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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
Looking for a church in the Omaha area? Come check out ours on Sunday mornings at 11!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cancer and God's Sovereignty

Recently I had a rare opportunity to meet one "of whom the world was not worthy". I received a call out of the blue from the wife of a friend. He was out of town for the week and unavailable when asked to visit another military man in the hospital who was undergoing treatment for lymphoma. When asked if I would visit this person I've never met under such heavy circumstances, I accepted with more than a little anxiousness.

This young man named Zach had moved to Omaha with his newly-wed wife just so he could receive specialized treatment at the med center. They were alone in Omaha, having spent their entire time in the hospital, and he needed "a brother to talk to" as he later told me. He told me how God had just recently gotten his attention and at the same time brought his wife-to-be into his life. There was such an atmosphere of joy in that room that at times I forgot we were in a hospital.

I was brought to tears as we read the first chapter of Ephesians. It struck me how one so afflicted according to the world's standards could speak so easily and affectionately about the sovereignty and providence of God. But, as one strongly influenced by Reformed thinking, the sovereignty of God is truly a source of comfort when understood properly. Certainly, while God does not actively cause everything, even that which He allows is in His design. As John Piper said, "What God permits, He permits for a reason. And that reason is His design. " As Christians, we are not promised to be saved from all sickness and pain, only that there is purpose behind it all and heaven after it all. Indeed, as we loosen our clutches on the world and grasp tighter to Christ, we can say with Paul "To die is gain" and see sovereignty behind it.

I know that a sick man's confidence in the sovereignty of God is not an argument for His sovereignty. But, if the Bible can be proven the Word of God (which I believe it has been), and if the Bible teaches the sovereignty of God (which I believe it does), then Zach's peace and confidence is the perfect outworking of loving God's sovereignty.

Not two weeks after I met Zach for the first and only time, he passed away from complications resulting from the lymphoma. For those who may read this and have differing positions about the sovereignty of God, my words may sound calloused or ignorant. For those who don't believe in any sort of afterlife, they may sound like the mental crutch of a wishful thinker. But for Zach, God's sovereignty gave him joy in his circumstances, hope in the future, and peace even in the prospect of death. And I came away from the hospital not depressed or second-guessing my theology, but rather more confident and at peace in the sovereignty of God than before.

Don't Waste Your Cancer by John Piper

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are you good enough to get into heaven?

How good do you have to be to get into heaven? What is the scale on which we will all be graded? Many people answer that it is simply a balancing act between one's good deeds and bad deeds. They believe the verdict is decided by which side of the scale outweighs the other.

God, in fact, gives us the scale by which to judge ourselves in the Ten Commandments. Don't steal. Don't murder. Don't lie. Most people have broken at least a couple of these commandments, but they feel they have at least not broken the big ones like adultery and murder.

However, isn't it interesting that Jesus had something to say about the very two commandments that most people feel they are in the clear on? Jesus said if you have entertained hatred in your heart for a person, you are guilty of murder. If you have entertained lust in your heart for a person, you are guilty of adultery. And to make matters worse, we find that "if a person keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point, they are guilty of breaking all of it". If this is true, that puts us all squarely on the same side of the scale as the most infamous murderers in the world's history.

If this seems unfair, it is because we underestimate the position we were given when God created us in His image. We were made image bearers, and as such expected to bear His image not only personality traits, but also behavior and morality. The reason lying is a sin and listed in the Commandments is that it is contrary to God's image. The same can be said for every Commandment. Every sin is, at its root, a violation of God's image in our person. Thus, lying and stealing puts you on the same plane as murdering because all of them put you in the category of a defiler of God's image.

As we realize that we are guilty not only of commiting individual sins in action, but also of entertaining serious sins in thought and breaking the entire law in violating God's image, things are looking pretty grim. And the nail in the coffin comes when we find that good deeds do not count as positive weight on our imaginary scales because good deeds are expected as image bearers. The image of the "good" and "bad" scales actually doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It would be more accurate to say that we've been given something precious and invaluable, like a ming vase, and as image bearers are expected to keep it in its original condition and value. A sin is a crack and, if the aforementioned factors are true, we've all done much worse than just crack the image.

If this analogy bothers you, it bothers God too. This is the reason He sent Jesus. Only Jesus kept the law at every point, only He bore the image of God perfectly. And only through faith in Jesus are we identified with Him and His perfect image. So the choice is yours, you can be identified with Christ the perfect image bearer, or you can be identified on your own and how you've handled God's image.

(For anyone interested in the picture I used, it is a perfect illustration! Notice even the restorer said experts would be able to see the cracks.)