Is God still good if I get cancer?

cancer

I have been contemplating my own mortality a fair amount lately. You know, the “Is God still good if I get cancer?” kind of question. We romantics think these situations will lead us to our greatest moment of faith and glorification of God until the first unfavorable medical report sends us into a tailspin of fear, doubt and disgrace revealing our faith to be a show that we put on for others and not a deep and true dependence on God for our sustenance and satisfaction.

Is God still good if I get cancer? Is God still good if my spouse dies? Or worse yet, leaves me? Is God still good if my child gets cancer? Or rebels and abandons the faith? Is God still good if I lose my job? Or my house? Or anything else I am holding on to?

The academic says, “Yes! God’s goodness is not dependent or determined by my pleasure, comfort or health.” The false prophet says, “If you suffer any of those things, it is because you have sinned and/or do not have enough faith”.  And the appeaser (and one who does not deal with trials on a deep, heart level) says, “Everything happens for a reason, just trust God.”

Yes. We know that “God causes all things to work together for good for them that love the Lord” (Rom 8.28).

But last night I sat at the airport for a couple of hours waiting on a delayed flight and sat another hour in the plane, on the runway, waiting for the weather to clear enough for our takeoff – chewing on this very topic. The storm clouds parted long enough for us to zip through to our detoured route which in theory would allow us to avoid the storms hammering much of the West, and we finally took off. The plane began bouncing wildly before we even left the ground and as we started to climb in elevation my contemplation of a drawn out death via sickness quickly turned to a quick demise via falling. From the sky. How strong does the wind have to be to make that massive steel wing bounce like a giant sling shot released from a child’s grip? Having been miraculously freed from the fear of flying a few years ago (you can read that story here), I never felt the terror of the act of dying if our plane crashed, but my stomach responded as it was designed to in the act of free falling.

Is God still good if my plane crashes?

What is the core of your faith? Do you exist to love God and enjoy Him forever? Or do you exist for God to make your life comfortable while you are here on the Earth? If you exist to know God, to love Him and enjoy Him forever, then what is death other than the gateway leading us from a life of suffering to an eternity of being with the one we love and desire?

But that complete abandon is a difficult place to live continually. We have responsibilities after all! A spouse, children, a job, a ministry, goals. And Scripture tells us that there is a time to mourn. If you are the most spiritually mature Christian, you will understand that children are a blessing from the Lord. They are not yours, but they are God’s and He has appointed you as steward over them for a season. You will love them perfectly as God loves and nourishes the Church. You will discipline them wisely, and teach them how to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of God. But if one is killed in a car accident, you will mourn. There will be a season of grief. Yes, you might find wonderful peace and comfort in the knowledge of his salvation and eternal resting with the God of the universe, but you will still miss his face, his laughter, his presence and you will grieve the loss.

Is the answer, “Everything happens for a reason” the best answer in such a circumstance?

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

– Rom 12.15

Yes. Academically we understand that we must take our doubts and fears captive and fight them with Scripture: with Truth. God is good. His plan is perfect. We will all die, and He will give us the grace we need in the moment. God’s goodness is not contingent upon our happiness, and often times we learn the most in moments of trial, struggle, pain or confusion.

No, our trials are not judgment or condemnation for sin or a lack of faith. When we are forgiven, when we are covered by the blood of Christ, when we are made new and found in Him,

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

But we are real people and pain hurts. We must remember that pain hurts. Paul encourages the church at Rome to not approach someone who just found out that he has terminal cancer with a blasé “everything happens for a reason” and try to fix the situation or force the sufferer to get over it. Paul taught that very truth four chapters earlier and assumes that the church members already have a solid understanding of it.  The one grieving knows that God works all things out for good. Instead he says, “Go cry with them”. Be silent. Feel their grief, pain or heartache. Trust God to instill His truth that they already know as their sustaining hope.

It is if we get to the point of questioning God’s goodness that we need to worry. Why? Because by asking the very question we are blaming God. Yes, God is in sovereign control of every breath you take, and every breath your child takes – or does not take. Yes, God is in control of sickness, disease, terrorists, and falling planes. But if we allow our hurt, pain and confusion to turn into blame and anger towards God, then at the core we do not believe that eternity is the goal. We believe that happiness on Earth is the goal, and we do not love God – merely his benefits.

What is your goal? Think about it. We need to have right thinking before the trials come because the emotion of the moment will cloud our minds, and those truths need to be established deeply in our hearts and minds to stand the test of grief, sorrow and loss. And when that moment comes, when you hear the sentence: “three months left”, and fear, panic, grief or anger hits you, you can grieve well. We will all grieve. We will all suffer. We will all hurt. We will all die.  Let’s do it well.

“Concerning [the thorn in the flesh] I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

– 2 Cor 12.8-10

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Can babies sin?

I lived for four years in a country that believed that children are incapable of sinning until they reach the age of 13.  At that point a child is an adult.  If male, he is circumcised, if female she is of legal marriage age.  At thirteen one becomes responsible for his actions before God, and thus children are often allowed to act however they want, with minimal discipline.

Here in the United States, we typically do not consider a child morally neutral until their teen years, but by accepting our culture’s premises we often believe that children are born inherently good, and if we give them the option they will usually choose the moral high ground.  Wrapped up in this conundrum is the Christian question of the age of accountability.  Is there one?  At what point does a child know that he is disobeying and therefore accountable, morally, to his decision?

If you are a parent, you know that your child willfully chose defiance well before he or she was able to speak, and if you discipline then you probably slapped some infant fingers.  Have you seen this video?  It is hilarious, but informative all at once:

I do not know the age of these children, but they are quite small.  They know that they are supposed to be napping, but instead one tempts the other and they both disobey by playing.  Suddenly their father walks through the door and they both drop like flies, pretending to be sleeping.

Did their parents have to teach them to disobey?  Or to cover up their disobedience through deception?  I am confident that these children can not yet talk, but they are cognitively aware of the expectation, their choice to rebel and their desire to cover up their disobedience!

So the question is, are they sinning?  Is there an age of innocence where they are not held responsible for their willful choices?

The Bible is strangely silent on the subject.  If you check your concordance for the “age of accountability”, it is not there.  All that we do know is that the Bible makes it extremely clear that we are all born with a sinful nature.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.

 – Ps 51.5

David says that we were conceived in sin.  He was not saying that his mother got pregnant out of wedlock, or from an affair.  We know that David was the youngest of many brothers from an intact family.  What he meant was that from the very moment of conception he had sin in his heart.  He was wicked.  He was confessing both his sinful acts and the fact that he was helplessly sinful and incapable of changing his nature on his own.

When Adam was created, he was made with a nature that was like God’s in the sense that he thought he could be his own god.  This is the sinful nature:  a nature that chooses to glorify self and do whatever it wants, instead of obeying what God wants.  Thus, when Adam gave in to temptation, he sinned the first time and when that first rule was broken, death entered the world as the punishment.  And because of Adam’s disobedience, we are all born guilty.

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.

 – 1 Cor 15.21-22

Romans is a meaty book that you really need to study in it’s entirety to grasp the depths of the arguments made, but part of the stream of logic is that Adam made everyone guilty for sin, and in the same way, Jesus made redemption possible for everyone by dying.  Adam was a type of Jesus.  The bad type.  He brought death to everyone.  Jesus offers life to everyone:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

 – Rom 5.12

So it is our nature to sin.  We sin because we are sinners.  Can babies sin?  Yes.  They can.  And they do.  And unfortunately, everyone who has ever raised a child can attest to the fact that children never had to be taught how to lie, to bite, to steal, to be selfish, to whine or to disobey, but they did have to be disciplined and taught how to tell the truth, be kind, share, listen and behave.

Is there, then, a season of grace for these sinners who do not even yet have a vocabulary to understand the Gospel message?  As I said earlier, the Scripture is silent on the topic, and it is extremely dangerous to build any belief system on logic around the silence.  What we can know, however, is that God is good and He is trustworthy, and when we love Him we must ultimately be concerned about His glory and honor and we must trust that He will do what is right.

Have you lost a baby to miscarriage or tragedy?  Know that you can trust God to do what is right (Gen 18.25).

Mile 3 is always the hardest.

exhaustion

Running.  I love to run.  My dad thinks running is boring, but I love to set a goal, work hard, and crush it.  I’m only weeks away from another half marathon, and have been reflecting on the parallels of running to Spiritual life each week as I set out on my long runs.  Our bodies fluctuate a lot, and our stamina is easily affected by diet, rest, the weather, sickness and many, many other factors.  But one thing I have started to notice about myself is that mile three is always my slowest mile.  On Monday I ran nine miles, and mile three was my slowest by fifteen seconds.  Today I ran four miles and mile three was my slowest by fifteen seconds.

Most runners agree that running is predominantly mental.  Some experts say that once you can physically run three miles you can run anything.  Some say five, some say ten.  But most agree that once your body is physically capable of running a certain distance, it is up to your brain to keep you going.  This has certainly been my experience!  If I set out for a four mile run, I am tired and ready to quit after three.  If I set out for a nine mile run, I am tired and ready to quit at eight.  But every time I run, I hit a wall right around the two-ish mile mark and it lasts until the three-ish mile mark.  For those eight and a half minutes I hate running, I wonder what in the world I am doing, my tendinitis threatens to flare up, I feel like I’m not breathing well and I want to take a break.  Once I get past three, I break through my wall and can run forever.  Unless, of course, it is a four mile run, then I’m ready to quit!  But if I give in to the three-mile wall, the rest of the run is ruined; I let myself take more breaks, I may find a shortcut home, and I never hit my groove.

Yes.  Mile three is my nemesis.

Today as I listened to mapmyrun tell me how slow my third mile was, I thought about that first major trial that we all must encounter which puts our faith to the test.  When we come to faith, there is a honeymoon season, or a season of infancy.  Miles 1-2.  Some people around the world are in situations where coming to faith requires counting the cost, being ready and willing to surrender their lives for the sake of salvation, but even there the moment of meeting Christ, being freed the bondage of sin, being forgiven for a lifetime of rebellion, and communing with the Spirit for the first time is an inexplicable pleasure.  The joy of the Lord infiltrates our lives and gives us His peace and we are read to take on a lifetime of faith.

And then it happens.  Mile 3.  A believer that we knew and respected abandons the faith.  A child rebels and breaks our hearts.  A house fire wipes out all of our earthly possessions.  A car accident leaves us permanently disabled.  We get cancer.  How we handle mile 3 will set the pace for the rest of our journeys of faith.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

– Matt 7.24-27

The rains will come.  The floods will rise.  The promise of the Gospel is not that we will never have hardships, it is that God will sustain us through them – to His glory and to our eternal good.  If we build our lives upon the promises of Scripture, that God has forgiven us our sins, that He is preparing for us an eternal dwelling place, that He will provide us with abundant life both here and in eternity, and if we love Him and His glory alone, then we will have the strength and the fortitude to withstand the storm.  If we misunderstand the promises, if we think that faith guarantees an easy and happy life, if we expect God to cater to our desires, or if we simply do not trust Him and His plan, then we will fall.

And the destruction will be great.

Storms of life will come.  And not only that, but we are promised that:

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

– 2 Tim 3.12

Jesus called those who come to faith, but who get distracted by the pleasures of the world the seed planted amongst thorn bushes, and He calls those who fall away because of suffering those who grow up in rocky soil.  Is your heart rocky soil?  The plants die, the faith dies, because there is no depth of root.  There is no understanding of the nature of God and His promises.  The thorny soil leads to plants that cannot get enough light, or are choked out by a parasitic plant that suffocates and kills by wrapping around it – like ivy.  Is there a preoccupation or desire that is suffocating your faith?  Is it your job?  Your toys?  Your family?

When mile three hits it is normal to question everything.  How could a loving God allow this to happen to me?  I am a good person!  I do not deserve this!  I made all of the right choices!  I have been obedient!  But God is faithful and will give you the stamina to push through.

Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

– Is 40.31

And the first time you push through mile three to feel the joy and stamina of mile four kick in, you can go on forever.  Until, of course, you twist your first ankle, trip and fall, or get rained out.  But I, personally, feel particularly hard core when I push through the rain.

You will hit mile three every run.  There will be an occasional day here and there when you feel awesome, run an amazing pace and mile three is less difficult than normal, and there are also days when every single run your legs will feel like they each weigh 100 lbs and every step is a battle.  Mile three will hurt.  The encouraging factor is that once you push through mile three the first time, you will trust God’s provision to get through it the next time.  And even though it hurts, you are tired and you want to quit, every mile four builds up your confidence that mile three is conquerable.

Have you hit your first mile three?  Have you pushed through your first mile three?  Wait on the Lord, He will provide new strength.  He will sustain you through it, and there will come a point where you hit your groove and can run forever.

…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.13

He will work it out.  Just ask Him.  He says that we do not have because we do not ask, so let’s start taking Him at His word, and asking Him to come through on the promises!  And keep on keeping on!

Is Jesus for real?

doubt

There is a song by Nickel Creek that has grabbed my attention these last few months.  It is called, “Doubting Thomas”, and these are the lyrics:

What will be left when I’ve drawn my last breath
Besides the folks I’ve met and the folks who’ve known me
Will I discover a soul-saving love
Or just the dirt above and below me

Sometimes I pray for a slap in the face
Then I beg to be spared cause I’m a coward
If there’s a master of death
I bet he’s holding his breath
As I show the blind and tell the deaf about his power

Can I be used to help others find truth
When I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie
Can I be led down a trail dropping bread crumbs
That prove I’m not ready to die

Please give me time to decipher the signs
Please forgive me for time that I’ve wasted

I’m a doubting Thomas
I’ll take your promise
Though I know nothin’s safe
Oh me of little faith

Do you ever doubt?  Does your faith ever feel like a mental somersault or have you ever wondered if you can know for sure, like really know that Jesus is alive?  That you have a “relationship” with Him?  That your sins are forgiven and you can spend eternity with Him and not in Hell?

Doubting is normal.  We live amongst a generation of  people who were brought up in the Church and made professions of faith when they were five to seven years old, and they do not even fully remember the occasion.  I remember the day, vaguely, and remember praying with my mother, but I do remember “being made a new creation” (2 Cor 5.17).

Many people who come to faith later in life have a dramatic interaction with God.  They are broken, they know their sin and sinfulness, they know the habits and wickedness within their hearts on deep, intimate levels, and when Jesus comes on the scene they know this to be true of them:

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

 – 2 Cor 5.17

An apologist (or one who remembers vividly his life without Christ) would argue, “You cannot become a new creature and not know it”.  But those of us who have been on a progressive growth of faith throughout our entire lifetimes may not have such conviction, simply because we do not remember well a season of being without God – of being Spiritually dead.

If you doubt, know that you are in good company.  There was a man who walked the Earth, of whom Jesus Himself said there is none greater.  This man was a prophet, He was bold, and His character was so strong and dynamic that people thought Jesus was him, raised from the dead.  His name was John the Baptist.  He functioned as the promised Elijah, the forerunner for Jesus who prepared the way, and yet at the end of his life, this man whom Jesus considered the greatest ever, sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one?”

Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?”

 – Luke 7.19

The Jewish people were awaiting a Messiah – someone to free them politically from their oppression – and John was sent as the forerunner for this promised one.  We learn that the Jewish hope was wrong, that Jesus’ ultimate goal was to bring Spiritual salvation and restoration for both the Jews and the whole world, but Scripture teaches that Jesus was that Messiah, John was the one given the role to pave the way for Him, and even John doubted that Jesus was for real.

But do you know what Jesus’ response was?

At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind.  And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.  Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

 – Luke 7.21-23

Jesus did not condemn John for doubting.  Instead He preformed miraculous signs – exerting His power over sickness and evil spirits – and He then affirmed that His miracles are the fulfillment of Scripture.  He encouraged John.  And it was after this interaction that Jesus said of John,

“I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

 – Luke 7.28

What is it that causes us to doubt?  There can be any number of reasons:  a misunderstanding of the promises of God, a lack of feeling or emotion when thinking, reading the Bible or praying, or even just an overall wonder at the miraculous nature of the story of Jesus.  If you believe that “everything happens for a reason” and “God works everything together for good”, you may doubt in seasons of struggles, sickness and hardships.  If you think that being made a new creature means that you will be emotionally and Spiritually aware of Jesus at all times, you might be tempted to throw it all away when you just plow through the mundane, forget to pray and do not feel Spiritually invigorated.

If you doubt the historicity of the Gospel, research the facts.  There is no ancient manuscript as well preserved and documented as the Bible.  Not even close, in fact.  The age, the accuracy of primary sources, and the numbers of ancient copies outnumbers every single other work of antiquity.  If you believe that Christopher Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue in 1492, you have to believe the Bible.  If you “know” any ancient history, then you know the history as presented in the Bible and the validity of the life of Jesus Christ.

If you doubt Him in your own personal life, then I would encourage you to simply pray this, “God, make yourself real to me.”  Faith is not emotion based or centered.  God will interact with you on emotional levels at times.  There will be experiences where you are overwhelmed by the feeling of gratitude, joy and love, but those extreme emotions are not constant.  When you repent and come to God for salvation, He adopts you as His child and sometimes kids do stupid stuff.  Sometimes kids forget what family they belong to.  Sometimes kids doubt their parents’ affection, provision or love.  And kids are not their parents’ kids because they feel it.  They simply are.  It is a fact.

So how can you be sure?

Have you repented?  Are you trusting in the promises of God of a future hope in eternity?  Do you believe God to be true and His word to be authoritative?  Even if not, are you willing to pray,

“I do believe; help my unbelief.”

 – Mark 9.24

There is no quick and easy step to cure doubt.  But you can fight it.  If you have chosen to follow God, you can take your thoughts captive and fight if with Scripture and His promises.  If you are too far down the path of doubt, then simply cry out to Him to affirm you and Himself.  He is your father.  He is a good father.  And He will comfort your wondering soul.  Just ask Him.

You do not have because you do not ask.

 – James 4.2

The vanity of home ownership

Americandream

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live and serve overseas.  I have never desired in my heart that American Dream that can be ingrained in us so easily.  But God’s ways are remarkably interesting, and I have found myself living in Denver, CO for the last year and a half of my life.  I have met a man, fallen in love and we are getting married one week from today.  Even though we plan to pursue international service after a year or so of marriage, we decided to buy a home.  Our hopes are that we can have it available for people who need it while we are international.

But we bought a foreclosure that was uninhabitable.  Having very limited funds, we have been working on it ourselves and it is sucking away our time and energy.  And as I fall into bed exhausted every night, one of Jesus’ teachings echoes continually in my ears:

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.  And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’  Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”  And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

– Luke 12.16-23

“You fool.”  I feel foolish.  I have friends who are hurting, there is a world full of lost people who are dying and going to Hell, and yet I spend my every waking moment working my job and then working on a temporal house.  I am pouring my money into something that will someday be destroyed.  “A house is never finished”, right?  Well, I cannot even cook in my house yet, so I am not sure it can even be classified as a house.

Life is more than food, the body more than clothing, and I want to add, living more than a house.  We need shelter.  We need protection from the elements, and a place to raise a family.  Wherever you live – in the United States or abroad, you will most likely pursue a place to settle.  Jesus never did, however.  But especially if you choose to have a family, you are mandated by Scripture to provide for and care for that family.

But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

– 1 Tim 5.8

But the issue is our hearts.  Where our hearts are, there our treasure is also (Matt 6.21).  Is your house, apartment or condo your treasure?  Or is it a means by which you care for your family, care for those in need around you and serve the Lord?  Does your house validate you?  Or is it a gift from God to you that you take care of and steward?  Do you use your bonuses and raise to add frivolity to your house, car, to buy more toys?  Or do you set a cap on your living and spending so that you can invest in the kingdom of God?

We are not promised tomorrow.  Life is a vapor that is here and then gone.  How will you choose to spend your time, energy and finances?  Are you pursuing the American dream?  Or are you making the most of every moment, with an eternal focus?  Vanity of vanities.  Everything is vanity, except those things that will last on in eternity (Ecc 1.2).

We were darkness.

What do you believe about yourself?  Are you a “basically good person”?  Our culture has made true faith a difficult thing to cultivate amidst our narcissism.  Consumer-based hedonistic morally blasé societies do not facilitate introspection or examination, but glorify differences and dispositions as leverage for uniqueness and attention.  We all need the new Iphone 6.  My neighbor has it, and I don’t want to be left with my old, crappy Iphone 5.  The 6 will make me happy.  It’ll take better pictures so I can upload them to instagram and facebook to make everyone believe that my life is the best and most interesting.  What’s that?  You have an open marriage?  You are so advanced in your thinking!  Good for you for not being closed minded.

We thrive on change.  The industrial revolution has forever marked our world as “progressive” and the rate at which we throw away traditions of old is now multiple times per generation.

Some change is good.  Some change is Biblical.  But to build the foundation of openness (or need) to change on the cornerstone of blanket acceptance and validation squarely disputes the Gospel.

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”

– Eph 5.6-10

Apart from Christ, Paul says that we were darkness.  We were not good people roaming around lost in the darkness.  We were not people affected by an outside disease of darkness or sin.  We. Were. Darkness.  Our souls were black.  We hated the things of God.  In American society, there is a level of glorification for dark people.  The melancholy thinker is so insightful and enlightened.  The death metal band offers verbalization for those who are depressed and in need of a friend.  The pessimist is now simply a realist and hipster.  A woman from my city just this week met an ISIS terrorist online, went to receive US military training to give him insight for terrorism, and was arrested trying to board a plane to fly overseas to meet and marry him.

Many of us do not revel in the outward darkness at such depths, but we validate this subculture and exemplify the darkness that we are by materialism, competition with our neighbors, coworkers or friends, and narcissism.

In this same passage, Paul defines the people of darkness as those who have any immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk or crude joking.  Have you lusted lately?  Felt greed for a possession?  Have you laughed at a dirty joke?  Or enjoyed a sitcom that glorified any ungodly deed or language?

But when Christ transforms us, we become light.  Our nature is transformed from darkness to light.  We are in the light, because the ultimate source of light is Jesus, but since He takes residence within us, and because we are covered completely in Him, we ourselves become light.

…for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth.

– Eph 5.9

We need to get real about our nature.  Apart from Christ we are darkness, and we need to quit glorifying it.  Because even if our culture at large believe something to be hip, cool, acceptable or even honorable, if God does not approve it, it will receive His wrath (Eph 5.6).  So which are you?  Are you darkness or are you light?  Are you an enemy of God or a child of God (Col 1.21)?  There is no middle ground.  And all facets within our culture can be evaluated and understood in these simple, Biblical definitions.

light_in_darkness

Would you give up your future?

When I was growing up, it was very important to my mother to get for me and both of my sisters a hope chest.  She went to antique stores, garage sales, and always kept her eye open for wooden chests that were well built and would last a lifetime.  I still have mine, sitting at the end of the bed.  I learned that the tradition was started generations ago for young girls, that as they grew up and learned their “womanly duties”, they would knit and prepare for themselves things that they would use when they had their own husband, family and house like doilies, blankets, nightgowns and tablecloths.  Thus the name “hope chest” – it was looking forward in hope to their own future.  My hope chest, strangely enough, is filled up with mementos from the past:  old journals, newspapers from important days and memoirs.

In Jesus’ day, people had similar traditions.  One such tradition was the purchase of expensive perfumes and oils that a girl could hold onto in preparation for her wedding day.  Being of high value, it could be sold to provide for the girl and/or her family if they come upon hard times, but it was a symbol of hope, a token of security and a treasure for a young woman to hold onto.  The oils were often kept in costly, beautiful vials, and that only added to the beauty and value of the oil.

Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table.  But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, “Why this waste?  For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.”  But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.  For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.  For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.  Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

– Matt 26.7-13

In Luke’s Gospel, we learn that she not only poured the perfume on his head, but anointed his feet with it, and washed his feet with her hair and tears.  Mark tells us that she broke the vial, using all of the oil and destroying even the beautiful jar in which it came.  John informs us that it could have been sold for the equivalent of one year’s wages!

All four of the Gospels tell this story.  And Jesus Himself said that this is an integral part of the Gospel message.  Why?  Well, on the one hand, Mary was unknowingly preforming a sign for the things which were to come:  the very same oil is oil that was used in burial preparation.  Thus Jesus said “When she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial”.  Somehow, even though Jesus had spoke very plainly about His impending death, the disciples did not comprehend that Jesus was going to die.  And here we see Jesus explain clearly that He was going to die, and Mary had preformed a beautiful, prophetic deed in His honor.

But this is also a remarkable act of faith and surrender.  Mary poured out a year’s worth of income on Jesus head and feet and washed his feet with her hair.  She poured out her vial of hope and preparation for marriage.  She broke her bottle of security if she ever fell upon financial hardship.  And she gave it not only freely, but in humble submission.

The scripture teaches us to be good stewards of the gifts and abilities that God has given us.  But He also desires that we recognize the fact that everything we have is His, we have nothing that we did not receive, and He wants us to die to ourselves and surrender everything to Him.  Thus Jesus says that the poor widow who gave the only two pennies that she had in the offering gave more than any of the rich men, because she gave everything that she had.  And that is the faith and love the Jesus honors and desires.

Have you ever been indignant with someone (or the Church) for how they spend their money, gifts or time?  Would it be better spent serving the poor?  The primary call of Christianity is not to serve the poor, it is to love, serve and honor God.  Sometimes serving God is exemplified in serving the poor.  But sometimes it is not.  Sometimes it is pouring ourselves out completely, giving Him our hope, our security and our future in complete abandon.

What is your hope?  What is your security?  Would you give it over to Jesus in an act of worship?  Would you trust Him to meet your needs and care for you?  Or are you like one of the disciples, who follow Jesus but do not treasure Him?

alabaster-jar