Arguing with the Gospel

Stapler & pencilThere are certain things in this life that I somehow feel like I’m entitled to.  Things like sharp pencils.  Or a fully stocked stapler.  Nine times out of ten when I go to staple something it makes that empty “kerpunch” sound that tells me (once again) there are no staples in my stapler.  Ugh!  Evil stapler! Or that my adult kids would still need me.  Or that we could live in a world where beloved friends aren’t ripped from my life unexpectedly by disease. Is that too much to ask?  Am I being needy to want for those things?

The reality of the gospel is that we’re not promised any of that.  I hate that – I really want sharp pencils at my beckon call.  Some might think that if the gospel is to be believed, then we should be able to live lives that are free of inconvenience, frustration, pain and suffering?  Don’t shoot me – I’m just the messenger….and I hate to be the one to tell you, friend – but what I’ve learned is that this was never the promise. Why, then do I get so frustrated when these little expectations aren’t met? When I don’t get to see my kids as often as I like?  The gospel is telling me that although there’s nothing wrong with those desires, I need to do away with believing that they are “due” me.  That’s when it translates into neediness.

In Tim Keller’s book Gospel in Life: Grace Changes Everything he states…

The gospel, if it is really believed, removes neediness – the need to be constantly respected, appreciated, and well regarded; the need to have everything in your life go well; the need to have power over others.  All of these great, deep needs continue to control you only because the concept of the glorious God delighting in you with all His being is just that – a concept and nothing more.  Paul is saying that if you want to really change, you must let the gospel teach you – that is to train, discipline, coach you – over a period of time.  You must let the gospel argue with you.  You must let the gospel sink down deeply into your heart, until it changes your motivation and views and attitudes.

Ah HA!  So that’s whats been going on in my life these past 20 years!  I’ve been arguing with the gospel.  When I think MY way is the best way, the Holy Spirit gently walks me through a conversation of why my thinking may not be the best for me. The gospel has been coaching me all along…and when my heart goes into default mode I argue with it – butting my head up against what frustrates me about the world and about truth.  But my heart’s desire has been to be different than I used to be.  To be changed from the person I use to be, and so through the arguments and the wrestling with the gospel I am coming out the other side a new person, and understanding the grace of God just a little more than I did going in.

Yes, God is crazy about you.  Yes, God delights in you. Yes, God wants His best for you. But the gospel can be a real pain in the patootie.  My spell check doesn’t recognize that word, and I could spell it another way to make it easier to understand – but I’ll refrain.  The gospel is disruptive. When it’s little feelers start penetrating your heart and soul, it messes with every aspect of your life.  How you drive.  How you talk to your kids.  How you interact with the people you work with.  How you maneuver through marriage.  How you get rid of your dirty laundry.  Even with the guy with the sign on the street corner asking for a hand out.  “Get a job” might have been your go-to response in the past to one such as he – now the gospel argues with you to do something different.

When we yield to this transforming discussion with the Holy Spirit, a peculiar thing happens.  We begin to store up deposits of grace for others.  And grace for the long haul.  And grace for the worst of the disruptive times in your life.  Like when a dear friend unexpectedly dies and gets to go home before you do.

That’s what has been happening to me this past season.  My dear friend, Tom, died two months ago from the ugly effects of cancer, and my pastor, David George performed the service.  Then two months later we were sitting in the same place, at David’s funeral when he died unexpectedly from a rare form of pancreatic cancer that took him in three weeks.  He was my spiritual father, a mentor, and a dear friend.  He even read my blog regularly.  How could I not love the guy?  Now another dear friend, Rob, is giving all he’s got to kick lung cancer’s butt, but it’s a tough battle.  Sigh.  I don’t get it.  I just don’t get it. As David would say….”I wonder what God is up to?

The truth is it’s not my job to “get it”. It’s my job to rest in the knowledge that God is sovereign and the author of all their stories….and I’m grateful to have been able to walk in & through their story lines.  God is faithful…God is just….even though MY story line would look way different than what the kingdom’s story line sometimes is.  But ultimately His ending really has the very best ending.  I can’t see the why, and even though I’d like to kick and scream and shake my fist at heaven, I choose to trust that Jesus does.  And He’s the reason Tom and David and Rob’s future is secure.

David George was most certainly the most influential man in my life.  All three of these men are extraordinary.  But now that two of them are gone and another in the battle of his life…how do I pray?  I desperately cry out for Rob’s healing, and am in an argument with the gospel over this topic of healing.  However, when I do this arguing, I also have to pray that I wouldn’t doubt His goodness in whatever His answer is – no matter what the answer looks like.  I understand that healing can take on many forms.  David and Tom WERE both healed…just not this side of Heaven, but I found it a very difficult prayer to pray all the same because I wasn’t in control of the outcome.  But grace flows out of our grief and our anxiety and comforts us right where we are.

So I challenge you – even if you don’t have someone as extraordinary as these three gentlemen in your life…there is One that longs to be extraordinary to you.  So pursue God, argue with the gospel, and go out there and change the world with joy.  BE extraordinary!  Be extraordinary by showing grace – even when undeserved – to those around you. Be extraordinary by serving others before self. Be extraordinary in humbleness.  Be extraordinary by “taking it” when misunderstood. Be extraordinary by showing up in the lives of those around you. Be extraordinary by caring for those that might seem quirky, or different, or unlovable. Be extraordinary by caring about what’s important to those around you. Be extraordinary by bearing the burdens of those who God brings across your path. Be extraordinary by being kind…because it truly does matter. Be extraordinary by loving your neighbor and choosing their good over your own. Be extraordinary by enduring the mundane and long battle we walk. Be extraordinary by choosing life!   Be extraordinary with your life…your story…because what’s going on in your story is not the final chapter. The good news is that the ending has already been written and we know its a good one.  How do I know?  Because I’ve peeked and read the last page of the book.

The hard will end one day, my friend.  That’s the grace in all this.  The unmerited love of God promised to us.  Today.  Tomorrow.  At the end of our journey.  Meet Him in this place of grace today…. after you’re done arguing with the gospel.