Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You're Better Than That!

“I used to tell your mother: this kid is going to be the best kid in the world. This kid is going to be somebody better than I ever knew. And you grew up good and wonderful; it was great just watching you. Every day was like a privilege. And the time came for you to be a man and to take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know: the world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward—how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth but you gotta be willing to take the hits and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always going to love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son, you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, you’re not going to have a life!”
-Rocky Balboa-

Dad’s, have you ever had this kind of conversation with one of your children? Have you ever wished you had given this speech? Have you ever experienced this kind of conversation when you were a kid? I guess the power of this scene in Rocky Balboa is how it is so easy to insert ourselves in either role as we watch it. Can’t you imagine having to make this speech to your kid? Can’t you imagine needing this speech from one of your parents?

One of the primary metaphors of God we find in the Bible is that of Father. It isn’t quite as pronounced in the Old Testament, but hints of it are there. God is portrayed as a parent who leads his child Israel from Egypt. There is so much promise! So much potential! For forty years in the wilderness, Israel is beginning to learn how to trust God. Israel failed at first. But that generation dies out in the wilderness while a new generation is emerging. They learn to trust God as their father. It’s this generation of Israelites, who were born in the wilderness, who grew up under the direction of Moses—it is this generation who will follow the leadership of Joshua into the Promised Land. They start off so well!

And what happens? Israel forgets. She becomes lazy. She fails to live up to that great beginning! God disciplines Israel, loves Israel, cares for Israel, pledges his everlasting love for Israel…and yet Israel finds one excuse after another to live far below God’s dreams and expectations for Israel. Part of God’s plan for the people of God was they should become the means by which the nations would learn about God, and would even experience his love and goodness. And Israel fails time and again. Israel lives far below her potential. And God says, in essence, “You’re better than that! I’ll always love you because you’re my child…”

In the New Testament the story of Israel continues. I think we sometimes miss this. The New Testament is merely a continuation of the Old. God is working out the plan he began with Abraham. He’s the same Father with the same dream for his children. Now he has opened a way through Jesus—who has become the ultimate picture of Israel to bless all nations. What Israel failed to accomplish, Jesus accomplishes as the Anointed One of Israel—the representative. Through His son, Jesus, he provides a way for all to become his children.

And now God looks out and finds children from the nations. He is constantly looking to find children. And when he does—he has a dream, a vision, for how his children are to grow and mature. In Ephesians 1:15-19, Paul talks about prayer for the Christ-followers in Ephesus. He prays God, the glorious Father, will shine light into the eyes of their hearts so they may know God’s hope for them: the calling they have received. He prays they will recognize the riches he is giving them, and the incredible power he has provided for them to be able to live out this calling.
It basically looks something like this: the hope God has for us, his children is for us to grow up into the life of Jesus. He wants us to imitate God’s character; he wants us to become like Jesus and to live a life of love. We see this same theme running throughout the New Testament. Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John; they all speak of living a life of love. This means we quit living out the prevailing mind-set of our times. Paul describes that kind of mind set as empty thinking, James calls it devilish wisdom. This is where a person gives in to various lusts, anger and malice, greed and pure consumerist thinking. The prevailing mind-set of our times says: forget marriage, enjoy sex without commitment! Forget patience; give full vent to your rage. Forget serving others and living financially disciplined so you can serve: instead, max out your Visa and buy all the latest junk! Spend your life loving things and using people!

Our Father says: “Give all of that up! Live like Jesus! Become a person who is wrapped up in living in the light!” He paints a picture for us: a person who cares for others who don’t have what you have: whether it be money, love, or hope; someone who lives a holy life, a pure life, a committed life. If you love your partner, marry him or her and put your life on the line by making that commitment, instead of just living with him and keeping your options open. Otherwise move out. Live honestly with others. Be kind and compassionate to all people: people of different races, people of different religions and perspectives, people who even don’t believe in God and live like they don’t believe in him!

And when we say: “God I just can’t! It’s too hard! The shadow of Jesus is just too much for me! After all, I’m only human!”
God replies: “Life is difficult and life is hard! Nothing is going to hit you harder than life! But it isn’t how hard you hit, but how you can take the hits and keep on moving forward, no matter what! Don’t give cheap excuses! Don’t blame life or anything else for your failures! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You’re better than that!

Our Father says, “I’m always going to love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son, you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life…but until you start believing—until you start trusting in my vision for you…you’re not going to have a life!”

The beautiful thing about all of this is God, our Father, not only has dreams for us: a vision for how we will grow up—but he has also given us the power to fulfill that dream. In Philippians 1 Paul says: There is no doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears. In Ephesians 3:20, 21 Paul says, God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in you wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us! The question is: are we going to buy into his vision, into his dream enough to stand up and take whatever life throws at us with the determination we are going to live the life of Jesus on Earth: a life of commitment, purity, love, and unselfishness.

Today is Fathers’ Day. What a great day to start living a life that honors the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ; the Father who has adopted us to be his children; the Father who gives us the riches of his grace; the Father who empowers us to grow into the image of his Son.

May you feel the warmth of the Father’s pleasure shining on your heart. My you understand his incredible love. May the eyes of your heart be enlightened so you can know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance, and his incomparably great power for those of us who believe. And may you never give in to self-pity and excuses! May you take the hits life gives and keep moving forward!

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