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.

Good News is Good Food

I confess, I eat too much fast food.  You know you eat out too much when you refer to your meals as numbers.  What can I say? I love a good Whataburger, medium fries, and large coke!  In spite of my lunchtime vice, I still prefer a home-cooked meal!  During football season we eat at home on most Sundays.  My wife will put in a roast with potatoes in the oven, smothered in tomato sauce and spices, and as soon as we get home from church I can already smell it before I open the front door! 

Like most people, I love food! After all, it’s my primary source of life sustenance along with air and water.   I even love a good deli sandwich with fresh smoked ham!  However, the meat has to be fresh because I am  paranoid when it comes to ham or any other meat in the fridge.  I always smell it before I blindly put in on a slice of bread and chow down.  Why?  Because one time I took a bite of a spoiled ham sandwich, and it didn’t even make it past my tongue!  The sandwich retreated the other direction before it had the chance to invade my stomach with it’s bacterial poison!

All this talk of food reminds of 3 gospels:  The Fast-food gospel, the Spoiled Ham gospel, and the home-cooked gospel. 

Allow me to start with the Spoiled Ham Gospel.  I want to start here, because this was my first introduction to any kind of gospel.  Having grown up in a legalistic church environment, I was subjected to many repulsive gospel presentations.  Now, that’s not to say I didn’t hear the gospel growing up at all.  It’s just that the great majority of presentations were what Martyn Lloyd-Jones calls "appeals to the will".  An appeal to the will sermon is when the preacher attempts to "get you saved" by telling you to do certain things while refraining from doing certain things.  It is classic life-crushing legalism.  It is not a Biblical gospel, it’s Pharisaical at best.  There’s just enough truth to keep you hooked, and more than enough lies to crush your spirit. If you spend 20 years immersed in the spoiled ham gospel as I was, you know that it takes at least that long to shake your soul of its asbestos!  The Biblical gospel eradicates this poison with the truth that I am, by nature, unacceptable to God because of my sin, but it doesn’t leave me to die in my sin, it offers the solution which is the perfect atonement of Christ!  The Biblical gospel leaves me with no doubt that there is nothing to do on my part. The spoiled ham gospel will say you can’t earn salvation yet demands that you try anyway! Depressing. I’ve come to realize that you can’t reach people with a gospel that harps on behavior.  Ideally it sounds wonderful, but realistically it’s spiritually impossible!

One might wonder why people who are brought up this way don’t immediately escape from it.   Why not spit it out like spoiled meat?  I contend that if someone has never tasted fresh deli ham, they are unaware of it’s taint.   What makes spoiled meat so repulsive is the knowledge one has that this is not the way it is supposed to taste.  Having grown up in fundamentalism, I didn’t realize completely what the gospel was because I was rarely presented a gospel message that was complete in itself. A complete gospel will serve two purposes, revealing our soul to ourselves, and revealing God to our souls!  If the message we hear doesn’t accomplish this it’s not really good news in the long run.

Then there is the Fast-Food Gospel.  I like fast-food because, well, it’s fast!   Today, I was amazed at how fast I walked out of a
local sandwich shop as the sub was literally wrapped and ready
before I signed my debit card receipt!  You know what else?  Fast-food tastes good!  Fast food is
fast, convenient, and delicious! I like it because it satisfies an
immediate hunger. Consumers by nature love immediate results.  This is why we gravitate so closely to the Fast-food gospel.  This gospel is the basic knee-jerk reaction to the Spoiled Ham Gospel.  I suspect that those who preach this message probably came from the same background I did.  They understood the first gospel as a life-crushing proposition, so they responded with something more palatable.  In order not to offend unbelievers, they devised a gospel that was no longer offensive.  The problem here is that the Bible tells us that the gospel is offensive to the lost. (Jeremiah 6:10)  It offends primarily because it leaves us with nothing to do and that drives us crazy!  It offends because it asks us to receive grace and simply be grateful.   That really is good news, but human nature doesn’t think so!

This gospel is being served in our modern day evangelical church.  It is sometimes linked to prosperity with claims that God wants to make you rich if you’ll only be more faithful.  But it’s not limited to financial prosperity.  Ironically, even those who denounce this gospel end up preaching the same gospel anyway.  Except this time it’s not wealth, but well-being.  Instead of emphasizing the object of faith (Christ’s work on the Cross), it is the individual’s faith that is exemplified!  There’s little mentioned about the characteristics of a divine grace which extends itself to undeserving sinners who will never seek after God (although they’re referred to as "seekers" which is a less offensive replacement).  This gospel tastes good, but it is dangerous to the soul!  In McDonald’s like fashion, it is mass produced for a consumer audience.  Powered by this marketing engine, it is presented in the form of "being a better you" which can be equated with desirable goals such as being a better parent, spouse, and manager of money.  Of course, these are all things we should desire and Christians should seek to glorify God in these ordained positions of father/mother, husband/wife, and steward.  However, being a better you is not our essential spiritual need.  Our biggest need is not improved behavior in various areas of life!  Our biggest need rests in our souls and only God truly knows its condition. It is our own depravity that keeps us from seeing the true condition of our souls!  This is why we need the Gospel!  There is nothing inherently evil about fast food, but the realization will arrive some day that all of these years of gorging fries and quarter pounders produced an undesirable effect to your physical health.  The same is true of a fast-food gospel.  You will come to a realization that despite all of the good, "Christianizing" information you received over the years, that something is still amiss!  It is something in the depths of your soul! A Fast-food gospel will provide no lasting nourishment for your soul.  That’s not to say that it won’t satisfy your short term hunger.  That’s not to say it won’t taste great! But just as Jesus scolded the religious right of his day by pointing out to them that they spend all their time cleaning the outside of the cup while the inside smells wretched, that’s exactly what certain gospel presentations do.  They work on the outside of the vessel, and leave the inside totally unchanged!   So in an attempt to counter the legalistic tendencies of the spoiled meat gospel, the fast-food gospel has introduced a new form of legalism.  Both gospels appeal to the self and crowd out the gospel of grace!

Finally, there’s the Home-Cooked Gospel.  Home cooked meals just taste better, and even the unhealthiest ones are better for you than the average fast food meal or at least seems like it.  It’s certainly better than a spoiled ham sandwich. A meal like this is fulfilling because you realize the preparation involved.  There’s the carefully selected ingredients, the right mix of spices, and slow cooked in the oven at just the right temperature for the exact amount of time.  Finally, you sit down at the table surrounded by family and friends as you share your lives for this brief period of dining pleasure! 

The Home-cooked Gospel is the only message that satisfies the soul.  It doesn’t strong arm you into impossible expectations and it doesn’t promise a life without suffering.  As a matter of fact, the home-cooked gospel promises that there will be suffering in this life.  ‘But doesn’t Christian life promise peace and joy‘ you ask?  Yes, but it is peace and joy for your soul, not your flesh.  This is where prosperity gospel is so dangerous.  It confuses the state of the soul with the desires of the flesh.  The Apostle Paul knew the difference! This is why he was able to sing praises to God while in prison.  This is why "to live is Christ, to die is gain" was his sustaining mantra!  No one realized the gospel as strongly as Paul.  The self-acclaimed chiefest of sinners knew exactly what the gospel was in its fulness, and exactly how deep it went to raise him up to his new life! 

We as ministers of the Gospel have a simple but important responsibility.  We are commanded to preach the gospel.  There is faith involved in doing this simple task.  The faith is in the Word of God and it’s claim of power.  The faith is in the Holy Spirit to convict and penetrate hearts.  There’s no need to spin it, take the edge of it, or make it more relevant.  The gospel is relevant all by itself.  More than anything, I desire for people to receive Christ, but it has to happen by his prescribed way of gospel preaching and the work of the Holy Spirit! 

As individuals, we must focus on the fact that God has done all of the necessary work and we have but one response.  We are to receive it!  No morality to achieve, no work to do, nothing more.  He’s prepared the meal and has invited us to sit at his table and eat!