God’s choice

IMG_1403 For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. – Jesus (Matthew 5:45 ESV)

On our vacation trip, we witnessed this marvelous image somewhere in Arizona.  There is rain and sun originating from one sky.   I imagine many are scrambling to stay dry while others, miles away, are basking in the sunlight. One sky, two perspectives, on source, one God.

Then on our way home, we saw this.

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Rain on the right, rain on the left, smoke from a wildfire in the middle. We prayed the rainclouds would hover over the fire, but as far as we could tell, it never did.

Many questions arise regarding the sovereignty of God. He is powerful enough to create rain, enough rain to flood the entire earth, and certainly enough to douse a fire that is but a tiny candle beneath His feet.  Yet he does not. Not this time.  We believe He's powerful. We believe He's good. We know He's good because these rain clouds are healing someones parched land. We don't know what good, if any, this fire is accomplishing. So far in the distance, we are unable to know if someone is losing their home, their memories. We don't know if a farmer is losing his crop, his business. We also don't know if this fire is sweeping away an unknown pestilence which brings longer term grief. 

We're confident this fire-ravaged land was once the recipient of healing rainwater and sunlight and perhaps the rain soaked land itself once experienced flames.  In this life we may never know what God is accomplishing with this rain and fire.  For eternity, the echoes of "where were you?" might ring as an incessant salve to our souls.  But denying His supreme sovereignty on this side, without the benefit of His vision, is not an option.  Thankfully, mercifully,  I don't have to choose between his sovereignty and His love.  I don't have to choose how God's will is accomplished.  It's God's choice. His alone.

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Primed for Growth

Painting-a-room-toutx About a month ago my wife asked me to paint the bathroom.  I did not disagree with this notion as the unattractive wallpaper that had been there since we moved in 14 years ago was beginning to peel and reveal an even uglier wallpaper underneath.  The bathroom is small so I figured that it was time to "knock it out" in a couple of days.  As most of my friends know, I am not a painter.  I don't have the patience required and usually hire the job out to the professionals.  This time, however, I decided it was time to take matter into my own hands. I was going to do this! 

I soon discovered that very few home projects are as simple as slapping paint on the walls.  I had to research what to do with the wallpaper.  It came down to a choice between peeling it off or painting over it.  Either way, neither option can be done easily in a couple minutes. Once I started the process of painting this bathroom, I learned very quickly that this was not going to happen overnight.  I discovered that it takes oil based primer to seal the wallpaper from the wet joint compound we were going to apply to the wall.   I also learned that I needed a water based latex primer to go on top of the texturized compound so that the paint would not be absorbed by the compound and lose it's sheen.  It's the sheen of the paint that makes the wall look beautiful in the end and while I hate all the steps involved in painting a wall, I know that they are important in achieving the look I want.

This experience is such a parallel to the spiritual journey God has me on right now.  I know God brought me and my family to The Village Church for a very important purpose.  I am his project. 

God understands what it takes to create His likeness in a human soul.  He did not leave it up to me to complete this project.  The natural response is to slap paint on the walls of my soul with religiosity and good works and bypass the necessary steps.  Let's face it, primer and joint compound are boring. Paint is exciting!  No one goes to the home improvement store to "pick' out their primer.  When we choose paint, we  are choosing color.  We are looking for fresh, new, and exciting.  It is the paint that catches our eye and stirs our senses when we walk in to a freshly painted room.  But as professionals will tell you, every element beneath the paint has a big impact on how the paint adheres and how it ultimately looks. 

The Christian faith is very much like painting a room, but our fallen nature would prefer to bypass the gospel primer and exchange it for the sheen of self-help.  We want to have stronger marriages and manage our finances better, but as my pastor Matt Chandler has said, "We want his stuff, but not Him."  Very few are interested in the foundational work that must be done.  No one wants their ugliness exposed and peeled away.  No one really wants to pay the price of reconciliation and repentance.  They want pure hearts but are not willing to let the surgeon's scalpel circumcise their hearts. In short, most people do not want the gospel. 

There is no shortcut to being conformed to the image of Christ.  There is peeling, scraping, and priming before that coat of paint is ever applied.  The Cross is the joint compound, the Gospel is the primer, and the painter is God Himself.

What I don’t know CAN hurt me!

IgnorantCancer is frightening!   It's often been said that the mere mention of the word in the context of a doctor's visit will sap the strength of the patient in knee-buckling fashion.  Why does the word have such a fearful effect?  The answer is simple if not obvious. It's because of knowledge.  It's because of the knowledge that informs us that this deadly disease has taken the lives of friends and family, and because we know about the destructive nature of cancer cells on the body.  A diagnosis of cancer strikes fear in us because our mortality is presented to us in an untimely and inhospitable manner, and because we know it breeds fear in the minds of our worried families.  The diagnosis of cancer is a knowledge I pray never to possess, yet it is one I need to possess if ever I am stricken by the disease.

The Remedy

Cancer is one of the many difficulties of our physical world!  But it also provides a striking parallel to the great difficulty of the spiritual world, namely the disease of sin.

The fundamental difference between cancer and sin is simple.  Not everyone will be diagnosed with cancer, but every living human has been already been diagnosed with the spiritual disease of sin.  (Romans 5:12 Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death
through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned; Romans 3:23 "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God")

The similarities, however, are astounding.  Both destroy life, usually in incremental stages, and can exist undetected for long periods of time.  They also have remedies with one major difference.  The treatments for cancer don't always work, but the remedy for sin is guaranteed and unfailing!  Cancer treatment usually consists of strong doses of chemicals or radiation, whereas the treatment for sin is an application of the Gospel!   Interestingly, knowledge is the common denominator in this parallel.  You have no chance to defeat cancer without applying the methods of treatment.  Moreover, you will not accept the treatment without some basis of knowledge to its effectiveness.  For example, if someone told you the way to get rid of your cancer was by sticking your finger in a light socket, you certainly wouldn't follow their advice.  Why?  Because there is no basis of knowledge to support such a crazy theory!  If there were, Oncologists everywhere would be writing prescriptions for electrocution to their patients.  Instead, thousands of people each year are submitting to chemotherapy and radiation as proven methods of fighting cancer. Why?  Because there is a basis of knowledge to support their limited but proven effectiveness. 

The same is true of the Gospel!  The Gospel is knowledge, more specifically, "good news".  It is truly a miraculous reality that this knowledge is God's prescribed means to cure sin and all its hopelessness!  Let me be careful to note that is not just "any" knowledge! It is Gospel Knowledge!  

Where's the Knowledge?

In the past 200 years, the Bible has been relegated by the western world as "lacking knowledge" while science and mathematics are viewed as reliable sources of knowledge.  In our postmodern world, Christianity is considered one of many options in determining  how to live your life, but not as the basis of knowledge for how everyone should live their lives!

What if the medical community adopted this stance of knowledge? What if published medical journals heralded the freedoms of choosing any method of treatment you prefer to fight cancer, even if it did involve light sockets!  As thousands died because the treatment they preferred didn't work, there would be an uprising in this country to revolutionize the practice of medicine with a demand for a real basis of knowledge in the treatment of diseases!   Why? Because knowledge is essential to everything whether it be physical or spiritual.

Reclaiming Knowledge

As the church, we have retreated from our right standing as truth bearers when we separate faith from knowledge as if they were opposites. Actually, there is no such thing as faith apart from knowledge.  Although the Bible tells us that faith "is in that which is unseen", it never extracts knowledge from the equation.  While it is true that we have to exercise faith without knowing all the specifics involved, it is still based on a knowledge that God is who He has revealed Himself to be, and that we are not who we would like to be.   When the scriptures tell us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God", it is proclaiming the necessity of knowledge.  In other words, you can not have faith, much less a faith to overcome sin, unless you receive knowledge, namely, the Gospel! While the medical community would never sit put while thousands of people tried to cure their own cancer with their own preferred treatments, the church should not remain silent about what the gospel is and its necessity for the healing of the soul!   The lost are telling us that their lives would be better if we would just help them with their immediate felt needs, and we are obliging them by giving them what they prefer, not what they need.  We think we are loving them, but in fact we are not.  Perhaps driven by our need to eradicate legalistic approaches to evangelism, we have thrown the baby out with the bath water.  Like the western world, with our actions and even our words, we have proclaimed that truth is relative and we can not be depended upon as a reliable source of knowledge!  Does knowledge puff up? Yes!  So let's get rid of the pride, not the knowledge!

Deep beneath the surface, the world has rejected the gospel not because its failure as a reliable source of knowledge.  It is because a gospel accepted as knowledge, is one that must be submitted to!  (We see this evidenced in Islamic nations which recognize the Koran as the basis of knowledge and they respond accordingly.  Their whole way of life, though misguided, is a result in their perception of their religion as a reliable basis of knowledge.) 

The best way to evade submission to truth, as the world has demonstrated, is to discredit the source of truth.  This is certainly seen in the way of politics with the use of mud-slinging and thorough investigations of the private affairs of politicians.  In the political arena, if a man or woman can be made to look incompetent or immoral, then great damage is done to any truth they represent.  Likewise Christianity has been demoted from its once  authoritative perch of knowledge to a lower realm of entertainment, hobbies, and philosophies which are by nature subjective. 

In response to this demotion, has the church to some degree ceased to be truth-bearers (light and salt)?  In our zeal to attract unbelievers, have we have hidden the knowledge (Gospel) from those who need it? Have we have actually hidden the knowledge of the gospel in our attempts to soften it which ends up being a powerless gospel or no gospel at all? 

The Treatment Hurts then Heals

When it comes to cancer,  it's often been said that the treatment is worse than the disease, but the implication is that one feels sicker from the effects of the treatment than from the actual invasion or metastasizing.  In reality, if the treatments were worse than the disease, then no one would seek treatment.  We have seen cases where people refuse treatment because of its nauseating effects and tragically underestimate the seriousness of the disease.  Essentially, they have refused to act accordingly to the proven knowledge that various treatments can often eradicate cancer or send it into remission.

The intended natural effects of the knowledge of the Gospel will make us feel worse than the actual sickness of sin which is itself pleasurable for a season.  When we receive this dose of knowledge, we are sapped of our strength as our hearts buckle beneath the weighty revelation of our fatal condition, but then a remedy is offered in another dose of knowledge!  This gospel remedies our condition with the revelation that God has accepted us on the basis of Christ's righteousness!  Our malignancy turns benign in relation to the wrath of God and although we need lifelong gospel treatments of tumor shrinking, we rest in the knowledge that God has redeemed us and restored us to eternal wholeness!