbor or coworker need your courage. The hopelessness of the world around you needs to know the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15).

So, there’s your challenge and your call to use the gifts God has given you to take into this broken world! Now is not the time to question or doubt that you are called to serve, that you have anything to offer, that you can make a difference.

NOW is the time to jump!

jump

It doesn’t have to be earth-shattering.  You don’t have to cure cancer or win a Nobel Prize. Just give your lonely widowed neighbor five stinking minutes of your precious time! Smile at a teenager you don’t know and act like you’re not afraid they’ll mug you. Take flowers to that crotchety grocery clerk you’re always judging.

COME OUT OF HIDING!

Because:

If Not Us…Then Who?

O Jesus…

We seek you in places you have already left and fail to see you when you stand before us.

You interrupt our comfort with your nakedness,

touch our possessiveness with your poverty. 

You challenge our smugness. 

You come so we can touch you with our hands,

yet we refuse to touch the hands of those you love most deeply. 

You are at once, sign and hope and stumbling block.

Your persistent call disturbs our settled lives.

May we neither cling to the fear that holds us back,

or refuse to embrace the cost of serving when it is required of us.

O God… 

You drive us into the desert to search out your truth.

You are outrageous hope. 

Help us to abandon our worldly penchant of failing to choose to follow you.

You urge us beyond all reason to love our enemies. 

You disarm our judgment with your radical mercy. 

Stir us to new vision and uncover our injustice and arrogance.

You are gift, you are hope, you are joy meant to be taken to those who sit in darkness. 

If not us…then who will go?